Drugs within this class are most frequently prescribed to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and insomnia, though other conditions may warrant this treatment. Taken as prescribed, these drugs are typically safe. But when used to excess, benzos can lead to addiction, overdose, and death. Familiarizing yourself with the signs of abuse and addiction can help you to prevent these risks. This knowledge can also help you to connect to treatment in a more timely fashion.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepine drugs are depressants. This means they slow down the functioning of your brain and central nervous system (CNS). This action is responsible for creating the calming and sleep-inducing effects these drugs are known for. Benzodiazepine drugs work fairly immediately, making them effective options for “as needed treatment.”
According to an American Family Physician (AFP) article, the most frequently prescribed benzos include:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
The above characteristics are also the predominant reasons why these drugs are abused. The AFP article asserts that these four drugs are also the most heavily abused.
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Why Do People Abuse Benzodiazepines?
Prescription holders and illicit users alike abuse benzos for similar reasons. A person may seek to self-medicate anxiety or sleep troubles by altering their prescription or by obtaining these drugs illicitly. These behaviors often accelerate into recreational abuse, and in turn, addiction.
The AFP notes that “Benzodiazepines are rarely the preferred or sole drug of abuse. An estimated 80 percent of benzodiazepine abuse is part of polydrug abuse….” They elaborate, explaining that alcohol and opioids are commonly abused with benzos. Benzos are often used to increase the pleasurable effects of other drugs. Further, many people use benzos to self-treat the unpleasant side effects of withdrawal.
What Are The Signs Of Benzodiazepine Abuse?
Even within the bounds of prescribed use, benzos create certain mental, physical and emotional side effects. When these drugs are abused, the intensity of these effects is often multiplied.
Shortly after a person uses benzo, they may exhibit:
- Impaired memory
- Intense calm
While certain signs of casual abuse may be less obvious, as a person’s use becomes chronic, side effects become more clear.
How Do I Know If Someone Is Addicted To Benzos?
Prescription drug abuse can be particularly hard to spot, especially if the individual has a prescription for the substance. In this instance, the transition from prescribed use to misuse and abuse is gradual, and may not be overly apparent. For those who abuse diverted drugs (someone else’s prescription), the progression from abuse to addiction may be more evident. In either case, the following signs can point to an underlying addiction:
Within an addicted state, a person will likely:
- Be consumed by thoughts of the drug
- Distance themselves from their friends or family
- Fail to uphold responsibilities which are critical to their well being (e.g. job, schooling or family)
- Keep using even though they know the drug is harming them or their loved ones
- Lie or become evasive when approached about drug use
- Spend large amounts of time finding or using the drug
- Struggle to reduce or cease their drug use
To maintain a constant supply of the drug a person may:
- “Doctor shop”
- Feign a condition to obtain a prescription
- Purchase drugs off the street
- Steal or hoards pills
Within addiction a person will develop:
- Cravings: Strong and frequent urges to use the drug.
- Dependence: Your physiology begins to rely on benzos to function properly.
- Tolerance: Higher dosages of the drug are required to yield the same effects.
- Withdrawal: Sudden cessation of the drug leads to uncomfortable physical and mental health effects.
What Are The Signs Of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal?
Acute withdrawal symptoms are some of the most evident signs of addiction. Benzodiazepine withdrawal manifests as:
- Changes in perception
- Increased heart rate
- Impaired concentration
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle aches and pains
- Panic attacks
In severe cases, a person may experience psychosis, seizures or progress into delirium tremens. Without proper support, benzodiazepine withdrawal can be deadly.
What Are The Dangers Of Benzodiazepine Abuse?
Though used to treat certain mental health concerns, AFP tells us that benzodiazepines can actually lead to mental and emotional disturbances. Suicidal ideation, depression and “emotional blunting,” or a lack of emotions, have all been linked to benzodiazepines.
The most serious danger revolves around polydrug abuse, specifically other depressants. Benzodiazepine abuse alone depresses your CNS in such a way that your health is endangered. Alcohol and opioids are both CNS depressants. Combining these drugs with benzo significantly compounds CNS depression to the point where the likelihood of fatal overdose skyrockets.
Fortunately, sobriety and recovery from benzodiazepines are possible. Severe benzodiazepine addiction often requires a medical detox and inpatient treatment. This combination addresses both the physical and mental properties of addiction. As addiction may stem from self-medication, effective treatment of any co-occurring disorders, including anxiety, are critical to your success.
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If you’d like to learn more about benzodiazepine addiction and treatment, contact us now. Your call is confidential; during this time Vertava Health of Massachusetts’s compassionate staff can help you design an individualized treatment program.
- US National Library of Medicine — The Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome