What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are a type of prescription drug that is used for its soothing effects. As a central nervous depressant, benzodiazepines alter neurotransmitter levels to reduce the level of nerve activity inside the brain. Doctors often prescribe benzodiazepines to treat problems like insomnia, anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizures. Some types of benzodiazepines are so sedating that they are even used to render patients unconscious for surgery. Most benzodiazepines come in the form of a pill, but there are also some that are administered as a liquid.
There are many types of benzodiazepines. This list covers some of the commonly used benzodiazepines along with brand-name manufacturers:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Clobazam (Onfi)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Triazolam (Halcion)
- Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
- Temazepam (Restoril)
- Clorazepate dipotassium (Tranxene)
Though benzodiazepines are a very effective medication, they also carry a high risk for addiction. Among people who use benzodiazepines, 44% develop a physical dependence on the drug, leading them to keep using it even if they do not have a prescription. Though most people’s introduction to benzodiazepines is through a doctor, they are also becoming a common product sold by drug dealers. They go by many names on the street, including benzos, downers, and tranks. Even those who do not have a health problem may use benzodiazepines because they can cause a sense of euphoria.
How Common Are Benzodiazepine Addictions?
Benzodiazepines might not be as commonly mentioned as drugs like heroin or cocaine, but they are a growing cause of concern in many parts of the country. Roughly 30.5 million people in the United States have used benzodiazepines. These numbers are on the rise, with benzodiazepine usage tripling in just the past five years. Though many just use this medication as prescribed, 17% of all users are taking them in a way that does not follow their doctor’s orders.
It is possible to take large amounts of benzodiazepines for a euphoric high, but that is not the case for most users. Surveys of those abusing benzodiazepines found that many people begin taking them to relax, reduce stress, or improve their sleep. Only 11% of people misusing the drug are doing so recreationally. Instead, those with a benzodiazepine use disorder are often just trying to self-medicate for various problems. Usage is highest among people between the ages of 50 to 64, and men are more likely to abuse the drug than women. This is a population that is not often at risk for addiction, so addictive behavior may go unnoticed at first.
Physical Symptoms of a Benzodiazepine Use Disorder
If you think you or a loved one may have a problem with benzodiazepine abuse, it is important to keep an eye out for potential signs of drug usage. In general, a person using benzodiazepines will alternate between behaving relatively normally and having intense periods of drowsiness when they are using the drug. It can be hard to identify the problem based on physical signs alone since many of these can be hidden.
Some of the most common physical signs that a person is abusing benzodiazepines include:
- Reduced coordination
- Sleepiness and fatigue
- Loss of memory
- Slurred speech
- Altered vision
- Shaking and tremors
- Impaired reflexes
- Nausea and abdominal discomfort
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Slowed breathing
- Loss of consciousness
Over time, repeated misuse of benzodiazepines can lead to more pronounced physical symptoms. The stomach issues and loss of appetite common with use of the drug can cause people to lose weight or develop anorexia. People with a benzodiazepine addiction may be unable to sleep when they quit using the drug, and they may start having tremors and memory loss even when sober. Repeated use of benzodiazepines will build up your tolerance, so you will have to take more and more to get the same effect.
Recognizing Signs of Benzodiazepine Dependence and Withdrawal
One of the big reasons that benzodiazepines are so addictive is the fact that the brain quickly builds up a dependence on them. Essentially, your body will start altering the amounts of certain neurotransmitters it produces because your brain is trying to reach a stable equilibrium. Over time, your body will find it hard to function properly without a regular benzodiazepine dose. Without the benzodiazepines to depress central nervous system activity, your body then has too much of certain neurotransmitters and too little of others.
These changes to your brain chemistry can cause all sorts of mental and physical issues. If you quit taking benzodiazepines suddenly, you can go into withdrawal. During withdrawal, you may experience:
- Rapid heart rate
The seizures and heart rate changes common during benzodiazepine withdrawal are very dangerous. Benzodiazepine is one of the rare types of drugs that can actually kill you during withdrawal. In many cases, otherwise healthy people may suffer from fatal heart attacks or seizures. Because benzodiazepine withdrawal can be so deadly, doctors never advise patients to quit taking them suddenly. Instead, the best way of handling withdrawal is through tapering. This involves gradually reducing levels of benzodiazepine consumption, so your body has time to get used to the change. This technique should be used by trained professionals.
Behavioral Symptoms of a Benzodiazepine Use Disorder
Though the physical effects of benzodiazepine can be concerning, the behavioral effects are often far more devastating. Plenty of people, even those with a physical dependence on benzodiazepines or a history of using benzodiazepines without a doctor’s instructions may not have a substance use disorder. A benzodiazepine use disorder is a serious behavioral condition characterized by a chronic pattern of problematic usage.
