People tend to use benzodiazepines because they work, plain and simple. A group of prescription sedatives, benzodiazepines are classified as Schedule IV in the Controlled Substances Act and are most commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, namely under the brand names Xanax, Ativan, and Valium. Benzodiazepines, commonly referred to as benzos, are referred to as depressants because they slow down, or depress, nervous system activity in the body. Although benzodiazepines have a calming effect, they are highly addictive, and a person who abuses them faces a host of symptoms. Benzodiazepine addiction is difficult to overcome, but understanding the facts and seeking help from professionals can help you get your life back on track.
What are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs primarily used for treating anxiety, but they also are effective in treating several other conditions. The exact mechanism of action of benzodiazepines is not known, but they appear to work by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain, chemicals that nerves release in order to communicate with other nearby nerves. One of these neurotransmitters is gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that suppresses the activity of nerves. Scientists believe that excessive activity of nerves may be the cause of anxiety and other psychological disorders. Benzodiazepines reduce the activity of nerves in the brain and spinal cord by enhancing the effects of GABA.
The Dangers of Benzodiazepines
American physicians prescribe millions of people benzodiazepine-based drugs every year, casting a wide net of potential harm and heartbreak from benzo abuse and addiction. Fatal overdose typically occurs when a user’s breathing or heart rate drops so low that it stops entirely. Mixing these potentially dangerous substances with other central nervous system (CNS) depressants like alcohol, a common practice when abusing benzodiazepines, greatly increases the odds of a lethal overdose.
Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use
Many people who are prescribed long-term benzodiazepine therapy for anxiety associated with panic disorder or another anxiety disorder worry about becoming “addicted.” Some doctors may withhold benzodiazepine treatment because of the same issue. Many studies have suggested that long-term benzodiazepine use is effective and safe and does not lead to addiction for most people being treated for anxiety. But, for some people, benzodiazepine use may lead to addiction. This risk appears greater in those with a history of alcohol or other drug addiction or those actively abusing alcohol or other drugs.
Causes and Risk Factors for Benzodiazepine Addiction
Experts suggest that both genetic and environmental factors can contribute to a person becoming addicted to benzodiazepines. These influences include the following:
Genetic: Those with family members who have substance addictions themselves.
Environmental: In conjunction with genes, a person’s environment can powerfully influence hihs or her chances of developing an addiction to benzodiazepines . High levels of stress or chaos can cause someone to seek a prescription for benzos, but the same high levels of stress can cause a person to use more of the medication than was prescribed.
- Personal or family history of substance abuse
- Personal or family history of mental illness
- Chaotic environment or chronic stress
- Experiencing trauma
- Being the victim of abuse or neglect
- Ease of access to benzodiazepines
Signs of a Benzodiazepine Addiction
Many benzodiazepine addictions develop without users or loved ones noticing anything is amiss. Even when the drugs are taken responsibly within a doctor’s recommended “safe window” of use, benzodiazepine addiction can develop. Once a medical prescription has expired or a user starts looking for stronger effects, erratic behaviors or signs might emerge that indicate benzodiazepine addiction.
Someone struggling with a benzodiazepine addiction may exhibit some or all of the following signs and symptoms:
Behavioral symptoms of Benzodiazepine addiction:
- Social withdrawal
- Isolating from family
- No longer participating in formerly-enjoyable activities
- Failing to meet expectations at work or at home
- Forging prescriptions
- Visiting multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions
- Muscle weakness
- Blurred vision
- Slowed thought processes
- Poor concentration
- Reduced inhibition
- Impaired judgment
- Perceptual disturbances
- Memory difficulties
- Feelings of hostility
- Sudden mood changes
- Emotional detachment
- Emotional dysregulation
- Intense irritability or anger, especially when access to the drug is limited or denied
Addiction is Very Possible
Like any prescription medication, benzodiazepines have legitimate medical uses. However, because of their mind- and mood-altering effects, they also have the potential for abuse benzodiazepine addiction. If you have a prescription, it’s always wise to take an inventory of how well you’re managing such medication, and if you recognize yourself in some, or most, of these warning signs, then it’s wise to seek help. According to findings from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there are some significant dangers associated with misuse.
Here are some telling facts and figures about benzodiazepine addiction:
- In 2011, 127 million prescriptions of benzodiazepines were filled.
- In 2010, 124,902 people were taken to the emergency room for a Xanax overdose, more than any other benzodiazepine.
- In 2011, there were 39,408 confiscations of Xanax made by law enforcement.
- In 2010, there were 6,507 drug overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines in the U.S.
- 20.4 million Americans ages 12 and older have misused a benzodiazepine.
- 95% of hospital admissions for benzodiazepines reported additional substance abuse.
Why Are Benzodiazepines So Addictive?
Researchers discovered that when you take a benzo, your dopamine levels surge, which floods your brain with the feel-good neurotransmitter. This sudden, strong wave of pleasure is understandably rewarding and, to some, can prove irresistible.
In fact, researchers found that the addictive power of benzos was similar to that of opioids, cannabinoids, and GHB – all substances with exceptionally strong addictive qualities. They believe that as benzos accumulate in the body, they actually alter the structure and function of certain receptors in the brain that make them more susceptible to excitable surges from other neurotransmitters, and further increase and intensify dopamine rushes.
All of these chemical actions add up to a high many people do not wish to give up, and the progression from use to abuse to benzodiazepine addiction can occur shockingly quickly.
On average, tolerance can develop after just 6 months of use, though it is possible to become physically dependent sooner. It’s estimated that at least 44% of users eventually become dependent on benzos
Benzodiazepine Addiction and Withdrawal Timeline
1 – 4 Days:
This is the beginning stages of benzo withdrawal symptoms, which often mimic the symptoms the medication was intended to treat. People may experience anxiety, sweating, headaches and panic attacks.
5 – 19 Days:
Acute benzodiazepine withdrawal phase, where symptoms peak, is approximately at the two-week mark. People may experience insomnia, palpitations, seizures, muscle aches and pain, perceptual changes and hallucinations, depression, flu-like symptoms, nausea and dry retching and weight loss. This is when withdrawal symptoms are most severe.
Months – Years:
Benzo withdrawal symptoms may come and go and lessen in severity. Reduced symptoms can persist for up to one year or more depending on the severity of the addiction.
Why Choose Medical Detox for Benzodiazepine Addiction
Entering a detox facility is a person’s first and most important step in their addiction treatment process. A detox facility is staffed with medical and clinical professionals that monitor patients 24/7. Medication is administered and tailored to each patient to ensure a smooth, comfortable detox experience. Detox usually lasts about 7-10 days. Daylight Recovery Center is a medical facility, held to the same standards and practices to that of a hospital. Our detox is staffed with many medical professionals who specialize in addiction medicine.
During detox our talented doctors and nurses will help the patient manage the symptoms of physical withdrawal that occur when a person stops ingesting drugs or alcohol. Without proper medical supervision withdrawal symptoms are extremely unpleasant, dangerous, and in some cases life-threatening. A medical detox is highly recommended in order to start the recovery process in a safe and successful manner. Beyond 24/7 medical supervision, our clinical staff will help guide the patient through the psychological symptoms that accompany the physical withdrawals symptoms. At Daylight Detox and Recovery Center we believe in treating all aspects of the individual- mind, body and soul. During detox, not only will the individual have medical care, but also therapy to manage the unstable emotions that come from the withdrawal process.