Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepine Symptoms

Benzodiazepines (benzos) are a class of prescription anti-anxiety medications that are extremely addictive when used long-term and outside the bounds of their prescribed dosage. When used, benzos attach to GABA receptors in the body and produce an extremely calming effect. Because they produce a tolerance so quickly, users who may have been prescribed a small dosage for their anxiety quickly find that they need more to experience the same effects. 

National Statistics

In the United States, it is estimated that almost 31 million people use prescription benzos. This does not include those who find their drugs outside the bounds of legal use. 

  • Of the people who are prescribed benzodiazepines, 17% misuse them. 
  • Almost 2% of people with prescriptions develop a benzo abuse disorder. 
  • When it comes to total benzo misuse, only about 20% of people who do end up abusing this medication get it from a prescription. The rest receive it from friends, family members, or others.
  • 90% of benzo-related overdose deaths from 2019-2020 also involved synthetic opioids.
  • Benzos were also involved in 17% of all overdose deaths in the US from 2019-2020.

Adverse Effects of Benzos

Though users typically seek the calming effects of benzos, when overused at a higher dosage, individuals may experience side effects, such as:

  • Slowed reaction time
  • Loss of motor control
  • Slurred speech
  • Dizziness
  • Increased fatigue or drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Problems with remembering things
  • Aggression
  • Intense feelings of depression
  • Hallucinations of paranoia

Symptoms of Use

Benzodiazepine abuse is much harder to detect in someone, especially if they have been prescribed Xanax or Klonopin. When it comes to drugs like this, individuals may jump from doctor to doctor for new prescriptions. Other symptoms of benzo use include:

  • Being unable to cut back on the dose
  • Using opioids or alcohol alongside their medication even when warned about possible interactions
  • Increased anxiety when benzos are not in their system
  • Experiencing cravings and withdrawal symptoms

Long-Term Effects

Because benzodiazepines directly impact cognitive functioning, especially after long-term use, they can pose several health complications and effects that someone may struggle with for their whole lives. Along with concentration and memory problems, loss of coordination, and amnesia, users may struggle with:

  • Permanent cognitive deficits
  • Depression
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Dementia
  • Increased number of car crashes
  • Hip fractures
Benzodiazepine Abuse

Recovery is Possible

It can be scary when you become addicted to a substance that was prescribed by a trusted physician to help control feelings of anxiety. These stories of recovery show that help is available and there can be a fulfilling life after benzo abuse.

Benzo Withdrawal

Withdrawing from benzodiazepines can be a dangerous process, especially if someone has been using them for an extended period of time. It can cause death, making this a drug that often requires medical attention for detoxing. Withdrawal can last anywhere from a few days to a few months depending on various factors. At the end of the day, it is best to utilize any medical services available to ensure this process is completed as safely as possible.

Symptoms of benzo withdrawal are:

  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Increased and Intense Anxiety
  • Panic Attacks
  • Tremors or Shaking
  • Inability to Concentrate 
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Weight Loss
  • Aches and Pains

Benzo Overdose

Benzodiazepine overdose is a critical condition that needs to be addressed immediately, especially since most people who overdose on benzos were also using opioids. Because both drugs cause sedation, using them at the same time can cause someone to become unconscious. Other overdose symptoms are slurred speech, confusion, impaired mental status, coma, respiratory depression, or death. 

Treatment for Benzodiazepine Abuse

Around 40% of people who abuse benzos report that they also suffer from a co-occurring mental health condition, such as anxiety. In an effort to self-medicate, especially if they have not received an official diagnosis or prescription for benzos, individuals may abuse this medication. Addressing those underlying conditions is critical if a person wishes to treat their substance abuse.

Clients may be prescribed SSRIs or non-addictive sleep aids in order to help treat conditions that may have led to the initial abuse. Other treatments that may be used in a benzodiazepine addiction treatment program are:

  • Yoga. Practicing yoga on a routine basis can decrease overall stress and anxiety. It also improves mood and the mind-body connection.
  • Meditation. This is another great way to reduce anxiety.
  • Group Therapy. Meeting with other individuals who are struggling with the same types of substance abuse or mental illnesses can help a person not feel so alone during this process. Making meaningful connections and building relationships is a key factor for any person in recovery.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. CBT is a helpful evidence-based tool that addresses problem thoughts and emotions and how those then become problem behaviors. This type of therapy can rewire the brain and lead clients down a better avenue of thinking.
Yoga Therapy for Benzo Treatment

National Benzo Resources

  • Narcotics Anonymous: Provides locations of meetings and also has several resources for individuals who need them.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous: Because benzo and alcohol withdrawal are extremely similar, it may also help to attend an AA meeting near you. This website is the national directory.
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