What is 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.   



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