Benzodiazepine Addiction

Anxiety disorders are rampant among Americans, affecting more than 40 million people in the country. Between work, children, relationships and other responsibilities, life can grow stressful. Unfortunately, this stress is leading to benzodiazepine addiction.

While it's normal to experience mild anxiety on occasion, extreme or persistent anxiety can take a significant toll on your life. People who suffer from anxiety disorders experience trouble across multiple areas of life, so their doctors may prescribe benzodiazepines, medications that may offer anxiety relief to some people.

Though benzodiazepines are legally available via prescription, they have abuse potential and can lead to benzodiazepine addiction. Many abusers maintain their drug supply by getting prescriptions from several doctors, forging prescriptions, or buying them illicitly.

“What are benzos?” is a commonly asked question of these substances. Benzodiazepines are psychoactive medications doctors commonly prescribe to treat a variety of conditions, from anxiety to insomnia. Since benzodiazepines are sedatives, people may abuse them to get high or experience an extreme and unsafe level of relaxation. This may result in benzodiazepine addiction. However, most of the time, these drugs do not cause benzodiazepine addiction if they are used in accordance with a doctor’s instructions.

There are more than a dozen different types of benzodiazepines, each with its own clinical purpose. Benzodiazepines are used to treat multiple conditions, but perhaps their most renowned indication is for treating anxiety disorders.

However, while some benzodiazepines are used to treat psychological issues, others are more commonly used for physical problems. One benzodiazepine may be used specifically to treat anxiety disorders, another may be used to treat convulsions in people with cerebral palsy. Doctors may prefer a third for treating insomnia, while still another works best to induce amnesia in a person who is preparing for a surgery.

Because benzodiazepines are habit-forming, they should only be used to treat symptoms of legitimate medical disorders. People who simply have average, everyday life stressors should avoid these medications. Additionally, benzodiazepines should typically only be used for short periods of time since they can quickly create a tolerance in the user.

People take benzodiazepines in several ways, whether they are using the drugs under medical supervision or abusing them illicitly. The most common method is to ingest the drugs as pills, tablets or capsules. However, doctors and users may sometimes administer these medications via needle. In fact, the brand name Versed (which is made from the chemical midazolam) is only administered intravenously.

Some Americans have taken these medications and experienced relief from medical problems, but many have developed substance use disorder as a result. United States legislators began to notice this in the middle of the 19th century, and developed laws to control benzodiazepines. Most significantly, the 1970 Controlled Substances Act categorized benzodiazepines as Schedule IV drugs, which means the drugs have a high potential for abuse and benzodiazepine addiction and limited medical uses.

There are many causes of benzodiazepine addiction, and increased drug availability is often one of them. In 2016, researchers found that doctors were prescribing more than three times the amount of benzodiazepines than they had 20 years prior. Americans received 13.5 million benzodiazepine prescriptions. During the same time period, fatal overdoses involving benzodiazepines increased fourfold. The risk of death worsens if a person uses these drugs alongside another mind-altering substance — especially opioids.

If you have developed a benzodiazepine addiction or tolerance, it is time to seek help. Due to the habit-forming nature of benzodiazepines, you may experience withdrawal in the early stages of recovery. The specific drug you used will determine the severity of your withdrawal symptoms. In order to make detox as comfortable as possible, you should seek support from experienced benzodiazepine addiction professionals at an accredited drug rehab center. Whether you need outpatient treatment, inpatient rehab or a combination of therapies, it is never too late to enter recovery.

Pharmaceutical companies make multiple types of benzodiazepines, many of which offer different effects to users. A few of the most common benzodiazepine brands are as follows:

•Xanax (alprazolam) – Xanax takes 1 – 2 hours to reach its peak level of effectiveness. Its half-life is 12 hours, which means that half of the medication is eliminated from the body within 12 hours of taking it.

•Lexotan (bromazepam) – Lexotan takes 1 – 4 hours to reach its peak level of effectiveness. Its half-life is 20 hours, which means that half of the medication is eliminated from the body within 20 hours of taking it.

•Librium (chlordiazepoxide) – Librium takes 1 – 4 hours to reach its peak level of effectiveness. Its half-life is 100 hours, which means that half of the medication is eliminated from the body within 100 hours of taking it.

•Klonopin (lonazepam) – Klonopin takes 1 – 4 hours to reach its peak level of effectiveness. Its half-life is 34 hours, which means that half of the medication is eliminated from the body within 34 hours of taking it.

•Valium (diazepam) – Valium takes 1 – 2 hours to reach its peak level of effectiveness. Its half-life is 100 hours, which means that half of the medication is eliminated from the body within 100 hours of taking it.

•Ativan (lorazepam) – Ativan takes 1 – 4 hours to reach its peak level of effectiveness. Its half-life is 15 hours, which means that half of the medication is eliminated from the body within 15 hours of taking it.

•Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam) – Rohypnol takes 1 – 2 hours to reach its peak level of effectiveness. Its half-life is 18 – 26 hours, which means that half of the medication is eliminated from the body within 18 – 26 hours of taking it.

Like other drugs of abuse on the illicit market, benzodiazepines go by nicknames. Some of the most commonly used benzodiazepine street names include:

  • Nerve pills
  • Benzos
  • Tranks
  • Downers
  • V’s (Valium)
  • Z bars (Xanax)
Benzodiazepine Addiciton
Benzodiazepines are prescribed to treat a number of issues that range from physical to emotional and mental. Though these medications are not a good option for every patient, they can provide some relief in certain circumstances.

