Amid the high-intensity of modern life, it is no secret that many people are prone to developing anxiety or sleep disturbances. Prescription sedatives known as benzodiazepines, or benzos, have become the go-to source for finding relief from the symptoms associated with these disorders. These medications provide swift sedating effects that have made them among the most prescribed drugs in the U.S.
But there is a dark side to those little pills that offer quick relief for stress and insomnia. Benzodiazepines are highly addictive drugs. When taking these medications regularly, tolerance to their effects rapidly builds up, meaning that it takes more of the drug to achieve the desired effects. Continue reading about benzodiazepines to learn about these potentially dangerous drugs, and how to spot signs of addiction or dependency.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
The sedative class of drugs known as benzodiazepines includes such familiar brand names as Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Librium, and Ativan. Patients who struggle with an anxiety disorder, seizures, or insomnia find the medications highly effective in promptly relieving symptoms.
Benzodiazepines provide a tranquil, calming effect as they block excessive neural activity in the central nervous system and the brain, slowing down the nervous system. These receptors in the brain are called gamma-aminobutyric acid-A (GABA). It should be noted that benzodiazepines are meant for short-term use, as they are highly addictive agents.
What Are the Dangers of Benzodiazepines?
As with all psychoactive drugs, the body learns to quickly adapt to the changes in brain chemistry. This leads to enhanced tolerance, and that can cause someone to begin taking more frequent doses. The increase of the drug further impacts neurotransmitters and begins to remap the brain pathways, which culminates in dependency.
Benzodiazepine addiction can happen in a matter of weeks. Addiction occurs when someone anticipates the need for the drug even before they actually experience symptoms. They begin to believe they cannot function or sleep without the benzo, which is referred to as a psychological addiction.
Signs of a benzodiazepine use disorder include:
- Being obsessed with having enough of the drug on hand.
- Looking forward to the next dose.
- Seeking out other sources for acquiring the drug, such as doctor shopping or purchasing them through illicit sources.
- Experiencing physical symptoms, such as blurred vision, dry mouth, constipation, lack of coordination, slurred speech, lightheadedness, and drowsiness.
- Having decreased libido.
- Having impaired memory.
- Lying about how much of the benzodiazepine you are taking.
- Feeling irritable.
- Experiencing manic moods.
- Being forgetful.
- Feelings of apathy.
- Trying to stop taking the benzo but can’t.
- Experiencing withdrawal signs when not taking the drug.
In addition to the risk for developing a benzodiazepine use disorder, there is also a risk of overdose. Someone may lose track of their dosing and experience respiratory distress or overdose as the central nervous system becomes too suppressed. Additionally, mixing alcohol with benzodiazepines increases the risk for overdose or death.
Medically Supported Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Management
When a benzodiazepine use disorder develops it is essential to obtain professional support for weaning yourself off of the drug. This is because benzodiazepine withdrawal can be especially unpredictable and even dangerous.
When approaching withdrawal, the process will be carefully managed by a step-down tapering schedule over a couple of weeks. This strategy helps to ease the person through the detox process as the body becomes accustomed to increasingly lower levels of the drug in the system. This gradual approach helps to control the withdrawal response as well.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Elevated blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Hand tremors
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal cramping
- Mood swings
- Panic attack symptoms
- Suicidal thoughts
Throughout the withdrawal management phase of recovery a team of skilled detox specialists will provide medical interventions to minimize discomfort, as well as psychological support.
Treatment For Benzodiazepine Use Disorder
After completing the benzodiazepine withdrawal process it is time to transition to the treatment phase of recovery. Therapy and education are critical elements in overcoming the addiction behavior patterns that have become habit. A residential treatment program will include the following therapeutic activities:
- Group Therapy
- Family Therapy
- Education and Recovery Skills
- Twelve-Step Program or SMART Recovery
- Holistic Therapies
- Nutrition and Recreation
A comprehensive treatment program offers the psychological and behavioral solutions to help you break free from a benzodiazepine use disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you change unhelpful thought patterns that keep you dependent on benzodiazepines and allow you to live a new life in recovery.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.