What is Benzodiazepine Abuse and Addiction?

Benzodiazepine Abuse and Addiction

Benzodiazepines are a family of medications often referred to as tranquilizers. Well known names include Xanax and Valium. Doctors prescribe them for numerous conditions including anxiety, insomnia, seizure control, muscle relaxation, and to relax patients before procedures. However, the relaxing effects of the drugs make them a popular target for people without prescriptions who seek to use the drug recreationally. Benzodiazepine abuse is common and carries a high risk of dependence. 


How do Benzodiazepines work? 

Benzodiazepines work by depressing the Central Nervous System, slowing activity in the brain, relaxing muscles, and easing anxiety. They increase the effect of the brain chemical GABA (gamma amino butyric acid). GABA reduces brain activity which manages rational thought, memory, emotions, and essential functions such as breathing. Therefore, this slowing process creates a sedative effect in the brain and body which can down-regulate panic attacks or induce restfulness to combat insomnia. 


Benzodiazepine Tolerance and Dependence

Benzodiazepine medications create tolerance if taken continuously. While great in the short-term for acute situations like panic attacks or stressful periods, if taken for more than a few months your brain becomes used to their effect. For this reason, Benzodiazepines carry a high risk of dependence. 


Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Stomach upset or Diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle cramps
  • Rapid breathing
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations


Signs of Benzodiazepine Overdose

When taken at normal, prescribed doses Benzodiazepines are relatively safe. However, when taken at high doses, as is common recreationally, more dangerous side effects can occur. High doses of benzodiazepines can lead to overdose and even comas. From 2004 to 2010, emergency department visits in the US for Benzodiazepine abuse and misuse increased 139%. 

Furthermore, when Benzodiazepines are combined with other depressants such as alcohol or narcotics, the risk of complications increases significantly. 

Signs of an overdose may look different from person to person but can include: 

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Confusion
  • Fingernails and lips turning blue
  • Extreme dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Tremors
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of coordination
  • Stupor
  • Coma

If someone you know is showing any of the above signs of Benzodiazepine overdose, seek medical attention immediately. Hospitals can help through either stomach pump, administering activated charcoal, or in severe cases, injecting flumazenil (Romazicon). 


Benzodiazepine Addiction

Although it is a competent of addiction, physical dependence is not the same as addiction. Someone who is addicted to Benzodiazepines will not only be physically dependent but also engage in drug-seeking behaviors. Addicts prioritize their drug use above everything else, despite the negative consequences of their actions. 

Signs of Benzodiazepine Addiction include: 
  • Drug-seeking behaviors such as seeking the drug from multiple doctors or acquiring it illegally
  • Cravings
  • Withdrawal when not using the drug
  • Obsession with obtaining the drug
  • Abusing the drugs for pleasure or intoxication
  • Inability to function without it or inability to carry on regular life functions because of it
  • Inability to stop using despite multiple attempts

Furthermore, long-term abuse and addiction to Benzodiazepines carries health concerns, including placing users at a higher risk of developing Dementia. 


Getting Help 

Recreational abuse and addiction to Benzodiazepines can have dangerous results. Detoxing from Benzodiazepines in a clinical setting can offer the safest and most manageable way to come off them. Likewise, a treatment setting can help get to the root cause of addiction and offer the best chance for long-term recovery.

If you or a loved one are struggling with Benzodiazepines, contact us today. We’re here to help and can advise you regarding your specific treatment needs. 





Gabapentin Withdrawal

Gabapentin Withdrawal | Harmony Recovery Center

Gabapentin (Neurontin) is a prescription medication indicated to treat nerve pain and seizures. Although gabapentin is believed to have a much lower potential for abuse and dependence than other pain-relieving drugs, both are still possible and do occasionally occur. Dependence is more likely to develop in those who use it is excessive amounts or who abuse it recreationally. 

Gabapentin abuse is thought to be relatively uncommon but increasing, and some studies have reported statistics on its misuse. Gabapentin abuse often occurs in combination with other drugs, such as opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol.

A person who develops a chemical dependence to gabapentin will encounter withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit. These symptoms may begin within 12 hours to 7 days after discontinuing the medication and persist for several weeks. Symptoms of gabapentin withdrawal may include nausea, dizziness, headaches, insomnia, and anxiety.

Withdrawal from gabapentin is, by no means, considered dangerous or life-threatening. However, emotional side effects can be very unpleasant and drive a person to return to the abuse of this drug or other substances. For this reason, the safest way to stop using gabapentin is to be weaned off the medication under the supervision of a doctor or undergo a medical detox program.

Gabapentin Withdrawal Syndrome

Unfortunately, even those who use gabapentin as directed may develop some level of chemical dependence. Using the medical in high doses or for a prolonged period can result in withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use.

