Into Action Recovery Centers offers effective, individualized benzodiazepine addiction treatment programs managed by our experienced staff. At our rehabilitation and treatment center, we offer a range of treatment options, from long-term residential programs to outpatient treatment and support programs.
What Are Benzodiazepines Used For?
Benzodiazepines, also known as “benzos,” are a type of medication that act as tranquilizers or depressants. Clinically, they’re often called sedatives. These drugs work by attaching themselves to receptors in the central nervous system, producing a calming effect. As such, doctors typically prescribe them for patients dealing with anxiety, panic attacks, seizures, and insomnia. Benzodiazepines can also help treat nausea, depression, and alcohol withdrawal. Unfortunately, within the last two decades, people have started to abuse benzodiazepines for their sedative effects.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 30% of overdoses involving opioids also involve benzodiazepines. Science Daily reports that approximately one in eight US adults used benzos in 2018. Although more than 2,000 types of benzodiazepines exist, only about 15 of them are FDA approved. All can lead to physical dependence.
Despite their similarities, benzos differ based on how quickly they take effect, how long they affect the body, and the type of ailment they are designed to treat. Most experts divide benzodiazepines into three main categories: short-acting, medium-acting, and long-acting.
Some of the most commonly-used benzos include:
Signs and Symptoms of Benzo Abuse
Recognizing signs of misuse is one of the first steps in getting help for a loved one. Some of the physical, psychological, and behavioral signs and symptoms associated with benzodiazepine use include:
- Blurred vision
- Poor judgment
- Constant “doctor shopping”
- Asking friends, colleagues, classmates or family members for pills
- Mood changes
- Shallow, slow breathing
- Slurred speech
- Poor coordination
- Dizziness, nausea, and vomiting
- Passing and blacking out
- Mixing benzos with other drugs
- Inability to stop using benzos despite several attempts to do so
How Do Benzodiazepines Affect the Brain?
Benzodiazepines affect the brain by binding themselves to special neurons in the brains called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. GABA’s natural function is to slow down the central nervous system (CNS) and body. Benzodiazepines enhance GABA’s natural effects, increasing the neurotransmitter’s calming effect and creating a relaxed, calm, and soothing feeling.
This slowing down of neural activity helps those suffering from anxiety, insomnia and panic attacks. On the other hand, those using benzos recreationally or more often than prescribed can experience unintended emotional and psychological consequences. These can include confusion, irritability, depression, fatigue, and poor motor skills and coordination.
How Do Benzodiazepines Affect the Body?
The body can also experience physical side effects. A slowed digestive system can lead to constipation. A slowed reproductive system can lead to low libido and erectile dysfunction. Individuals may also experience a weak appetite, dry mouth, muscle weakness, and a sense of extreme fatigue. Chronic use of benzodiazepines may also contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s, cognitive decline, and brain damage.
Short-term Effects of Benzodiazepines
- Short-term memory loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slowed motor functionality
- Blurry vision
- Shallow breathing
- Slow heartbeat
- Falling asleep at school or work
- Slurred speech
- Blacking out
- Slow cognitive functionality
When people consume higher doses of benzos, the short-term effects can be severe, including:
- Erratic behavior
- Mood swings
- Weak pulse
Long-term Effects of Benzodiazepines
It is rare for doctors to prescribe benzodiazepines for long-term use because they can alter the way the brain works. When individuals do use them for a long period of time, they can easily become dependent, increasing the risk for long-term addiction.
Other long-term effects of using benzodiazepines include:
- Cognitive decline
- Increased risk of accidents and injuries
- Muscle weakness
- Memory problems
- Increased risk of mental disorders
- Suppressed immune system
- Sleep disturbances
- Increased risk of cancer
- Increased risk of hip fractures due to poor coordination
- Elevated risk of respiratory arrest
The Dangers of Using Benzodiazepines
Although benzos are effective as a short-term method of managing and overcoming certain clinical conditions, there are several risks associated with their use.
One major risk of benzo use is that they have a high potential for addiction. To help combat this, doctors typically only prescribe the drugs for a short period of time. However, individuals continue to acquire and abuse legally prescribed and illegal benzos.
Another danger associated with benzodiazepines is an increased risk of dementia. According to a 2012 study, there is an approximately 50% increase in the risk of developing dementia after long-term benzodiazepine use.
Benzodiazepine is dangerous when combined with alcohol or antihistamines. These combinations cause confusion, short-term memory loss, and compliant behavior. As a result, the use of benzodiazepine as a “date rape” drug has increased.
Since benzos are often taken in conjunction with other drugs and substances, such as opioids, alcohol, and barbiturates, their use is often linked to a higher overdose risk. In 2015, statistics showed the number of overdoses resulting from opioids mixed with benzodiazepines was nearly 6 times higher than the number of overdoses from benzos alone.
To learn more about the risks and dangers of benzodiazepines use, take a look at the following statistics:
- According to a report evaluating the risks of psychoactive drugs and motor vehicle accidents, the risk of driving while on benzodiazepines is about the same as the risk of driving with a blood-alcohol level between 0.050% and 0.079% (an alcohol level greater than 0.08% is illegal in all states).
- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), drug overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines rose from 1,135 in 1999 to 11,537 in 2017.
- Data reported by CNN states that from 2014 to 2016, doctors prescribed benzos during nearly 66 million doctor visits.
- According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 5.4 million Americans ages 12 and up misused benzodiazepines that year.
- The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health also reports that an estimated 751,000 Americans ages 12 and older had a tranquilizer or sedative use disorder that year.
Patients prescribed benzodiazepines should pay close attention to how their mind, body, and emotions react to the medication and should notify their physician of any major or unusual changes.
Signs and Symptoms of Benzo Withdrawal
Addiction to benzodiazepine is characterized by an increased tolerance to the drug’s effects, including changes in the body’s brain chemistry. Often, addicts continue to use benzodiazepine to avoid the symptoms of withdrawal more than to realize the sedative effects of the drug.
When an individual stops benzodiazepine treatment suddenly, they will likely experience withdrawal symptoms. It’s very important that individuals understand that benzos cannot be quit cold turkey. Benzodiazepine withdrawal is extremely dangerous because of a high risk of seizures, coma, and death. Moreover, individuals who combine benzos with other drugs or alcohol can experience respiratory failure when they cut down or stop using the drugs.
Less severe signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Muscle tension
Less common symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Blurred vision
- Muscle spasms
In rare cases, symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Ringing in the ears
If someone you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal, contact us today at 844-303-3969.
Treatment for Benzodiazepine Addiction
Benzodiazepine addiction treatment begins with detox. Here at Into Action Recovery, we offer on-site medical detox. During this time, our staff works with our clients to develop a customized detox program. Once clients are free of benzodiazepines, they can begin rehabilitation in our inpatient or outpatient treatment programs.
Once enrolled in an appropriate treatment program, clients begin behavioral therapy. Often, behavioral therapy includes:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Individual and Group Therapy
- Family Counseling
We also encourage all our clients to participate in peer support groups and recovery activities. Once their treatment programs are complete, we help clients join our alumni program to provide support for their recovery and sobriety.
At Into Action, we are sensitive to the risks of benzodiazepine addiction and the physical consequences of both short-term and long-term use. We understand that an addiction to prescription drugs can be difficult to acknowledge since many patients can continue to get prescriptions and they believe their use of the drug is therapeutic. Our compassionate staff works with each addict to develop a custom treatment program to provide them with the best opportunity for success.
Don’t hesitate to call us at 844-303-3969 if you or a loved one are living with a benzodiazepine addiction.
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