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.
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.
Benzos were also involved in 17% of all overdose deaths in the US from 2019-2020.
Signs of Misuse
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
Increased fatigue or drowsiness
Problems with remembering things
Intense feelings of depression
Hallucinations of paranoia
Symptoms of Misuse
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
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
Increased number of car crashes
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.
Live Another Day
Stories of Benzodiazepine Recovery
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.
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.
National Benzodiazepine Resources
Provides locations of meetings and also has several resources for individuals who need them.
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