Anxiety Disorders and Benzodiazepines
The number of individuals being diagnosed with anxiety disorders in the United States is consistently increasing. The need for a medication to treat the symptoms of an anxiety disorder has increased at the same time. Some individuals have been prescribed benzodiazepines to help them think clearer, calm their nerves, and decrease the number of anxiety attacks. The problem is benzodiazepines must be taken correctly, or they can become more dangerous than the anxiety attacks. Benzodiazepines are commonly referred to as benzos.
This is a psychoactive medication prescribed by physicians to help people trying to cope with both insomnia and anxiety. There are currently well over one dozen different types of benzos. Each one has a specific purpose. Some benzodiazepines are prescribed for the treatment of multiple conditions. The most frequent use is for the treatment of heightened anxiety. In addition to being used for psychological symptoms, they can be beneficial for individuals with physical struggles.
Certain benzodiazepines are useful for relaxing an individual before they have surgery or for treating the convulsions associated with cerebral palsy. When an individual takes this drug, their brain activity slows down. The nerve impulses are slowed because benzodiazepines intensify the effect of (GABA) gamma-aminobutyric acid. The result is slower reaction times, uncoordinated movements, and drowsiness. The actual mechanics are nearly the same for all of the different types of benzos. There are a few essential differences among the variations of this drug. A good example is the differences in absorption time, abuse potential, half-life, and dosages.
The Different Types of Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines are available in two main types. These are short-acting and long-acting. Every class of this drug is prescribed for a different reason. The Drug Enforcement Administration has classified benzodiazepines as being potentially addictive. The long-acting variations, including Librium and Valium, will remain in the body for a more extended period. The short-acting differences, including Xanax and Ativan, do not stay in the body for long. In some instances, only for a few hours. When taken correctly, medical supervision is generally provided.
Benzodiazepines can be taken in different forms, including capsules, tablets, and pills. Although benzos can be taken by injection, this is not common. Versed is one of the brand names made using a chemical called midazolam. This form requires an intravenous administration. Pharmaceutical companies are manufacturing numerous types of benzos. This includes Xanax, Librium, Valium, Rohypnol, Lexotan, Klonopin, and Ativan. Like any illegally used drug, there are numerous nicknames for benzodiazepines. The most frequently used street names include:
- Z bars (Xanax)
- Nerve pills
- V’s (Valium)
Benzodiazepines are similar to the other addictive drugs because they cause a dopamine release. Dopamine is a chemical in the body that contributes to a feeling of happiness. As time passes, this type of drug changes the way the brain releases dopamine. The way the individual feels happy when participating in any activity changes. Many individuals with a benzodiazepine addiction are only able to feel satisfied if they are using a high dose of benzos.
Addiction also has an impact on the brain’s motivational system. The brain forms an association between happiness and the drug. This results in cravings causing the individual to take more of the drug. Another aspect of addiction is withdrawal. If the individual tries to stop taking the medication without help, chances are excellent; they will not be able to get through the withdrawal. Most individuals begin retaking the drug for relief from the extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Benzodiazepines are addictive because they temporarily provide relief for specific mental health issues. Many individuals self-medicate using benzodiazepines for sleep or anxiety issues. Although this drug can relieve these problems temporarily, many individuals start to believe the only way to sleep or deal with anxiety is by using this drug.
Any severe disorder concerning substance abuse is classified as an addiction. This brain disease results in the consistent use of the drug with a disregard for any negative consequences. If the individual only has a mild benzothiophene disorder, they may be able to discontinue using the drug without any help. If the individual stops taking the medication too quickly, the result may be a life-threatening withdrawal. The safest way to stop taking this drug is with help from a medical professional. If the addiction is severe, expert support and treatment are necessary to stop taking benzos safely.
When the individual receives the correct balance of effort, support, and treatment, they can recover from their addiction. The dependency on benzodiazepines is not the same as an addiction because every individual consistently using the drug is dependent. Only some individuals become addicted. When benzos are taken regularly for many days or weeks, the brain will adapt to the drug. Eventually, the mind will need the drug to function correctly. Benzodiazepine dependence occurs when the brain needs the drug to feel normal.
As the dependency to the drug develops, the brain will need larger doses for the same effect. When this happens, it is called tolerance. If the individual with the dependency stops taking the benzodiazepine, they will have withdrawal symptoms.
When benzodiazepines are used as prescribed, the medical condition is generally addressed with minimal risk. The most common side effects of the drug include feeling hungover and drowsiness. Benzos may also result in poor concentration, slurred speech, confusion, dizziness, and low blood pressure. An individual using benzodiazepines has a higher risk of having an accident. Operating machinery and driving a vehicle should be avoided until the individual knows how they will react to the drug.
If the individual is elderly, they may experience difficulty breathing while taking benzodiazepine in addition to having a higher risk of falling. If a pregnant woman takes benzos, it can result in congenital disabilities. Unless benzos are used in conjunction with another abusive substance, it is rare for an overdose to be fatal. This drug should never be mixed with depressants, opioids, or alcohol because this can cause the individual to pass out. They may stop breathing due to the slower respiration resulting from depressants.
