What are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are a class of prescription medications that have a sedating effect. They function as tranquilizers by enhancing the effect of a naturally occurring chemical called gamma amino butyric acid, or GABA, on the brain. Benzodiazepines slow brain activity and are prescribed to reduce anxiety. They are also often used to treat insomnia, a common side effect of anxiety disorders.
Xanax and Valium, two of the most commonly prescribed forms of benzodiazepines, are also among some of the most widely abused drugs in the United States. The 2015-2016 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health revealed that 12.5% of adults used benzodiazepines; approximately 17.1% misused them while only 2% met the diagnostic criteria for a benzodiazepine use disorder.
Research shows that anyone who takes benzodiazepines for longer than three to four weeks is at risk of developing a dependency. Although benzos, as they are often called, can help people manage anxiety symptoms, they are not a permanent solution to psychological problems. The belief that someone needs to take benzodiazepines to treat anxiety inevitably leads to overreliance, higher tolerance and, ultimately, dependency.
Most people who have a benzo addiction did not begin taking them with the intention of misusing the drugs. Unfortunately, they are not safe for long-term use and quickly build up in the system. Over time, benzodiazepines lose their effectiveness, and people begin to take them in higher quantities to achieve the same result. Their anxiety also ultimately worsens as they become reliant on the drugs to feel normal.
If you or a loved one is addicted to benzodiazepines, professional treatment is available to help. Green Mountain Treatment Center offers a 12-step rehab program and recovery services in New Hampshire to adults of all ages. Our gender-separate programs promote a sense of safety and non-judgment among peers. By embarking on the journey toward sobriety, you can learn how to manage your mental health without benzos and live life to the fullest.
Types of Benzodiazepines
There is a wide array of prescription medications that fall under the umbrella of benzodiazepines. Some of the most common are:
These drugs all function in a similar manner. The increased effect of GABA on the brain makes it easier for the user to sleep, reduces anxious thoughts and creates a sedated feeling of calm that can be difficult to live without after one has developed a tolerance.
The Effects of Benzodiazepines on the Brain and Body
People who abuse benzodiazepines are prone to experiencing a wide array of side effects that are undesirable. Over time, these effects also increase the risk of experiencing a benzo seizure during withdrawal. Because of the high risk of health complications, many people choose to stay addicted out of fear rather than getting help from a professional team.
While misusing benzodiazepines, people are prone to slower cognitive reasoning. Persistent feelings of drowsiness and confusion are common along with vision problems and poor coordination. Although they may alleviate anxiety, benzodiazepines can worsen depression, causing people to develop mental health problems simply by trying to alleviate one.
The psychological side effects of benzodiazepines range from feeling disconnected from oneself and the world around them, known as depersonalization or derealization, and feeling void of emotion. Many people who abuse benzos report feeling like they’re detached from everything and simply drifting through life.
Muscles are more relaxed under the influence of benzodiazepines, which affects a person’s ability to coordinate their movements and perform many easy physical tasks. The heavy grogginess and increased irritability can negatively impact someone’s work or school performance to the point that they stop going altogether.
Risk Factors for Benzodiazepine Addiction
Anyone who takes benzodiazepines could develop an addiction. Substance use disorders are not always the result of an intentional choice to misuse drugs; the majority of people who have a benzo addiction initially wanted to treat their anxiety or insomnia. They may have felt “on edge” and been recommended benzos by a friend with a prescription. Self-medicating is one of the most dangerous choices you can make, however. Everyone’s body is different, and prescriptions are personalized to ensure that there are no complications with other medications a person takes or their lifestyle habits.
Mixing benzodiazepines with other depressants such as alcohol or opioids can lead to a fatal overdose. To avoid developing a substance use disorder, people should only take their recommended dose, never take any medication that was not prescribed to them and only take the drugs for a short period of time.
Benzodiazepines are acceptable for short-term use, and they are most effective for anxiety when combined with psychotherapy. Counseling for anxiety can help you unpack your disorder, manage your symptoms and gradually become more confident in your ability to control your anxiety without benzos.
Warning Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse
For friends and family members who are concerned about a loved one, there are some common signs of a growing dependency to be on the lookout for. Although you can never force someone to get treatment or quit using drugs, you can approach them from a place of compassionate concern and support.
Identifying potential warning signs of a benzo addiction can help you approach your loved one with facts over feelings. Although emotions play a large role in substance abuse, it’s important to focus on the topic of the addiction rather than the person’s character.
