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Article Summary

A Guide To Benzodiazepines Addiction

Currently, 15 different benzodiazepines brands are marketed in the US while another 20 are used in other countries. The short-acting varieties are used to deal with insomnia or treat anxiety following surgery. However, if you feel anxious during the day and have trouble sleeping at night, you might receive a prescription for the long-lasting varieties.

Today, people use various benzodiazepines because they are effective. This group of sedatives has been classified as Schedule IV according to the Controlled Substances Act.

The drugs are effective because they work on the gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter to calm nervous impulses and reduce anxiety. However, they also create a sense of happiness and well-being, which is how most users get addicted.

In the guide below, you will find all the information there is to know about benzodiazepines, including what they are, and their uses, effects, side effects, indication for addiction, and withdrawal symptoms among others.

Read on to learn more:

Understanding Benzodiazepines

Since they were introduced in the 60s, all substances grouped as benzodiazepines are widely prescribed for the treatment of insomnia, stress, anxiety, and alcohol withdrawal, among other conditions.

Even though these drugs work, doctors need to prescribe them with caution due to their addictive properties. This is because a recent study funded by NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) showed that these medications work in the same way as GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), cannabinoids, and opioids to cause addiction.

That said, benzodiazepines depress the central nervous system and cause happy feelings in the process. If you use these drugs long enough, you might become addicted. This is particularly because you might get accustomed to the sedating effects they cause.

Although over 2000 benzodiazepine variations have been produced, only 15 are approved by the FDA for use in the United States. These drugs are classified according to the length of their effects on the body. They include:

1. Short Acting Benzodiazepines
  • Triazolam (Halcion)
  • Temazepam (Restoril)
  • Midazolam (Versed)
  • Flurazepam (Dalmane)
  • Estazolam (ProSom)
2. Longer Acting Benzodiazepines
  • Quazepam (Doral)
  • Prazepam (Centrax)
  • Oxazepam (Serax)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Halazepam (Paxipam)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Clorazepate (Tranxene)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)

All these medications are benzodiazepines in one form of the other. As such, they come with their own dangers. What is common among all of them, however, is that they are addictive. As such, using them over the long haul might cause you to develop tolerance, start using more of the drugs, and eventually become dependent. Over time, the drugs might eventually cause addiction.

Benzodiazepines Uses

As mentioned above, doctors might prescribe benzodiazepines for different medical conditions. These conditions include, but are not limited to:

  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Anxiety
  • As an adjunct to anesthesia for purposes of inducing amnesia and relaxation in preparation for uncomfortable procedures
  • As an anxiolytic to reduce anxiety
  • Before an anesthetic (before surgery)
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Panic disorders
  • Sedative hypnotics for sleep
  • To prevent or treat seizures

According to NIDA, benzodiazepines tend to cause minor shifts in the chemical signals used by the brain when it wishes to communicate pleasure. When this change takes root, you might feel a sensational boost, which you will associate with security, happiness, and reward.

Although you might not be able to understand this change, your brain will market it. With time, the brain cells altered by benzodiazepines may fail to function optimally unless you use the drug. As such, your brain will call out for the medication, and you are likely to have a hard time ignoring this call. This is where addiction will start.

All types of benzodiazepines are known to cause this reaction. However, some of the drugs might be more addictive than others.

Benzodiazepines Effects

Since benzodiazepines cause sedation, this makes them ideal for abuse. Seeing as how these are prescription drugs, you might initially start using them for legitimate medical purposes. Over time, however, you are highly likely to abuse the prescriptions.

Although benzodiazepines come with a variety of therapeutic uses, you might suffer serious life consequences if you abuse them. In fact, this class of drugs is some of the hardest to quit on account of their impact on how the brain works.

Some of the adverse effects of abusing the drugs include:

  • Anxiety
  • Coma
  • Death
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Homelessness
  • Inability to work or hold onto your job
  • Incarceration
  • Increased drug seeking behaviors to ward off the withdrawal symptoms
  • Lack of proper interpersonal relationships
  • Low blood pressure
  • Mounting legal problems
  • Seizures
  • Self-harm
  • Severe depression
  • Shallow breath
  • Suicidal behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Tremors
  • Worsening physical and mental health

Since the brain might become chemically dependent on the drug, you are likely to continue suffering these severe reactions over the long haul. In effect, benzodiazepines tend to recalibrate the neurological network in the brain, particularly that responsible for processing and transferring information. Therefore, without the drug, your brain might not function properly.

Benzodiazepines Side Effects

When you are high on benzodiazepines, you might experience intense euphoria. Similarly, the drug causes short term effects, including talkativeness, enhanced happiness, and increase self-confidence.

That said, the drug is effective at reducing anxiety, making users feel less worried, and calming them down. However, you are also likely to experience a severe come down when the buzz wears off.

At this point, you might experience feelings of general agitation, anxiety, and depression. Other side effects include:

  • Anxiety
  • Blurred vision
  • Body pain and aches
  • Fatigue
  • Forgetfulness
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Mental confusion

Benzodiazepines Addictive Qualities

When you take benzodiazepines as prescribed by your doctor, you are not likely to get addicted. However, if you use them for a long time, you might become addicted to the drugs.

Researchers have discovered that those who take benzodiazepines might experience a surge in dopamine levels. This floods the feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain, which leads to rewarding and pleasurable feelings. These feelings might eventually prove to be irresistible.

Today, scientific knowledge shows that the addictive power of this class of drugs is similar to that of other substances with high addictive qualities (including GHB, cannabinoids, and opioids).

As benzodiazepines accumulate in your body, they might alter the function and structure of certain brain receptors, making them more susceptible to the surges of other neurotransmitters. This leads to a further intensity and increases in dopamine rushes.

