Benzodiazepine Addiction

The sedative effects of benzodiazepines lead many people to misuse them, which can result in overdose, physical dependence and addiction. A comprehensive treatment program addresses all aspects of benzodiazepine addiction to help individuals fully recover.

Overview

Benzodiazepines have been used for decades to treat many different physical and psychological conditions. In fact, these drugs are some of the most commonly prescribed depressants in the United States, according to the Center For Substance Abuse Research (CESAR).

Yet as prescriptions for benzodiazepines increase every year, the increased prescription rates are accompanied by higher rates of misuse and addiction. Unfortunately, the nation has only just started paying attention to this problem. As CESAR explains, “abuse of benzodiazepines was not specifically addressed until the 1980s, when they became among the most prescribed medications in the United States.”

Today, prescriptions written for benzodiazepines total in the hundreds of millions. In 2011 alone, prescriptions written for five of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines—alprazolam, clonazepam, diazepam, lorazepam, and temazepam—totaled over 126 million, according to data reported by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

The best defense we have against benzodiazepine misuse and addiction is treatment. If we can recognize the signs of misuse and addiction, and know the consequences or harm addiction can cause, we can help people find hope and healing with treatment modalities that are right for them.

What Are Benzos and Why Are They Misused?

Benzodiazepines, commonly called benzos, are a class of drugs (depressants) that cause central nervous system depression.

They work by slowing certain functions in the brain and body. In the U.S. these medications are prescribed for the following uses:

  • Amnesiatic
  • Anti-anxiety
  • Anticonvulsant
  • Muscle relaxant
  • Sedative-hypnotic

They can also be used in treatment for agitation, seizures, and as a premedication for medical or dental procedures.

More than 15 types of benzodiazepines are currently on the market. Familiar names include Valium and Xanax.  They are also referred to as Ativan, Librium, roofies, tranks, downers, benzos, goofballs, Mexican, roach, heavenly blues, valo, stupefi, date rape, anxiety, and club drugs.

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The sedative properties of the drugs make them high targets of misuse. Many people combine benzos with other substances, like alcohol or opioids, to enhance the effects of each.

However, combining the drugs is extremely dangerous, as mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol, another depressant, can enhance the sedative effects to extreme levels. Mixing with opioids, which are stimulants, can cause extreme contrasting effects. Both of these combinations greatly increase the affected person’s chance of overdose.

Side Effects Of Benzodiazepine MisuseBenzodiazepines are typically available in capsule or tablet form. When misused, the person might crush them and snort the powder or mix with water to make a solution and inject it, creating faster effects.

Benzos are available in short-acting (faster onset of effects) and long-acting (extended release of effects) forms. Short-acting benzos tend to be misused more often because of the quicker release of effects, but all benzos show rates of misuse and addiction.

People who misuse benzodiazepines also tend to use them with other substances. For example, the drugs are misused with cocaine to help relieve the side effects, with methadone to enhance the euphoric effects, and with alcohol to heighten the sedative effects or help fight withdrawal, according to the DEA.

Various Drug Forms Of Benzodiazepine Include :

  • Tablet
  • Capsule
  • Syrup
  • Solution (clear liquid)
  • Extended-release (long-acting) capsule
  • Extended-release (long-acting) suspension (liquid) to take by mouth

When taken as directed, the tablet, capsule, syrup, and solution are usually taken every 4-6 hours as needed. The extended-release capsule and the extended-release suspension are usually taken every 12 hours as needed. If you are taking benzodiazepine on a regular schedule, take it at around the same time(s) every day. Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you do not understand.

Benzodiazepine Addiction In The United States

The DEA explains, “individuals abusing benzodiazepines obtain them by getting prescriptions from several doctors, forging prescriptions, or buying diverted pharmaceutical products on the illicit market.” Alprazolam (Xanax) is listed as one of the top three benzodiazepines sold illicitly.

In terms of numbers, the DEA reports there were over 345,000 emergency visits due to benzodiazepines in 2010, a drastic increase from the more than 271,000 in 2008. In 2011, the National Survey For Drug Use And Health reported that an estimated 20.4 million people have misused benzodiazepines in their lifetime. This number includes those ages 12 and above.

