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Article Summary


Benzodiazepines are a type of prescription drug used to treat various conditions including anxiety and insomnia, and are dispensed to millions of patients each year for such conditions. They are in the sedative-hypnotic drugs and Central Nervous System depressants. Because these drugs are so popular and so widely prescribed, you have probably heard of many common benzodiazepine drugs including Xanax, Klonopin, Valium and Ativan. There are short, intermediate, and long-acting benzodiazepines available for use; with short-acting having a half-life of a few hours, intermediate-acting between 12 hours and a full day, and longer-acting benzodiazepines having a half-life of a full day or more. So obviously, the longer the half-life, the longer the individual will feel the effects of the drug.

Benzodiazepine Side Effects

Despite any potential benefits, benzodiazepine use does come with a very high risk of dependence and addiction. Even individuals who start taking these powerful drugs as prescribed often have a very hard time stopping even if they want to. Because of this, many individuals who may have only wanted to be on benzodiazepines for a short amount of time may find themselves on them indefinitely and all the while experience many unwanted side effects. Even the American Psychiatric Association reported over two decades ago the reality of benzodiazepine dependence, toxicity and abuse which was established using several placebo-controlled studies.

Because of the effects that benzodiazepines produce, which are often intense and can create highs similar to that of illicit street drugs when used in high doses, these drugs are often abused by recreational drug users. They are rarely abused by themselves however, and studies show that about 80% of benzodiazepine abuse takes place along with other drugs, most often with opioids. Heroin users often use benzodiazepines to enhance their high. A study of heroin users for example found that nearly 75% used benzodiazepines at least once a week. Another study of methadone users found that a great deal of these individuals also abused benzodiazepine drugs on a regular basis, at a rate of nearly 90%. Cocaine users use benzodiazepines to temper their high if they use too much of the drug, because cocaine is a stimulant and benzodiazepines can be used to temper these effects. The same goes for individuals who are caught up in alcoholism, with one study finding as many of 41% of study subjects abusing benzodiazepines concurrently and frequently to modulate the effects of their alcoholism. Because shorter-acting benzodiazepines have a more rapid onset of effects, individuals who abuse these drugs prefer them over the longer-acting benzodiazepines.

Benzodiazepine Abuse

Prescription drug addiction and abuse of benzodiazepines is no longer a secret, and is the biggest current drug threat in the country. Both trade-name and generic formulations of benzodiazepine drugs can be found at street level being sold right beside heroin, cocaine and other common street drugs of abuse. Some benzodiazepines can sell for as much as $5-10 per pill, so there is a significant profit to be made from abuse and sale of these powerful prescription drugs. Because these drugs are so readily prescribed by physicians for all manner of illnesses, there is no shortage on the market and it is very easy to get one's hands on these drugs for use and abuse. For example, there were nearly 40 million prescriptions written just for the benzodiazepine Xanax last year.

What legitimate users who may abuse benzodiazepines and illicit users may not realize is that they are putting their health and ultimately their lives at risk by abusing these drugs. There are a number of serious side effects some of which are mild but some of which can be life threatening including seizures and other problems which can result in death. The risks of serious side effects and overdose are all dependent on dosage and whether or not the drug has been taken along with other substances such as other medicines, alcohol, or street drugs. This is extremely common, especially among recreational drug users and individuals involved in alcoholism. Because individuals who abuse benzodiazepines along with other substances are often not completely in control of their behavior or actions, it is possible for someone to take way too resulting in a toxic mixture which could cause an overdose or death.

One of the concerns with benzodiazepines is the very serious withdrawal symptoms which result when someone abruptly stops taking them after having become physically dependent to them. Benzodiazepine withdrawal is nothing to take lightly, as it has been known to lead to seizures which could result in coma or death. No one should ever attempt to detox themselves from any type of benzodiazepine, even if they are fed up with being addicted or dependent to them and have the best intentions of quitting. Detox professionals will need to taper one's dose to avoid any serious withdrawal symptoms, and medical professionals may want to ensure that anyone coming off of these drugs is stabilized through the use of other drugs which are typically used to assist in this withdrawal process and make it a safe one.

Benzodiazepine Abuse Treatment

For those who have become addicted and dependent to benzodiazepines, either by themselves or in conjunction with other drugs, there is help available to get off of them and receive proper treatment so there is a significantly lower risk of relapse. Being in a drug-induced haze is no way to live one's life, and treatment professionals can help clients address any physical, psychological, and emotional issues to give individuals a better quality of life and fresh start without drugs. This may entail treatment for co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders for those who have been prescribed benzodiazepines for anxiety, or other workable treatment methods which have helped many individuals successfully overcome this type of dependence and addiction. Because benzodiazepine dependence and addiction can take such a powerful hold on an individual, it is recommended that treatment take place in an inpatient or residential setting so that the treatment client can have all of the resources and support at their disposal during recovery and won't have access to drugs.

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