All these chemical reactions are likely to add up, causing a high whenever you use benzodiazepines. As a result, you might not want to give up the drugs, and your use will eventually progress to abuse and eventual addiction.

On average, benzodiazepine tolerance tends to develop after around 6 months of use, although you might become dependent on the drug sooner. Additionally, close to 44% of all users are likely to get dependent on their prescriptions.

Added to the above, there are certain disorders which co-occur with such addiction. These include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Other anxiolytic, hypnotic, or sedative addiction
  • Substance addiction
  • Substance use disorders
  • Tobacco use disorder

Benzodiazepines Overdose

Abusing benzodiazepines might cause an overdose. At prescribed doses, the drug is effective at dealing with the symptoms of insomnia and anxiety. However, if you take the medication at higher doses than was prescribed or with other drugs, they might be dangerous.

Some of the symptoms of an overdose from benzodiazepine abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • Abnormally low blood pressure
  • Altered mental state
  • Amnesia
  • Blurred vision and other visual impairments
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Death (which is rare but might be caused when you mix benzodiazepines with alcohol) such as from respiratory arrest and depression
  • Decreased coordination
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Extreme agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Inability to defend yourself
  • Lack of regular motor coordination
  • Physical weakness
  • Poor decision making
  • Poor judgment
  • Profound confusion
  • Respiratory depression
  • Sedation
  • Severe dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Weakness

If you suspect that you are overdosing, or someone might be overdosing on these drugs, the best solution would be to seem immediate medical attention.

Benzodiazepines Withdrawal

Although benzodiazepines are quite useful, they are also likely to lead to psychological and physical dependence. This might result in a variety of severe withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the drugs.

However, withdrawal might also occur if you only use standard doses of the drugs for relatively short periods. Most of these symptoms are quite similar to anxiety and tend to appear 3 to 4 days after your last use.

They include:

  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations
  • Increased tension
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tremor
  • Muscular pain
  • Nausea
  • Panic attacks
  • Perceptual changes
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Stiffness
  • Sweating

For those who use higher doses of the drug, withdrawal might lead to psychosis and seizures. However, if you only take the drug in relatively small doses according to your prescription, you might still experience these withdrawal symptoms. This is why so many users have a hard time trying to quit benzodiazepines.

Benzodiazepines Dangers

Benzodiazepines are some of the most commonly abused medications. This abuse is related to the effects the drugs produce, as well as their widespread availability. With time, you might start abusing the drug, or accidentally or intentionally take it in overdose.

When this happens, you are likely to experience severe illness or even death. For instance, you might experience muscle weakness, fainting, and severe drowsiness, and lack of coordination. However, when combined with alcohol and other drugs, benzodiazepines might prove to be fatal. This combination is likely to cause acute respiratory suppression, which might cause death. Death might also occur if you combine benzodiazepines with other drugs, including cocaine and heroin.

With the increase in the number of long term prescriptions for benzodiazepines among the elderly comes a steady increase in the incidence of Alzheimer's Disease. As such, those who take these drugs over the long haul enhance their risk of developing this neurodegenerative disease.

Apart from the above, it is essential that you consider weighing the risks of benzodiazepine use, including abuse, the potential for addiction, cognitive impairments, severe withdrawal, as well as the increased risk of death. Remember, this class of drugs is associated with the greatest mortality among other prescription medications.

Signs And Symptoms Of Benzodiazepines Abuse

When abused or used without following a doctor's prescription, benzodiazepines might cause different symptoms. These signs depend on how long you have been abusing the drug, as well as the amount you abuse.

Some of the common signs and symptoms of benzodiazepines abuse:

1. Behavioral Symptoms
  • Aggression
  • Anger
  • Borrowing or stealing benzodiazepine pills from family and friends
  • Decrease in inhibitions
  • Doctor shopping
  • Drug-seeking behaviors
  • Financial ruin
  • Forging prescriptions
  • Inability to meet responsibilities and expectations at home, school, and work
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Increase in sociability
  • Increased desire to be left on your own
  • Mounting legal problems
  • Poor functioning at work or school
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Taking more of the drug than was prescribed or than you intended
  • Using benzodiazepines longer than was specified
  • Worsened or improved relationships based on how others respond to your substance abuse
2. Physical Symptoms
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Coma (which is infrequent unless you pair the drug with another substance)
  • Double vision
  • Headaches
  • Increased sleep
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nystagmus, or rapid and uncontrollable eye movements
  • Physical dependence
  • Poor coordination
  • Rise in respiratory infections
  • Slurred speech
  • Stupor
  • Unsteadiness
  • Vertigo
3. Cognitive Symptoms
  • Anterograde amnesia
  • Increased confusion
  • Memory impairment
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Slowed thinking
4. Psychosocial Symptoms
  • Changes in personality
  • Delusions
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Hostility
  • Increased anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Psychosis

Treatment For Benzodiazepines Addiction

Due to the re-wired chemical circuitry in the brain after prolonged benzodiazepine use, those suffering from an addiction might experience severe psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms when they quit. These symptoms might prove to be lethal and deadly.

The best solution for these problems is to talk to the doctor who prescribed the medication. However, if you have been abusing it without a prescription, you might want to check into a drug rehabilitation and treatment facility.

One of the solutions which will be provided will be medical detoxification. Your recovery team will design a taper-down schedule to help you reduce your dose gradually. In the process, they will mitigate the withdrawal symptoms.

Of all treatments, inpatient rehabilitation works best at helping benzodiazepine addicts get sober and maintain their sobriety. Checking into such a treatment center will ensure you get all aid and medical attention you need to battle your addiction to this medication.

As always, the earlier you start treatment, the easier it will be for you to battle the adverse effects of benzodiazepine abuse. Eventually, you are more likely to ward off your addict and get sober.

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