The overwhelming majority of these numbers are due to alprazolam misuse, but clonazepam, diazepam, lorazepam, and temazepam also play a large role.

Why is benzodiazepine misuse so rampant in our nation? The drugs, though with proven numbers of misuse and addiction, are still a Schedule IV under the Controlled Substances Act. This means they are considered to have low risk of misuse in comparison to other drugs.

The exception to this is flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), commonly known as the “date-rape” drug. While this is also classified as a Schedule IV substance, misuse of it carries penalties of a Schedule I.

The overdose numbers and emergency visits show that benzodiazepines may have mild effects, but can cause extreme results. According to the National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA), “from 2002 to 2015, there was a 4.3-fold increase in the total number of deaths” due to benzodiazepine overdose.

Whether or not benzodiazepines are considered dangerous drugs doesn’t really matter. What matters is the harm they can cause when misused, the addiction that can trap you into a cycle of harmful effects to your health, and the risk of overdose associated with misuse of them.

The ray of hope, though, is that treatment for benzodiazepine addiction is available and it can help. Treatment can help you overcome misuse, build a better life, and learn to manage withdrawal and avoid relapse.

What Are The Side Effects Of Benzodiazepine Misuse?

People largely misuse benzodiazepines for the feelings of calm and relaxation, and the relief from anxiety and tension.

With those effects come other, adverse side effects, such as:

  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Drowsiness, fatigue, or lethargy
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea, constipation, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • Respiratory depression
  • Speech troubles: slurring words or stuttering
  • Stomach cramps
  • Tremors
  • Vertigo
  • Vision impairment
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Misuse of benzodiazepines, which means changing the method of administration, taking more frequent or higher doses than prescribed, or taking it for reasons other than prescribed, can cause effects more dire than those above. These can include euphoria, erratic and/or hostile behavior, mood swings, and slow reflexes.

The CESAR warns that some benzodiazepines are processed and released slowly from the body. This means that, “ingesting multiple doses over long periods of time can lead to significant accumulation in fatty tissues.” In turn, this excess buildup can contribute to overdose risk.

Signs of oversedation may not appear for a few days, and may include the following:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Impairments to memory thought process, and decision-making
  • Muscle weakness or lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech

Physical Consequences Of Benzodiazepine Misuse

In addition to side effects, benzodiazepine misuse can result in a number of consequences. These can include tolerance, dependence, addiction, and overdose.

Tolerance occurs when your body becomes accustomed to the effects of a substance, and you no longer feel the same effects when you take the drug. For people taking benzodiazepines as prescribed, tolerance may occur after six months of use or more. For those misusing benzos, tolerance may occur more quickly.

After you build up a tolerance, you may experience dependence on benzos. This happens when your body becomes addicted to the effects of the drug, and you start feeling physical symptoms when not taking it. These symptoms are known as withdrawal and may include anxiety, dysphoria (being uneasy or constantly feeling dissatisfied), insomnia, seizures, and tremors.

Withdrawal symptoms may be mild at first, but they can cause enough discomfort to keep you using benzos even when you want to stop. This is especially true if you misuse the drugs with another substance, as many people do. Benzodiazepines have mild effects in comparison to many drugs, so many people misuse them in combination with other substances to create greater effects.

Perhaps the biggest risk of benzodiazepine misuse, though, is the potential road to addiction. Simply taking benzodiazepines as medication won’t necessarily cause an addiction to develop. The danger lies not in the drug itself but in the potential to get addicted to the feelings that the substance induces. Benzodiazepine notably has relaxing, calming effects, which may be appealing to individuals who crave that kind of feeling as a tool to escape unpleasant realities or to handle anxiety.

Polysubstance misuse can also pose a large risk to a user. For example, if you misuse alcohol and benzodiazepines, you may have a fair amount of cross-tolerance, or tolerance to one substance due to a tolerance of the other. What this means is, if you are misusing benzodiazepines and begin misusing alcohol, you may quickly develop tolerance to alcohol because your body is already used to the sedative effects of a depressant.

Why is this so dangerous? Tolerance, in general, is dangerous because it increases your risk of overdose. Misuse of any drug is risky, but using drugs in high doses or frequent doses is riskier, and that’s what tolerance pushes you to do.

