Benzodiazepine Addiction, Dependence and Withdrawal
Addiction to benzodiazepines (benzos) can be very dangerous for users. Benzodiazepine medications are typically prescribed for people who suffer from anxiety or other mental illness. The drugs are fast acting and they begin to work as soon as they hit the user’s body. That means that rather than waiting for days or weeks for a medication to build up to therapeutic levels, benzodiazepines are able to provide users with almost immediate relief. This instant effect can increase the risk of benzodiazepine addiction Prescribers like to use this type of medication because of its instant effect and the fact that it allows patients to begin therapy and other treatments more quickly than medications like antidepressants (which have to build up). Commonly used benzodiazepines include clonazepam (Klonopin), alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan).
When benzodiazepines are taken as prescribed, for a short period of time, they are effective in helping patients with symptoms of mental illness. However, due to the fact that they are one of the most commonly prescribed medications, the accessibility makes benzodiazepines easy targets for abuse and addiction.
Benzodiazepine Addiction Develops from Both Use and Abuse
Patients who take benzodiazepines are prescribed the medication in a specific dose to take at specific times. They may be taken as needed during difficult or anxiety-ridden times and then not taken for a long period of time. Patients often seek additional help with therapy so that they can discontinue use altogether.
People who suffer from anxiety disorders and who take benzodiazepines for relief, do not find the medications to be pleasant or interesting – they simply relieve the anxious feelings. However, people who do not have anxiety disorders may find that a benzodiazepine high feels relaxing and euphoric. Either scenario can end up in abuse of the drug, with anxiety sufferers becoming substance dependent even through prescribed usage, and non-sufferers through recreational use that escalates.
Those who begin to abuse benzodiazepines may become attracted to taking more and more of the medication, sometimes up to 30 to 100 times more than recommended by doctors. They are seeking that euphoric feeling they had when they first began taking the drug. As their bodies become more tolerant to the effects of the medication, they may feel forced to take it in different ways, including snorting or injecting the drug.
Often times, those who are abusing benzodiazepines also use other substances at the same time – alcohol, heroin, and prescription painkillers, to name a few. When these drugs are blended in this manner, users may feel the effects for a longer period of time, increasing euphoric feelings. However, it becomes increasingly dangerous for their physical and mental health.
Benzodiazepine Abuse Symptoms
Whether a user begins taking benzodiazepines as prescribed for anxiety or recreationally, long-term use can become physical dependence. When this happens, the person needs the drug to feel healthy and in control. If the individual stops using the drug at this point, symptoms of benzo withdrawal will set in and the user will feel sick and uncomfortable.
Physical dependence is different than addiction, but it can lead to addiction.
Signs of addiction to benzodiazepines include:
- Spending a significant amount of time purchasing, using, or thinking about using the drug
- Neglecting home, work, or school responsibilities
- Continuing to use the drug despite negative consequences
- Finding it impossible to stop using the drug, even though he or she wants to
Risks of Benzodiazepine Addiction
The risks of benzodiazepine addiction can be very serious, even fatal. Because using the medication gives abusers a false sense of control, they may come to believe that they can handle whatever the drug has to offer. In reality, because benzodiazepines are sedating, and they slow down the heart and respiratory rates; people who abuse them are putting their lives at risk.
Those who combine the use of benzodiazepines with the use of other substances are at an even greater risk. Overdose and respiratory arrest due to the combination can quickly lead to death. Unfortunately, it’s reported that many users mix benzodiazepines with prescription painkillers. In fact, according to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), admissions to treatment centers for the combination has risen over 500 percent in the last decade.
Medically Supervised Detox for Benzodiazepine Withdrawal
When a person addicted to benzodiazepines makes the decision to try to get clean and sober, he or she may attempt to stop using drugs cold turkey. This is not advisable for benzodiazepine addicts. Not only is it not recommended due to the intense and sometimes painful benzo withdrawal, it can be very dangerous or even fatal for some addicts.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can range from extreme anxiety and irritability to full-blown psychosis, to seizure and death when use is stopped suddenly. The severity of the symptoms depends on factors such as how long the user has been taking benzodiazepines, how much they have been taking, and whether other drugs are involved. That is why medically supervised detox is recommended for anyone who is attempting to recover from benzodiazepine addiction.
In a medically supervised detox facility, patients are transitioned from fast-acting, rewarding benzodiazepines to slower-acting, non-rewarding versions. Patients are then tapered off the benzodiazepines slowly until the patient is no longer taking any. While the detox process is happening, patients are able to attend therapy sessions and other addiction-related activities that will help them to deal with cravings and prepare to begin their recovery. This is a much safer and more comfortable alternative to going cold turkey.
If you are addicted to benzodiazepines, know that there is help available and that you can recover.
DeLoe, J. (2017, November 30). Benzodiazepine Addiction, Dependence and Withdrawal, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/debunkingaddiction/2017/11/the-dangers-of-benzodiazepine-addiction