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The two sides to benzodiazepines: understanding their use and the risk of addiction

Many times when people have sleeping disorders or anxiety, they’ll consider using a tranquilizer to calm down. Tranquilizers are normally benzodiazepines and include various types including Valium or Xanax which are some of the most prominent medications prescribed in the United States for anxiety, insomnia, alcohol withdrawal, muscle relaxation and more. Similar to antidepressants, benzodiazepines embody a wide range of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors(SSRI’s) and different types will work on different people. How the drug reacts when taken often depends on one’s brain chemistry. Over 2,000 different types of benzodiazepines have been manufactured, but only an estimated 15 are currently FDA- approved in the United States. (Edwards, 2014)

There are different classifications of benzodiazepines: ultra-short acting, short-acting and long-acting.

The danger of benzo abuse

A large population of people in the United States abuse benzodiazepines due to their easy accessibility. Younger people have been known to take “benzos” while drinking or with a combination of other pills, often leading to death by overdose.

Benzodiazepines have also been used as a “date rape” drug because of their ability to make someone less resistant to sexual aggression. When the drug is added to beverages, its taste is barely detected. The most frequently used date-rape drug is flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), a fast-acting benzodiazepine, and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB). (Schwartz; Milteer, 2000) The side effects of this drug cause lasting anterograde amnesia. Under the Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1996, use of flunitrazepam for purposes of rape is punishable by a fine and a prison sentence up to 20 years. (Schwartz; Milteer, 2000)

Signs and symptoms of acute toxicity or overdose of benzodiazepines to watch for include the following:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation

How benzodiazepines cause addiction

The signs of dependence on benzodiazepines are very similar to those of other drugs. The brain becomes accustomed to having the release of dopamine neurons and positive modulation of GABA receptors in nearby interneurons caused by benzodiazepines. (Tan; Brown; Labouebe; Yvon; Creton; Fritschy; Rudolph; Luscher 2011) When the body becomes physically addicted to “benzos”, it will undergo withdrawal if the drug stops being provided. A person will feel weak, sluggish and often times nauseated or sick as a result of the physical and mental withdrawal from benzodiazepine use.

Finding help for benzodiazepine dependence

When treating dependence to benzodiazepines, it’s extremely important that the drug use is tapered off gradually as a sudden halt to the drugs cause present serious health risks. Studies show that psychotropic medications may be helpful during the withdrawal period. (Ashton 1994) Withdrawal symptoms can last for three to four days starting after the last time the drug was used and will include feeling sick, delirium, confusion, suicidal ideation, psychosis and status epilepticus.

The best way to treat an addiction to benzodiazepines is with an inpatient treatment program. This will allow the person struggling with the addiction to be monitored and provided with appropriate medication to assist them during their detox process. An inpatient treatment program also provides additional support and guidance to help individuals overcome their addiction, often through the use of therapy. Individual therapy, group therapy and 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous or Prescriptions Anonymous are all effective methods that can help treat addictions to benzodiazepines and give them additional support after they finish their treatment program.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to benzodiazepines, contact us today at 855-441-4405.

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