Some of the most common uses for benzodiazepines include:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Panic disorder
  • Seizure or convulsive disorders

On the illicit market, the two most common benzodiazepines that law enforcement officers encounter are alprazolam and diazepam. Rohypnol is also frequently found on the illicit market. It is widely known as a date rape drug because, since its inception, Rohypnol has been used to facilitate countless sexual assault cases.

Benzodiazepines have a unique mechanism of action. They impact the brain’s messenger chemicals, which are called neurotransmitters. In particular, benzodiazepines boost the effects of gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that can slow or stop the neurons responsible for motor skills and excitement.

When you take a benzodiazepine, GABA slows down your brain activity. Since benzodiazepines increase the effects of GABA, the medications cause even more slowing of bodily nerve impulses. This can manifest as drowsiness, uncoordinated movements and even slowed reaction times.

Even though the mechanisms of action are almost all the same across benzodiazepines, there are a few key differences between the variations of the drug. For example, each medication has a unique dosage, half-life, abuse potential and absorption time. (This refers to the time it takes for a medication to enter the body and take effect.)

There are two primary types of benzodiazepines: long-acting and short-acting. Each class of benzodiazepines is prescribed for different needs and is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration based on their potential for addiction. The long-acting kinds, such as Valium and Librium, tend to stay in the body for many more hours. Short-acting benzodiazepines such as Ativan and Xanax do not stay in the body for very long — sometimes just a few hours.

Yes, benzodiazepine addiction can develop after this substance produces a chemically-induced euphoria. People who already abuse or are addicted to heroin or cocaine are more apt to benzodiazepine addiction and abuse. However, benzodiazepine addiction can develop within anyone.

Of course, no one sets out to develop a benzodiazepine addiction. Rather, it happens over time. Often in the beginning stages of benzodiazepine addiction, a tolerance develops. This usually happens when a person has taken the drugs for at least six months. Doctors may try to mitigate this by allowing gradual titrations in dosage, but addiction may occur anyway.

Benzodiazepine addiction requires professional medical intervention. After all, addiction is a brain disease — those who develop benzodiazepine addiction need and deserve the same level of medical attention that is given to patients with other chronic diseases, like diabetes.

During treatment at an accredited rehab facility, your doctor will likely recommend that you detox from benzodiazepines slowly. Rapid stoppage can cause discomfort, so rehab clinicians do everything they can to make withdrawal go as smoothly and comfortably as possible.

The intensity of help that you need to enter recovery depends on your level of benzodiazepine addiction. While you are deciding on a treatment avenue, it is a good idea to speak with an addiction professional or a mental health professional who specializes in benzodiazepine addiction treatment.

If a person takes benzodiazepines as their medical doctor prescribed, it is unlikely that benzodiazepine addiction will develop. However, due to the many factors that play into benzodiazepine addiction disease, this is not always true.

The sheer volume of benzodiazepine prescriptions does not help the situation. Benzodiazepines are prescribed far and wide, not just in the United States but across the globe. Statisticians have been studying benzodiazepine use and abuse for years, resulting in facts and statistics such as:

  • In 2015, Xanax was called the world’s most popular pill, with tens of millions of prescriptions being dispensed.
  • American doctors are writing 12% more Xanax prescriptions each year.
  • About 30% of drug overdose deaths involve a benzodiazepine.
  • Benzodiazepine withdrawal can take months and is notoriously uncomfortable, especially without the aid of a doctor.
  • In 2011, 49 million alprazolam prescriptions were written worldwide.
  • In 1951, the U.S. Congress decided to regulate benzodiazepines.
  • During the mid-19th century, benzodiazepines were called “the devil’s capsules” in some American circles.
Benzodiazepine is not different from other drugs of abuse in that misusing the medication can result in serious complications including overdose. Although not as common as an opioid overdose, a benzodiazepine overdose can be just as lethal.

In 2017, the National Institutes of Health revised their data on country-wide overdose deaths from benzodiazepines. New information gathered between 2002 – 2015 shows a 4.3-fold increase in the total number of benzodiazepine-related deaths. During that time period, the number of deaths within all gender groups moved from about 2,000 to about 9,000.

Certain benzodiazepines have a long half-life, with some lasting up to 100 hours. This means that it takes many hours for the medication to be released from the body. If you take additional doses before the first dose has left your system, the benzodiazepines will accumulate, furthering their effects and how long they stay in your system. Thus, an overdose doesn’t always happen due to a single dose, but rather multiple doses over a period of several hours or even days.

Mental and physical signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine overdose include:

  • Seizures
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Slurred speech
  • Mental confusion
  • Balance problems
  • Shallow, slow or labored breathing
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Slow reflexes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Physical weakness
  • Pale, cold skin
  • Coma
  • Lightheadedness
  • Blurred vision
  • Fainting
Bezodiazepine Addicition Overdose
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Storrs, Carina. “Benzodiazepine Overdose Deaths Soared in Recent Years, Study Finds.” CNN, 19 Feb. 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/02/18/health/benzodiazepine-sedative-overdose-death-increase/. Accessed 15 Feb. 2017.

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Benzodiazepine Addiction
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Benzodiazepine Addiction was last modified: September 18th, 2017 by The Recovery Village