In truth, there are no limits to the toll addiction can take on your life. That’s why it’s best to recognize addiction as it starts, and find help in treatment.

Commonly Misused Benzodiazepines

The most commonly misused benzodiazepines, according to high numbers of prescriptions written, are alprazolam, clonazepam, diazepam, lorazepam, and temazepam, according to the DEA.

Alprazolam

Alprazolam is typically used for treating anxiety and panic disorders. Brand names of the drug are Xanax and Xanax XR. As one of the most prescribed medications for anxiety-related conditions, alprazolam is highly misused.

Clonazepam

This medication is used mostly to treat seizures but is also prescribed for panic disorders. According to the U.S. National Library Of Medicine, “it works by decreasing abnormal electrical activity in the brain.” The brand name for this drug is Klonopin. The Citizens Commission On Human Rights (CCHR) states, “no ‘benzo’ has been more lethal to millions of Americans” than Klonopin.

Diazepam

Diazepam, known by the brand name Valium, is used to treat several conditions including anxiety, muscle spasms, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Combining it with other substances, especially alcohol, can cause dangerously slowed breathing or even fatal overdose.

Lorazepam

Lorazepam is mainly used for anxiety, working by slowing brain activity, which results in relaxation. The common brand name for it is Ativan. As with other benzodiazepines, dependence and addiction to lorazepam can occur even if used as directed for a short time.

Temazepam

This medication is typically prescribed for people with insomnia. It works by slowing brain activity so you can sleep. This drug can become addictive especially because, after use of it, you may have an even harder time seeking sleep, especially if you develop an addiction to it.

Ensure Prescribed Medication Is Taken Properly

Prescribed Medication Is Taken Properly

When taken as directed, the tablet, capsule, syrup, and solution are usually taken every 4-6 hours as needed. The extended-release capsule and the extended-release suspension are usually taken every 12 hours as needed. If you are taking benzodiazepine on a regular schedule, take it at around the same time(s) every day. Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you do not understand.

If you will be using a benzo solution, syrup, or extended-release suspension, do not use a household teaspoon to measure your dose. Household teaspoons are not accurate measuring devices, and you may receive too much medication or not enough medication if you measure your dose with a household teaspoon. Instead, use a properly marked measuring device such as a dropper, medicine spoon, or oral syringe. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you need help getting or using a measuring device.

Can You Overdose On Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs on which you can experience an overdose. Given the mild effects of the drugs, perhaps that doesn’t always seem possible, but it’s true.

As previously stated, many people who misuse benzodiazepines take them with other illicit substances. Whether used in combination with other substances to enhance the effects of each, or to counteract or balance the effects of other substances, polydrug misuse with benzos is dangerous.

Depressants work by slowing different parts of brain activity. In turn, body functions, like breathing, are slowed. Combine the similar effects of two depressants (like benzos and alcohol) and your breathing could slow to extremely low levels.

Misusing benzodiazepines in conjunction with stimulants like cocaine or opioids, which work to enhance brain productivity, can be just as risky. Cocaine works by giving you energy surges and euphoria, quite the opposite effects of benzos.

To produce these bursts of energy, cocaine works in the body by quickening functions like breathing and heart rate. The opposing extremes of stimulants like cocaine and benzodiazepines can create a catastrophe, ending in overdose.

Even if you don’t engage in polydrug misuse, addiction to benzodiazepines can result in an overdose. Dependence can result even if you take the drugs for a short time, and then you may experience tolerance, begin taking more, and risk overdose.

Why Is Benzo Detoxification Important?

A supervised, medical detoxification is necessary for individuals addicted to benzodiazepines due to high risk of seizures during withdrawal. It is important to never try and stop taking benzodiazepines on your own. Medical detox can help ensure your safety.

Medical monitoring of detox can help you in several ways. First, with medical supervision, your health status will be regularly monitored. This is highly important during detox from benzos, as regulation of breathing and heart rate when coming off the use of benzos is necessary.

Also, with medication-assisted treatment, you can receive medication if you need it during detox. Why would you need medication to wean off the use of another medication? Withdrawal symptoms may become quite uncomfortable.