A person who uses benzodiazepines may qualify as having a sedative use disorder if they keep using the drug despite encountering physical, personal, or mental problems related to their benzodiazepine usage. Those with a sedative use disorder will lose interest in past activities and neglect personal responsibilities in favor of using the drug. They may spend much of their time obtaining, using, or thinking about benzodiazepines. Often, their loved ones notice an increase in irritability and mood swings.
Though they may want to cut back on drug usage, a person with a sedative use disorder may find themselves taking more of the substance than intended or using benzodiazepines for longer than the planned time. If a person has a substance use disorder, they may participate in risky behavior when on the drug, such as combining benzodiazepines with other drugs, participating in illegal behavior, or driving while still feeling the effects of the benzodiazepines.
There are also some distinctly concerning behaviors a person may present when trying to obtain more benzodiazepines. Often, people with a prescription will need to fill their prescriptions more often than recommended. They may skip doses, take larger than normal doses, or claim they have lost their medication. To get unsafe amounts of benzodiazepines, people might see several doctors simultaneously, trying to get multiple prescriptions at once. If a friend or relative is prescribed benzodiazepines, a person with an addiction may steal them. There is also a risk of a person with a substance use disorder stealing to get money to buy the drug.
What Dangers Occur When You’re Abusing Benzodiazepines?
Since benzodiazepines are a prescription medication, many people assume it is perfectly safe to use them even without a prescription. However, there is a reason they are a controlled substance. Benzodiazepines can be both physically and mentally harmful when taken without proper medical direction.
For most patients, benzodiazepines are only prescribed for a short period of time. However, people with a benzodiazepine use disorder will keep using the drug for long periods of time. Long-term usage can increase the risks of depression and even suicide. Chronic benzodiazepine usage can also damage the brain, with studies finding that dementia is more common in seniors who have been regularly taking benzodiazepines. The coordination issues that develop from chronic benzodiazepine use can lead to a higher risk for accidents like tripping, falling, or cutting oneself as well.
Benzodiazepines are especially dangerous when combined with other central nervous depressants like alcohol and opioids. These similar drugs can have heightened effects when combined, so taking a normal dose of each can lead to dangerously slow breath rates. One study found that people who used both opioids and benzodiazepines were 10 times as likely to overdose.
In addition to all these physical dangers, addiction comes with all sorts of behavioral dangers as well. Those with a benzodiazepine addiction may find that it gets in the way of maintaining relationships with loved ones. It might make it hard to focus on completing schoolwork, achieving career goals, or caring for children. Some may face legal problems due to stealing money, stealing medications, forging prescriptions, or driving while on benzodiazepines. If left untreated, a benzodiazepine addiction has the potential to ruin your life. Fortunately, help is out there.
What to Do If You Notice Benzodiazepine Addiction Signs
Benzodiazepine addiction can be hard to shake on your own. Therefore, it is important to seek help from trained professionals. Treatment for a benzodiazepine addiction involves both medical care to handle the physical effects and therapy to address the behavioral issues of a substance use disorder. You can get these treatments at drug addiction treatment centers and rehab facilities.
Most of these clinics are divided into inpatient and outpatient facilities, which both have their own benefits. Inpatient, or residential, rehab lets you check into a center and live there for several weeks or longer while you work on your sobriety. Outpatient rehab allows you to come and go, living at home while regularly scheduling appointments for addiction care. Inpatient is generally recommended for those with a severe addiction or home issues while outpatient can be helpful if you need to save money and have certain responsibilities you still need to manage at home.
Green Mountain Treatment Center’s Benzodiazepine Recovery Program
At Green Mountain Treatment Center, we have plenty of experience handling benzodiazepine addictions. Our medical detox can help you safely navigate the dangers of getting clean from benzodiazepines while our trained therapists and counselors can help address your mental health. With our personalized benzodiazepine treatment program, you can identify the triggers that led you to benzodiazepine abuse in the first place and find ways of coping with cravings and triggers. Benzodiazepine abuse is often linked to other health conditions like anxiety or insomnia, and we can help you find healthier ways of managing these problems.
Green Mountain Treatment Center provides a therapeutic, relaxing environment you cannot find anywhere else. Nestled in the hills of New Hampshire, the clinic provides a beautiful view of the Lakes Region and the White Mountains. Clients are assigned a peer mentor upon arrival, so they get support from someone who has already been through the program. A wide range of clinical and holistic therapies addresses every aspect of wellness and helps you obtain sobriety. Find out more about our benzodiazepine rehab program by giving us a call now.