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Benzodiazepine Addiction & Treatment

Benzodiazepines are one of the most prescribed medications in the United States. Having been used for over 50 years, they are trusted and relied upon by many. However, Benzos are among the most abused and addictive prescribed medications in America.

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Benzodiazepine Addiction

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    What Are Benzodiazepines

    Benzodiazepines, also called benzos, is a schedule IV-controlled substance obtained legally by prescription. This psychoactive drug affects chemicals throughout the brain and central nervous system. The extreme ease at which physical dependency forms makes benzo’s so addictive and prime for drug abuse.

    Benzodiazepines work as a central nervous system depressant and were developed as an alternative to barbiturates. Benzodiazepines are a powerful sedative-hypnotic primarily prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, but also insomnia and alcohol withdrawal. Benzodiazepines carry a high potential for abuse and physical addiction.

    The chemical effect these medications have on brain neurons alters behavior when under their influence. Benzos cause a rapid firing of the neurons that are directly associated with anxiety and seizures. Although each type of benzodiazepine has a similar effect, they differ in the following ways:

    How fast they take effect

    The potency of their effect

    How long their effect lasts

    Common Benzodiazepines

    Xanax

    Xanax is prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders, usually in a time-released form for longer-lasting effects. When abused, this drug is commonly crushed and ingested to release the drug’s full potency within the body all at once. One of the strongest benzos, Xanax is highly abused and known to be fatal when over consumed.

    Ativan

    Ativan is prescribed to treat panic disorders, normally in pill or liquid form. Ativan is a particularly fast-acting benzodiazepine.

    Valium

    Valium is prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and muscle spasms.

    Ambien

    Ambien is prescribed to treat sleep disorders and insomnia. Side-effects are drowsiness and sedation. Ambien is very commonly abused due to its dangers being underestimated.

    Klonopin

    Klonopin is prescribed to treat seizures and panic disorders. Substance abuse of this strong sedative may cause impaired judgment and memory loss.

    Restoril

    Restoril is prescribed for insomnia. This benzo’s side-effects include impaired judgment and memory loss.

    Librium

    Librium is commonly prescribed in alcohol detox, anxiety disorders, and panic attacks.

    Benzo Perscription Uses

    These medications are often interchangeable and prescribed for various reasons:
    • Anxiety disorders
    • Seizure disorders
    • Anesthesia/Sedation
    • Insomnia/Sleep disorders
    • Withdrawal from Alcohol
    • Muscle Relaxers
    This drug’s euphoric effects, physical dependency, and tolerance-building cause many to ignore the safety warnings and begin to overmedicate. Taking high doses over an extended period of time leads to a substance use disorder and addiction.

    Benzodiazepine Side-Effects

    Several side-effects exist for Benzodiazepines, including:

    Short-Term Side-Effects:

    • Respiratory distress
    • Drowsiness
    • Seizures
    • Nausea
    • Vision Problems
    • Loss of consciousness

    Long-Term Side-Effects:

    • Memory loss
    • Insomnia
    • Confusion
    • Cognitive impairment

    Benzodiazepine Memory Loss

    Benzos are known to affect memory, and in severe cases, cause anterograde amnesia. Anterograde amnesia is when short-term memory is increasingly unable to translate into long-term memory. This impairment of a person’s memory can be permanent, with physical dependence and continued use length as contributing factors.

    Half-Life of Common Benzos

    The duration time for the effects of benzodiazepines is measured based on the drug’s elimination half-life. This half-life is how long it takes half the medication to be processed through the body. The longer the half-life, the more danger of physical dependency from abuse. The half-life of common benzos are:

    Valium

    Though the main effects last only 4-6 hours, it has a long half-life of 20-70 hours. This means that Valium takes up to six weeks to be excreted by the body.

    Xanax & Ativan

    Both Xanax and Ativan can last in the body up to five days, which an average half-life of 11-12 hours.

    Restoril

    Varying wildly from person-to-person, Restoril’s half-life can last from 5-24 hours. But on average, Restoril’s half-life is 9 hours.

    Klonopin

    The most prolonged half-life by average, Klonopin’s half-life can range from 30-40 hours.

    Halcion

    The powerful hypnotic Halicion’s half-life is relatively short at 1.5-5 hours, depending on the person.

    Librium

    Incredibly long, Librium’s half-life is between 24-48 hours.

    Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

    Withdrawal from benzos is often life-threatening. Detox from this drug should only be done under the medical supervision of a licensed treatment provider and detox facility.

    Benzo Withdrawal Symptoms:

    • Anxiety and Irritability
    • Insomnia
    • Muscle spasms/tremors
    • High blood pressure
    • Seizures
    • Delirium
    • Auditory, tactile, or visual hallucinations
    • Nausea and vomiting

    Benzodiazepine Overdose

    The body’s liver does not process this drug at an efficient rate. High levels of consumption can quickly turn toxic due to the slow breakdown of the drug. This commonly forces a person’s blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate to unhealthy levels. The increased build-up of pressure on the brain and body causes the bulk of drug overdose symptoms.

    Benzo Overdose Symptoms:

    • Blurred vision/dizziness
    • Confusion
    • Drowsiness
    • Seizures
    • Tremors
    • Blue lips and fingertips
    • Respiratory distress (trouble breathing)
    • Nausea and vomiting

    Mixing with Alcohol & Opioids

    Benzodiazepines are often combined with other substances, which raise the danger of substance abuse. Mixing drugs can increase their effects and have deadly consequences. Benzos are commonly mixed with Alcohol and Opioids.

    These are hazardous combinations. Both benzos, alcohol, and opioids are potent depressants that heighten one another’s effects when combined. These heightened effects often result in blackouts and respiratory failure. Lack of oxygen to the brain can result in suppressed breathing and organ damage.
    These dangerous combinations also increase the time it takes for the body to break substances down. All drugs are processed through the liver, and when drugs are combined, processing time increases. Height, age, and weight are also contributing factors.

    Alternatives To Benzodiazepines

    Due to these drugs’ addictive nature, non-addictive forms of medications are often prescribed as an alternative to Benzodiazepines. Antidepressants, beta-blockers, and antihistamines have proven to be relatively effective in treating anxiety disorder. Those who struggle with mental health or suffer from a benzo substance use disorder should seek these alternative options.

    Benzo Addiction Treatment

    Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be fatal and should always be detoxed under proper medical supervision. Addiction treatment facilities use taper protocols to help patients wean off these medications safely. Taper methods also decrease the severity of a user’s symptoms. One in three withdrawing from benzos may experience significant and life-threatening health issues, such as Grand Mal seizures.
    Once a medical taper is complete, and the patient is stable, they should continue recovery through inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, individual therapy, and 12-step programs offer added support and guidance.

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