Understanding Benzodiazepines Addiction
Benzodiazepines, commonly prescribed medications, are widely used by many women, with approximately 65% of users being female. The prevalence of anxiety and sleep disturbances contributes to this trend. However, it’s important to note that benzos carry a high risk of addiction, leading to benzodiazepine addiction with prolonged use. Fortunately, there are treatment options available to address benzodiazepine addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions, providing support for substance abuse recovery.
What is a Benzodiazepine?
Benzodiazepines, or benzos for short, are psychotropic drugs that decrease neurotransmitter activity in the brain by increasing the effects of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid, one of the neurotransmitters that suppress nerve activity).
Benzodiazepines are generally prescribed to treat the following:
- GAD ( Generalized Anxiety Disorder)
- Sleep Disorders (like Insomnia)
- Panic Attacks
- Muscle relaxation
- Sedation before surgery
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Duration And Usage:
Benzodiazepines are generally effective for short-term treatment and are usually prescribed for 2-4 weeks. Long-term use greatly increases the risk of dependence. Still, many studies say, many users continue benzodiazepine use for months, years, and even decades. Furthermore, there are few studies showing that benzo use increases with age, with long-term use being much more common in people over the age of 65, who are at greater risk for psychomotor disorders, motor vehicle accidents, and sometimes cognitive impairment.
- Types of Benzodiazepines:
Benzodiazepines are usually pills or tablets of various colors and shapes. They go by different names and sometimes differ in strength but they are used interchangeably for certain conditions.
A few of them which treat Anxiety, Panic attacks, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal are:
- Clorazepate (Tranxene)
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- lorazepam (Ativan)
Benzodiazepines cause a pronounced addictive surge in dopamine levels, the brain chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure. An untreated brain controls the release of dopamine, but benzodiazepines remove the brain’s mechanisms that regulate dopamine, flooding the brain with feel-good chemicals.
Benzodiazepines have grown in popularity with opioids, and are actually responsible for more than 30% of opioid overdoses. In 2018 alone, benzodiazepines were implicated in nearly 13,000 overdose deaths. Nonetheless, benzodiazepines are still being prescribed at alarming levels, with 66 million prescriptions made each year.
- Effects of Benzos Addiction:
The effects of benzodiazepines vary from person to person, but it may include:
- Lower stress level
- Anxiety relief
- Thought disorder
- Dry mouth
- Confused speech
- Double or blurred vision
Benzodiazepine injections may also cause:
- Vein damage and scarring.
- Infectious diseases such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, and AIDS.
- Deep vein thrombosis and blood clots can occur, leading to limb loss, organ damage, stroke, and death.
Why are Benzodiazepines life-threatening?
All benzodiazepines belong to the drug class known as depressants. Because of their shared connection and influence on the body’s central nervous system (CNS), they have effects on the body that are very similar to those of alcohol and opioids. When combined with other tranquilizers, Benzodiazepine side effects can be devastating and fatal as each drug’s side effects compound. In other words, the drugs interact and cause more severe side effects. In addition, benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms are one of the few withdrawal symptoms that can be life-threatening. Below are the increased side effects of combined use of benzos and alcohol and opioids.
- Respiratory depression (slow or stopped breathing)
- Increased risk of overdose
- loss of cognitive function
- Decreased physical function and slow reaction time
- Increased likelihood of long-term physical and mental health problems
- Likelihood of dependence and addiction
- Benzodiazepines Withdrawal & its Risks:
Patients may experience withdrawal symptoms if treatment with benzodiazepines is stopped abruptly. Factors that increase the risk and severity of withdrawal symptoms include high doses and long-term use of benzodiazepines. In addition, benzodiazepines with short elimination half-lives tend to have early withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be fatal, so it is important for people who may be dependent or addicted to consult a medical professional or visit a medical detox facility before starting withdrawal. A health care professional can prescribe medications to manage and monitor withdrawal and intervene if something goes wrong. As detoxification occurs, the mind and body readjust to not attaining the neurochemical surges associated with benzodiazepine misuse.
Common symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal are:
- Sleeping disorder
- Muscle spasm
- Blurry vision
- Delusion seizure
The best way to quit benzos is to ask your doctor to reduce your dose by tapering. Tapering means gradually decreasing the dose over a period of weeks or months.
Depending on the benzodiazepine you are currently taking, your doctor may want to switch to another benzodiazepine before starting the taper. Short-acting benzos have too many ups and downs, making withdrawal difficult. Diazepam, a long-acting benzo, is the most common choice for dose taper.
There is no standard taper plan to follow. Your doctor will help you create an individualized tapering plan based on your current dose and your unique circumstances. Some people taper off quickly, and complete within 2-3 weeks.
During tapering, some withdrawal symptoms may still occur.
If the symptoms are intolerable, the doctor may interrupt or slow down the taper. Most doctors choose not to reverse the taper but to increase the dose in response to withdrawal symptoms.
To deal with these symptoms, it’s good to have a backup plan for dealing with anxiety.
These therapies have been found to be useful:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Mindfulness training
Psychotherapy can help you understand the root causes of substance abuse problems. It also helps identify psychological triggers that can lead to relapses, so you can avoid them in the future.
If you quit benzos because of abuse or uncontrolled use, you may need further substance use treatment. This is especially true if you are also avoiding other substances such as alcohol and opioids. People with a history of complex withdrawal, seizures, or severe mental illness may be suitable for inpatient treatment.