Benzodiazepine has also been used for sexual assaults. When this drug is slipped into an individual’s drink, the person may be rendered unconscious.
The Withdrawal Symptoms for Benzodiazepine
- Shallow breathing
- Blurred vision
- Impaired coordination
- Cold, pale skin
- Extreme fatigue
- Slowed heart rate
- Slower reflexes
- Slurred speech
- Dilated pupils
The severity of these symptoms can be reduced when the use of the drug is decreased slowly. A few days after the dosage has been lowered, the tolerance of the individual drops so they are not as dependent on the drug. Most individuals addicted to benzos are unable to discontinue using the drug by themselves slowly. The disease affects their motivation, self-control, and judgment. Benzodiazepine professionals can help an individual with a severe dependency taper off the drug slowly. The problem is there are millions of individuals prescribed benzodiazepines every year.
As more and more prescriptions are being written for this drug, the number of individuals being impacted by addiction and abuse is increasing. If the heart rate or breathing of the individual drop low enough, they will stop breathing. This can result in a fatal overdoes. When benzodiazepines are mixed with other drugs impacting the (CNS) central nervous system such as alcohol, the chances of a lethal overdose occurring increase. This is common among benzo users. Harmful side effects may occur when the drug is being abused right after coming down from the high. This includes:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Mental confusion
- Mood swings
- Blurred vision
- Cognitive dysfunction
The Long-Term Impact of Abusing Benzodiazepines
Benzos are one of the most challenging drugs to stop using due to the effect they have on the brain and cognitive function. The impact of benzodiazepines includes:
- Loss of coordination
- Permanent cognitive defects
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Hip fracture
- Muscle stiffness
- Motor vehicle crashes
- Impaired memory and concentration
- Increased reaction time
Most of the severe reactions occur when the individual stops using the drug abruptly due to the chemical dependency of the brain on the drug. The neurological network of the brain is re-calibrated by this drug. Without benzodiazepines, the brain is unable to process and transfer information or function correctly.
Why Benzodiazepines Are Addictive
Benzodiazepines are addictive because they trigger the release of dopamine. This is an essential factor in feeling happiness. As time passes, the way dopamine is released by the brain changes. Once an addiction is formed, the individual may not be able to feel happiness without a high dosage of benzos. Any individual with a benzodiazepine addiction is most likely suffering in many different areas of their life. Some individuals sever all connections with their family and friends because they do not want to be judged for taking this drug.
In addition to essential relationships being negatively impacted, many individuals are struggling financially. They often spend every penny they have to get more of the drug or miss work, so they have enough time to use the drug as frequently as they wish.
Treating Benzodiazepines Addiction
Individuals who are using benzodiazepines need to speak with their physician about discontinuing the drug to ensure they can stop taking benzos safely. If the individual stops using the drug abruptly, the side effects can be fatal. A medical professional will taper the individual off of the drug slowly to eliminate any severe side effects. When an individual is addicted or dependent on benzodiazepines, their best option is a medically supervised detox facility. Rehab enables the individual to taper off benzos slowly while being monitored 24/7.
Depending on the specific type of drug being used by the individual and the severity of their addiction, detox can take a few weeks or several months. The length of time the drug remains in the system depends on which type of benzodiazepine the individual has been using. The best resource for an individual wanting to overcome their addiction to this drug is a rehabilitation center. These centers provide the individual with a safe environment for withdrawal and recovery. The individual is taught how to live without using benzos and provided with treatment for any other kind of addiction and any mental health disorder.
The safest way to treat an addiction to benzodiazepine is by receiving assistance from an accredited facility. This enables clinical therapists and medical professionals to locate any underlying disorders that must be addressed in addition to finding out how severe the addiction is. There are facilities all over the country established for these reasons. The first step is evaluating the individual regarding their addiction and learning critical information. This includes how many doses the individual has used and how long they have been taking the drug.
Once the treatment facility has determined the severity of the addition, the detoxification process can begin. Depending on which benzodiazepine is being used, the detox symptoms can be uncomfortable. A medical professional can prescribe medication to make the process easier. Once the individual has completed the process of withdrawal, they will be taught the tools necessary for the management of their addiction. This learning process may take place in an outpatient, intensive outpatient, inpatient, intensive inpatient, or partial hospital facility.
Once the individual has completed the program, they will be taught the necessary aftercare skills outside of the center. Aftercare may involve living in a sober-living home or attending therapy sessions regularly.
Benzodiazepines Addiction Abuse Statistics
The amount of benzodiazepine prescriptions currently being written is a factor in the number of Americans who have become addicted to the drug. Benzo’s addiction is not only happening in the United States. This is a global issue. The most popular pill in the world in 2015 was Xanax. Millions and millions of prescriptions have been written across the globe. The number of prescriptions written for Xanax by American physicians has increased twelve percent per year. In 2011, there were 49 million prescriptions written for alprazolam all over the world.