You may need medication to help quell the symptoms of withdrawal long enough to make it through detoxification. Contrary to what some people believe, not all medications for withdrawal symptom relief create those addictive feelings and experiences. Instead, these medications help you safely taper off use of benzodiazepines until you can quit the use of them and begin the rest of your treatment program.

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Withdrawal Symptoms Of Benzodiazepine

The pain a person feels when trying to stop taking a drug like benzodiazepine can seem as if it’s increased when really the pain hasn’t increased–the person taking the pain medicine’s brain doesn’t understand why the change in medication has happened and cannot adequately cope with the withdrawal of the medicine.

Subsequently, when the benzo substance is abruptly removed from a person’s system it can cause side effects like nausea, mood swings and physical pain.

As we’ve discussed in the previous section, a medically supervised detox can provide you with the opportunity to take some medication to lessen uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

What Treatment Methods Are Most Effective?

Treating a benzodiazepine addiction is complex and a good treatment program treats each client on an individualized basis.

Addiction affects all aspects of your health: mental, emotional, and physical. In turn, your behavior, thoughts, body, and life are changed. Treatment helps you reverse some of these changes, build positive new behaviors, learn skills and mindfulness, and teaches you ways to seek fulfillment from life without addiction.

Withdrawal Symptoms Of BenzodiazepineAccomplishing all of these treatment goals is no easy feat, and that’s why utilizing a number of different treatment methods is so important. The best rehab centers will provide a number of treatment modalities from which you can build a program that’s right for you.

All of our treatment centers recognize the need for treatment that is tailored to the individual. Our treatment methods are as varied as the individuals we help treat. When you find hope and healing with us, you’ll have access to custom, individualized treatment programs that fit your specific needs.

The following are just a few of our science-backed programs that cater to the varying needs of those who enter our rehab centers:

  • Treatment specific to men
  • Treatment specific to women
  • Dual diagnosis treatment: treating more than one disorder at a time
  • Mental health treatment
  • Medication-assisted therapy
  • Counseling
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Nutritional support and exercise guidance
  • Skill building
  • Mindfulness techniques
  • Adventure and wilderness therapy
  • Holistic healing
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Aftercare support

We at Vertava Health specialize in benzo addiction. We know you are struggling and that benzos like Xanax or Valium have helped treat your feelings of stress and anxiety. But you’re here because you know you may have found yourself unable to stop the habit–and we are here to help you. There are ways to manage anxiety and stress without relying heavily on benzodiazepines. Through cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, and individual therapy our campuses are designed to provide the best possible care to treat and detox the addiction, find the root cause of the anxiety, and give the person struggling their life back.

When you’re ready for help with benzodiazepine addiction you’ll want a rehab center that works for you and understands all of your unique needs. Vertava Health provides resources that will do just that. We would like to help you break free from addiction and look forward to a better future. Contact us today at (615) 208-2941.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there an antidote to benzodiazepines?

If you believe you are struggling with an addiction to benzodiazepines, you should seek treatment. There is quality treatment available for those who wish to turn away from addiction and find healthy ways of coping when faced with stress or anxiety.

The first step in addiction treatment is usually a medically-supervised detox. At Vertava Health, our campuses offer medically-supervised detox to ensure your health and enable you to begin a path to recovery.

Is benzodiazepine a drug that is useful in the treatment of anxiety?

Benzodiazepines are prescription drugs that can be helpful to some individuals. Anxiety is one condition that may be treated or controlled using benzos. Simply taking benzos does not mean an individual will develop an addiction. It’s best to follow your prescriber’s directions for taking benzos and talk to them about concerns you may have with the medication.

Can I take benzodiazepines forever?

Benzodiazepines are some of the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States. Many people find benzos helpful in managing a variety of conditions. The length of time that an individual should take benzos should be a discussion between that individual and their healthcare provider.

Of course, if you believe you are misusing benzos for a different effect than originally prescribed, talk to your doctor and seek treatment from an addiction treatment center. At Vertava Health, we recognize that benzos may be misused in an attempt to alter one’s mental state. We have the resources to help you learn how to live a healthy life without turning to substance misuse.