With the attention of the nation firmly focused on the current opioid epidemic, dependence and addiction to another class of drugs are gaining steam. Benzodiazepines, which are a type of medication used for their sedative effects, are now the most commonly prescribed medication in the United States. Unfortunately, these medications do their job so well that they are also ripe for abuse, a fact confirmed by a recent review.
What are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines, often shortened to “benzos,” are prescription drugs that have sedative, amnesiac, anticonvulsant, anxiety-relieving, and muscle-relaxing qualities. They affect the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and its linked receptor sites in the brain. There are currently over 15 approved benzo drugs in the U.S. Some of the most commonly prescribed benzos include:
- Xanax (Alprazolam)
- Ativan (Lorazepam)
- Klonopin (Clonazepam)
- Valium (Diazepam)
- Restoril (Temazepam)
Recent Review Uncovers Alarming Data About Benzo Addiction
According to a review just released in The New England Journal of Medicine, the inappropriate prescribing of benzodiazepines has led to another drug crisis in the United States. Led by Dr. Anna Lembke, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences with the Stanford School of Medicine, this latest review reveals just how substantial the problem with benzos has become.
According to the report, between 1996 and 2013, the volume of benzo prescriptions filled in the U.S. rose from 8.1 million to 13.5 million, an increase of 67 percent. This only tells a part of the story because the total quantity of benzos obtained by patients during this same period more than tripled.
In the past, it was thought that benzos were relatively safe and not subject to overdose the same way that opioids are. This is not necessarily true. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that overdose deaths related to benzos are skyrocketing, going from just 1,135 in 1999 to 8,791 in 2015, an increase of 674 percent.
Legally-obtained benzos are dangerous enough when they are taken for too long or abused, but there are other ways that benzos are contributing to a new drug crisis. First, some forms of highly-potent benzos are now making their way onto the illicit market. Second, benzos taken in combination with opioids or alcohol can create a serious danger of overdose and death. The authors of the review believe that there has not been enough study or public information released about the dangers of overusing benzos and that this could have some parallels to our nation’s opioid epidemic.
The Signs and Symptoms of a Benzo Drug Addiction
Benzos can be useful and effective when taken short-term, but studies show that their effects diminish when used for extended periods. It is shockingly simple to become addicted to benzos. Although the drugs have a calming effect when first taken, tolerance can build up quickly, and a person who becomes addicted can suffer from a host of other health issues and consequences. Some of the most common signs that you may be addicted to a benzodiazepine include:
- Drowsiness and lack of energy
- Mood changes
- Blurred vision
- Doctor shopping for medication
- Failed attempts to cut back
- Asking others for spare medication
- Combining benzos with other drugs or alcohol
- Other risk-taking behaviors
If you or someone you love continues to take benzos in the face of negative consequences, there is a strong chance that benzo use had turned into drug addiction. You are not alone nor are you a bad person. Help is available through a comprehensive drug rehab program that includes medical detox and therapeutic treatment. Contact us now to speak with one of our addiction specialists about admissions and find out how you can reclaim your life from the grip of benzo addiction.