Because it has depressant properties, gabapentin withdrawal symptoms may resemble those of alcohol and benzodiazepines. This similarity is thought to be because gabapentin and these other substances all affect gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain.

The primary withdrawal symptoms associated with gabapentin use include:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Headache and body pain
  • Light sensitivity
  • Sweating
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea

Also, people who are using gabapentin for seizures and abruptly stop taking it may experience an increase in seizure activity, including prolonged, uncontrollable seizures. In this case, withdrawal from gabapentin could be very dangerous and is not advised without direct medical supervision.

Gabapentin Withdrawal | Harmony Recovery Center

Factors that can affect withdrawal include:

  • Age
  • Average dose
  • Length of use or abuse
  • Presence of medical or mental health conditions
  • Use of other drugs or alcohol

Rarely, people who at risk of or are already experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms may need intensive inpatient monitoring and medical intervention if complications occur.

Health providers generally recommend that a patient receive gradually lower doses of gabapentin to wean a person off the drug comfortably. Tapering schedules are often used with medications such as gabapentin that have the potential to induce adverse withdrawal effects upon cessation of use.

Gabapentin use can often be phased out over one week, but in some cases, slower tapers may be used for safety reasons. Experts advise reducing the daily dose by no more than 300mg every four days.

Why Gabapentin Withdrawal Symptoms Occur

It is not entirely understood why withdrawal symptoms occur when some people suddenly stop using gabapentin, but they happen nonetheless. This fact suggests that gabapentin use does indeed have the potential to lead to dependence. 

When dependence occurs, a person’s body has adapted to the continued presence of a substance and will begin to rely on it to function normally. Then, when a dependent person abruptly stops using the drug or significantly reduces their dose, they will soon begin to experience the onset of withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are the result of the body trying to re-stabilize without the drug’s usual presence.

Dependence often develops in conjunction with tolerance, a condition in which a person’s system no longer responds to the substance in the same way it did before. As a result, the person must take ever-increasing doses to achieve the desired effect.

Physiological dependence is often mistaken for full-blown addiction, but they are not the same. While dependence is required for addiction, the reverse is not true. A person can be dependent on a substance even if they use it as prescribed by a doctor. Addiction is also characterized by abuse, and compulsive drug-seeking behavior despite the incurrence of adverse consequences that result.

Moreover, a person who is addicted to gabapentin will not only misuse it, but will become obsessed with obtaining and using the drug, and will do so regardless of the problems this may cause.

Getting Help for Drug Dependence

Harmony Recovery Center offers comprehensive, state-of-the-art programs designed to treat drug dependence as well as all aspects of a person’s health and well-being. Our programs feature services and therapies clinically proven to be vital to the process of recovery, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, medication-assisted treatment, and aftercare planning.

If you or someone you love is struggling with a dependence on drugs or alcohol, contact us today! We can help!

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Depressants and Abuse

Depressants and Abuse | Harmony Recovery Center

Depressants and Abuse – Central nervous system (CNS) depressants are substances that reduce activity in the brain and body. Prescription depressants are used for the treatment of a variety of conditions, such as insomnia, anxiety, seizures, and muscle tension.

When misused, however, these drugs can have a negative impact on the body, leading to serious complications, overdose, and even death. Common depressants include alcohol, benzodiazepines, opioids, muscle relaxers, hypnotics, and sedatives.

Commonly Abused Depressants


Alcohol is by far the most frequently used depressant, though it is sometimes mistaken for a stimulant due to the euphoria it initially induces during early levels of intoxication. While alcohol is legal to consume in most areas of the United States for adults over age 21, it is often abused, and those who use alcohol consistently and in large amounts run the risk of addiction and acute alcohol poisoning.

Nearly 90% of adults aged 18 or older report having consumed alcohol at some point in their lives. A further one-fourth of this group have engaged in binge drinking—a pattern of alcohol abuse that increases the risk of adverse effects and alcoholism later on in life.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), negative effects of chronic, excessive alcohol use may include the following:

  • Weakened heart muscles
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Weakened immune system
  • Disorientation
  • Vision impairment
  • Injuries (e.g., falls)
  • Anxiety and depression

Chronic alcohol use also increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, breast, liver, and colon.

Opiates and Opioids

Opiates and opioids belong to a class of drugs that include both prescription narcotics and illicit substances such as heroin. Due to their highly addictive properties, they are frequently abused for their euphoric and pain-reducing effects. While technically classified as painkillers, opioids and opiates also have depressant effects that can be profound if abused, especially when in combination with other depressants such as alcohol.

