Benzodiazepines are a family of drugs that act as central nervous system depressants. Although only 15 of these medications are approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration, they are among the most widely prescribed medications in the country. Like many other drugs, addiction is a real possibility, particularly when used in high doses over a long period of time.
Benzodiazepine Uses and Types
Also known as “benzos,” benzodiazepines are prescription medications that have legitimate medical uses. They are primarily prescribed to sedate, reduce anxiety and relax the muscles. Doctors may prescribe them for:
- Anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Alcohol withdrawal and detoxification
- Convulsive disorders
- Pre-anesthesia amnestic before surgery
- Spastic disorders, including cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis
- Involuntary movement disorders
- Agitation associated with other psychiatric conditions, including depression or impulse control disorders
The length and intensity of the drug’s effect is what separates one benzodiazepine from the other. They are usually classified as ultra-short acting, short acting and long acting. High-potency benzodiazepines that do not last long in the system; these include Xanax, Ativan and Halcion. Klonopin works for a longer period of time. Low-potency, short-acting benzodiazepines include Serax and Restoril, while Librium, Tranxene, Valium and Dalmane stay in the system longer.
Did You Know?Although first discovered in the 1930s, benzodiazepines were not made available to the public until 1957. By the 1980s, they became some of the most widely prescribed medications in the United States.
Like many other drugs, your system can quickly build up a tolerance to benzodiazepines. People taking these drugs over a long period of time often wind up taking larger doses to get the same effects, or they combine the drugs with alcohol, opiates or other central nervous system depressants until they get the desired effect. Combining these types of drugs can have serious medical consequences. Entering into benzodiazepine addiction treatment is the most effective way to stop this type of risky behaviors.
“When this tolerance sets in, dependence and addiction are usually already a problem.”When this tolerance sets in, dependence and addiction are usually already a problem. How long this takes is different for each individual, but someone taking large doses of a highly potent benzodiazepine, such as alprazolam, will become dependent much more quickly than someone taking a lower dose of a benzodiazepine with a low potency.
According to the Association of American Family Physicians, benzodiazepine dependence is both physiologic and psychological. Once your system is dependent on the drug, a decrease in dosage can bring on withdrawal symptoms very quickly. From a psychological standpoint, people who are dependent on benzodiazepines are often overly reliant on the drugs, may lose their self-confidence, and may begin to engage in other drug-seeking behaviors.
Did You Know?Most people become completely tolerant of the anti-anxiety effects of benzodiazepines after roughly three months of continuous use and have difficulty achieving the same sedating effects after just one to two weeks.
When taken alone, benzodiazepines are not usually toxic, and overdoses are rarely fatal. They can be very dangerous, however, when taken along with other drugs, including alcohol and opiates. Whether taken as a legitimate prescription drug or for non-medical purposes, benzodiazepines can carry several side effects, including:
- Psychomotor slowdown, such as drowsiness, weakness in the muscles, confusion and vertigo
- Memory impairment
- Increased irritability, excitement or aggression
When taken during pregnancy, benzodiazepines can cause addiction in the fetus, resulting in acute withdrawal after birth. They have also been associated with the development of a cleft palate. If you know someone who is pregnant and abusing one of these drugs, talk to her about benzodiazepine rehab for the health of her baby.
Did You Know?According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, roughly 7 million people used psychotherapeutic drugs for non-medical use in 2010. Approximately 3 million of those people abused tranquilizers or sedatives.
Withdrawal and Treatment
Symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal can be acute and should be monitored by medical personnel in a benzodiazepine addiction treatment program. Benzodiazepine detox should begin by decreasing dosages over time to lessen the physical symptoms when the drug is stopped completely. Addicts may begin to feel the symptoms of withdrawal even before starting to decrease the dosage. Since their body has become tolerant to the drug, it requires larger doses to get the same effects. If the body doesn’t get the increased dose, withdrawal symptoms will often set in. The withdrawal period can last for days, weeks or months, depending on how long the addiction lasted and what type and dose of benzodiazepine was taken.
The most common withdrawal symptoms associated with benzodiazepines include:
- Acute anxiety
- Severe muscle pain and burning
Don’t try to do this alone. Addiction professionals can help assess your needs, particularly if you were combining drugs, and be able to help find the best benzodiazepine addiction treatment center for you.