If you have ever struggled with anxiety or an anxiety disorder, you may have experienced relief from medication in the benzodiazepine family of drugs. As effective as benzodiazepines can be in managing anxiety symptoms , they can also be very habit forming.
Because of this risk, most doctors will only prescribe benzodiazepines for short-term use, such as in the recent aftermath of a traumatic event, or severe anxiety associated with anticipating an upcoming event. Since medical professionals take these drugs seriously, so should everybody else.
So what should every patient know about benzodiazepines before filling their prescription?
Let’s start with the basics.
What are benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines, also referred to as benzos, are central nervous system depressants sold under the brand names Valium, Xanax and Ativan. These drugs provide quick relief for individuals struggling with conditions like anxiety disorder, insomnia, epileptic seizures, alcohol withdrawal and restless leg syndrome.
Benzodiazepines provide mildly tranquilizing effects by increasing the GABA levels in the brain. This causes a decrease in brain and nerve activity, which results in a deep sense of calm and relaxation.
Benzodiazepines also have some possible adverse effects, including:
- Slurred speech
- Loss of coordination
- Memory problems
- Impaired decision-making
- Slowed response time
What are the risks of benzodiazepines?
As with any medication that a doctor prescribes to treat a medical or mental health condition, it is good to be aware of the possible long-term risks.
These might include:
- Cognitive impairment: Studies show that long-term benzodiazepine use can cause cognitive decline that does not resolve even after the medication is discontinued.
- Falls and other accidental injuries: These medications cause a loss of motor coordination and slower response times, which can result in falls and accidents.
- Dependency or addiction: Benzodiazepines are highly addictive and increase the risk of developing a substance use disorder. Signs of benzodiazepine dependence or addiction may include:
- Taking higher doses
- Doctor-shopping for refills
- Frequent headaches
- Mood swings
- Loss of appetite
- Mental confusion
- Rebound insomnia
- Muscular stiffness
- Panic attacks
- Intense sweating
- Increased anxiety
- Blurred vision
- Breathing problems
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Risk of overdose: Some individuals may use alcohol or other depressant substances while taking a benzodiazepine, which increases the risk of an overdose.
5 natural methods to reduce stress
As an alternative to benzodiazepines, there are several natural strategies to employ when struggling with anxiety, stress or insomnia. These include:
- Meditation: Helps relax the body and mind by practicing meditation. Find a quiet spot where you can spend 15 minutes in solitude while training yourself to manage stress.
- Yoga: Hatha yoga combines slow, purposeful movements, stretches and poses with focused breathing and mindfulness. They can help in achieving a calm state of mind, better mental focus and improved muscle tone.
- Essential oils: Oils extracted from flowers and plants can have potent calming properties. The oil can be applied to the skin, inhaled through a diffuser or added to a warm bath. Try lavender, rose, bergamot or chamomile oils for relaxation.
- Exercise: Numerous studies have confirmed the benefits of consistent exercise. Physical activity helps produce endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, which help reduce stress and improve your mood.
- Journaling: Chronicling your thoughts and feelings in a journal can help to release stress and anxiety. The writing process allows you to take those worries out of your mind and better assess how you’re feeling.
While benzodiazepines are appropriate to assist with anxiety or insomnia on a short-term basis, these drugs should be avoided as a long-term solution to these conditions.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307.