Health complications related to opioid use include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating and chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hypersensitivity to stimuli
  • Confusion

While many other depressants, including alcohol and benzodiazepines, are relatively unlikely to cause a lethal overdose, powerful opioids such as heroin and fentanyl can result in death in just minutes. As noted, opioids are far more dangerous when used in conjunction with other CNS depressants such as benzos, alcohol, and sedatives.

Depressants and Abuse | Harmony Recovery Center


Barbiturates have been used for a variety of purposes, such as anesthesia, seizure management, and pain reduction. They are also sometimes employed for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Like many other depressants, barbiturates have a high potential for addiction if abused.

Side effects of excessive barbiturate use include the following:

  • Heavy sedation
  • Heart palpitations
  • Psychological and physiological dependency
  • Accidental overdose and death

Problematic habits of barbiturate use can form in a short amount of time. Moreover, these drugs are involved in an estimated 1500 emergency department visits each year. By some estimates, barbiturates may currently be linked to as many as one-third of the drug overdose fatalities in the U.S, though this is rarely discussed in popular media.


Benzos are anti-anxiety medications prescribed for the treatment of conditions such as anxiety and panic disorder, insomnia, and sometimes seizures or depression. Benzos, however, have a high potential for abuse and dependence.

Side effects of benzodiazepine misuse may include the following:

  • Sedation
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Dizziness
  • Unsteadiness
  • Weakness
  • Loss of orientation
  • Headache
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Impaired memory

Benzo use is rarely fatal if they are abused on their own, but when taken in combination with other CNS depressants such as alcohol or opioids, the risk of a lethal overdose increases exponentially. In fact, benzos are involved in a significant percentage of drug overdose fatalities each year, particularly those classified as combined drug intoxication by medical examiners.

Other Depressants

There are several other drugs classified as depressants that are less likely to be abused but have the potential to adversely interact with other CNS depressants. As a result, depressants should only be used with other psychoactive substances if directed by a doctor.

Other depressants include the following:

  • Antihistamines – used to mitigate allergic reactions, inflammation, and in some cases also work as mild anti-anxiety agents.
  • Muscle Relaxers – used to relieve strain and tension on the muscles due to surgery, injury, or other debilitating conditions.
  • Anti-psychotics – used to treat hyperactive moods during manic episodes or symptoms of psychosis and Tourette’s syndrome.
  • Alpha and beta blockers – used to treat Raynaud’s disease, high blood pressure, and anxiety disorders.

Treatment for Addiction to Depressants

Harmony Recovery Center offers a comprehensive approach to addiction treatment that includes psychotherapy, individual, group and family counseling, 12-step programs. Our center also employs holistic health and wellness approaches such as yoga, meditation, and art or music therapy. After intensive treatment has been completed, patients can benefit from our aftercare planning services and alumni activities that foster ongoing community support and continued recovery.

If you suspect that you or someone you love is addicted to depressants, please contact us today to discuss treatment options. Discover how we help people free themselves from the shackles of addiction so they can begin to experience the healthy and satisfying lives they deserve!

Dangers of Mixing Ambien and Alcohol

Ambien and Alcohol | Harmony Recovery Center | North Carolina

Dangers of Mixing Ambien and Alcohol – Some of the biggest challenges in treatment for alcohol use disorder occurs when a person is routinely combining alcohol with other substances, either unintentionally (perhaps not being aware of the consequences) or deliberately.

In many instances, patients don’t realize that alcohol and certain medications can cause a severe reaction. In other cases, those who abuse drugs may consume alcohol and use medication intentionally to experience euphoria or to self-medicate conditions, such as insomnia or anxiety, without knowing the risks. Clinically, this is referred to as polysubstance abuse.

One drug that is dangerous to mix with alcohol is zolpidem, better known by the brand name Ambien. Mixing Ambien and alcohol, regardless of the reason, can cause a dangerous reaction that may be life-threatening. Understanding what transpires when a person combines Ambien and alcohol can help discourage this behavior and let people know when it’s time to get professional help for polysubstance abuse.

Combining Ambien and Alcohol

Doctors almost always advise against combining any medication with alcohol. The reason for this is that the properties of many medications, alcohol, and other drugs can interfere with each other, resulting in an unpredictable and adverse reaction that can, at the very least, render the medication ineffective. What’s more, combining medications can lead to physical harm, including life-threatening complications, such as an overdose or risky behavior that results in injury.

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants

As a hypnotic and powerful sedative, Ambien is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, meaning that it reduces activity in the brain and body. Alcohol is also a CNS depressant. Understanding how CNS depressants work can help explain why mixing alcohol and medications such as Ambien can be dangerous. Specifically, these substances cause messages transmitting throughout the body by the CNS to slow down.