Signs to watch out for include:
• Increased irritability
• Mood swings
• Insomnia or sleep disturbances, meaning sleeping more or less than usual
• Frequent drowsiness
• Poor decision-making
• Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
• “Zoning out” or appearing disengaged
• Changing doctors or visiting multiple physicians for new prescriptions
• Stealing others’ medication
• “Losing” their prescriptions in order to get another
• Stockpiling medications
It can be difficult for someone to open up about their struggle with benzodiazepines. They may feel like they’ve lost control and are ashamed of their prescription drug problem. Admitting they have a problem is the first step toward getting the help they need.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms
Nearly one-third of all people who abuse benzodiazepines will experience a seizure during withdrawal, which makes supervised medical detox essential to a safe recovery. Our facility offers medical detox for benzodiazepines that can reduce the likelihood of a seizure and make the side effects of withdrawal much more tolerable.
Detoxing from benzos is risky alone. No one should attempt to immediately stop taking any pills as the body has become reliant on them to function normally. In rehab, we follow a benzo detox protocol that provides medically assisted support to people over the course of several days or weeks.
The initial symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include:
• Heightened anxiety and panic attacks
• Feeling overly excited and restless
• Weak muscles and dizziness
• Heart palpitations
Anxiety often worsens during the initial stage of benzodiazepine withdrawal, which can lead to increased feelings of depersonalization and detachment. Insomnia, anxiety dreams and light sensitivity are also common, but all symptoms typically abate within a few weeks.
Prescription medications may be used to help offset some of the symptoms of benzodiazepines. They may be continually used during what is known as the protracted stage of withdrawal, which includes milder systems that last anywhere from 12 to 18 months post-detox.
Our state-of-the-art medical detox facility provides round-the-clock care and is supervised 24 hours a day by licensed medical professionals who are specialists in substance abuse and withdrawal. Aside from making the introduction to rehab as comfortable as possible, we also want to ensure that your physical health is protected from any of the risks of withdrawal.
Treatment and Rehab for a Benzo Addiction
Green Mountain Treatment Center provides a variety of treatment options to personalize rehab and offer every individual the environment and resources they need to achieve sobriety. Every program is based on an individual’s unique problem, mental health and desired outcomes.
Rehab is more than just a place to detox; it is where people begin to finally accept who they are regardless of how much they like what they see in the mirror. They come to terms with their addictions and the impact that substance abuse has had on their lives.
We provide a client mentor program that matches each new guest with someone who is further along in their own recovery. New clients eventually become mentors themselves, which helps them gain a sense of purpose and see the benefits of getting help as they provide support and guidance to someone who is standing where they once were.
Clinical and Holistic Therapies
In addition to the classic 12-step model of addiction treatment, we provide a variety of different therapeutic services that have been proven to effectively help people overcome substance abuse. We pay close attention to the underlying causes of every individual’s addiction and provide counseling to help them overcome everything from PTSD and trauma to depression and anxiety.
Our holistic therapies include yoga, meditation, gym time and outdoor excursions to help people reconnect with their body and mind. These holistic treatments provide an outlet for the stress and difficult feelings that come up during treatment, particularly during the early stages of recovery.
Our services do not stop at the end of treatment. We provide ongoing support to our clients to ensure that they feel capable and confident maintaining sobriety. Our relapse prevention program and aftercare resources include a sober living facility and continued counseling.
Relapse is considered a normal part of the recovery process. While we want to do everything in our power to prevent it from happening, we understand and accept the fact that it often does.
Preparing clients and their families for the possibility of relapse can help provide a cushion of support and guidance that keeps them from spiraling back into active addiction. Therapies that can help prevent relapse include recreational therapy, group therapy, individual counseling and experiential therapy.
When someone relapses, the last thing they need to do is wallow in guilt and be criticized. Instead, they need to be approached from a position of acceptance. By turning attention to the problem, not the person, help can be administered sooner and ultimately be more effective.
The goal is to integrate any relapses that occur into the overarching recovery narrative. People are not meant to view their relapse as a failure and think that all of their progress is undone in a single moment. Recovery is a choice individuals make every day, and that choice means more than anything when they are finally faced with choosing to continue to use benzos or say no and turn back in the other direction.
To learn more about our services and find a treatment option that can finally help you, reach out to Green Mountain Treatment Center today.