Reducing activity in the CNS can result in the following:

  • Relaxation
  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Impaired coordination

The effects of CNS depressants are cumulative. This means that using two or more depressants can amplify the resulting symptoms, and thereby cause extreme drowsiness and perilously slow breathing and heart rate.

Ambien and Alcohol | Harmony Recovery Center | North Carolina

How Ambien Works

Ambien does not put a person to sleep immediately. Rather, it is a hypnotic and sedative that mimics the sleep-wake cycle and works on one of the three benzodiazepine receptors in the brain. This simulated cycle can sometimes cause the person to sleepwalk, enabling him or her to be active without any conscious memory of what happens while under the influence of the medication.

Sleepwalking is one of the best-known and most dangerous side effects of using Ambien. In fact, the person is probably not even aware of the behaviors they engaged in while sleepwalking. This situation can be particularly hazardous if the person drinks alcohol and attempts to drive or engage in other activities that can cause harm to both the person and others.

Why People Use Ambien and Alcohol

Sometimes, people combine drugs with alcohol intentionally to get a more intense effect. Some people combine alcohol with sleep aids, erroneously believing that it will help them sleep more soundly. This is a misconception, however, because sleep that results from alcohol use is not healthy, restful sleep, and the person does not experience a normal sleep cycle. Also, as noted above, if alcohol is used in conjunction with Ambien, it can result in dangerous behaviors or overdose.

Others may use the two substances together to experience a euphoric or a hallucinatory effect. Ambien use comes with its own set of risks, especially if it is used regularly. In addition to physical and behavioral risks, there is also the possibility that the person will develop an addiction to one or both substances, resulting in continual abuse and the potential for overdose.

Specific Results of Combining Ambien and Alcohol

Mixing Ambien and alcohol can result in the following very serious symptoms:

  • Profoundly depressed breathing
  • Dangerously slow heart rate
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Impaired coordination
  • Clumsiness and falls
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Mild visual hallucinations
  • Confusion and memory loss
  • Sleepwalking

If you or someone you know has used Ambien and alcohol and is experiencing the above symptoms, they could be overdosing on one or both substances and be in imminent danger. Please call 911 immediately.

In addition, alcohol and Ambien can have unpredictable interactions include erratic behavior, mood swings, and being unable to remember activities engaged in while under the influence of both substances. It is essential to note that these effects can sometimes result in death, either by the person using enough of either substance to stop breathing entirely or through participation in dangerous activities like driving while under the influence.

Research has shown that people who drink alcohol and Ambien together are more than twice as likely to end up in intensive care, compared to those who used Ambien but did not also consume alcohol. And according to a 2010 report by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), about 57% of emergency department visits and hospitalizations caused by taking too much Ambien also involved other substances. Ambien, in conjunction with alcohol, accounted for 14% of those visits.

Prescription Does Not Necessary Mean Safe

Ambien and Alcohol | Harmony Recovery Center | North Carolina

Some people assume that obtaining a prescription from a doctor guarantees that the medication is safer to use than other drugs. However, this is an unfortunate misconception that has resulted in accidental overdoses and other problems when people have participated in routine activities without knowing what reactions the substances will have. Moreover, prescription drugs are not safer to abuse just because they are legal.

Medications work by altering certain conditions in the body. In the case of Ambien, these conditions can create dangerous situations if the person attempts to operate heavy machinery or a motor vehicle after taking the drug—the related drowsiness and impaired coordination are highly likely to lead to an accident.

In fact, due to the potential risks of Ambien alone the International Council on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety (ICADTS) classified zolpidem as a Schedule II substance as one that impairs a person’s driving similar to a blood alcohol content of 0.05-0.08%.

Getting Help

If you suspect that someone you love is engaging in the combined use of alcohol and Ambien, it is vital to get the person help as quickly as possible. This step can prevent an inadvertent overdose or other complications from happening, whether or not the person has combined the drugs accidentally or intentionally. If you yourself are combining these two substances, you should, of course, seek professional help as soon as possible.

Harmony Recovery Center offers help for persons who are struggling with alcohol and drug abuse in the form of a research-based, certified alcohol treatment program. Through the use of education, therapy, counseling, and peer support groups, people learn why combining drugs and alcohol is risky, as well as develop the skills they need to achieve abstinence, avoid relapse, and maintain long-lasting sobriety.

If you or someone you love is abusing Ambien and alcohol or other substances, contact us today to discuss treatment options, which are administered in both partial-hospitalization and outpatient formats. We are dedicated to helping people by providing them with the knowledge, resources, and tools they need to fully recover and break free from the chains of substance abuse for good!