Benzodiazepines, sometimes called “benzos” for short, are hypnotic (sleep-causing), mild tranquilizers with muscle-relaxing abilities. These medications are only available with a prescription. A doctor might prescribe this type of medication for anxiety and panic, which is the most common use for the drug. Benzodiazepines are also commonly prescribed for insomnia. Other uses include seizures, alcohol withdrawals, muscle spasms, and premedication for medical procedures. Some debate exists in the medical community about benzodiazepines, but physicians generally agree that these drugs should provide a short-term rather than long-term solution.
Benzodiazepines were the most commonly prescribed drug in 1977.
How do Benzodiazepines work?
Every person’s brain produces, among other things, a chemical called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA calms the central nervous system and lowers anxiety. Benzodiazepines work by increasing the brain’s GABA at the GABA receptors, which are responsible for responding to GABA. When the brain releases more of this substance, the individual will feel extremely relaxed. An anxious or panic-prone person may naturally produce less GABA than the average person, and medications can help this person reach a better balance.
Are Benzodiazepines Addictive?
Benzodiazepines have a high potential for abuse. These drugs are indeed addictive, mostly because people who use them can quickly develop tolerance and dependence. Tolerance is what happens when a person finds that his or her medication doesn’t have the same effect as it had when he or she began taking it. This person will need higher doses of the drug to achieve the original impact. Some medications have more tolerance-development potential than others. While benzodiazepines have a high tolerance potential, tolerance also depends on the person’s reason for taking the medication. Those who take it for anxiety can go several weeks before they develop tolerance, while those who take it for insomnia often develop tolerance much more quickly.
Dependence is what happens when “as needed” becomes “all the time.” This effect is especially common with sleep aids, which is why doctors recommend only taking sleeping pills for a few weeks. Somebody who takes benzodiazepines for sleep may quickly find that he or she cannot fall asleep at all without them.
Tolerance and dependence tend to work together in an addictive cycle. Eventually, benzodiazepines can cause its users to feel like they can’t function without them. Many patients experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit.
If this addictive cycle sounds familiar to you, Rehab Info can help you find a way to quit. Call 800-492-QUIT to find out how.
Benzodiazepines also carry the risk of overdose. Overdose becomes a much more significant risk when one mixes benzodiazepines with alcohol or other drugs. A person who has overdosed on benzodiazepines may experience any or all of the following symptoms:
- Extreme fatigue
- Low blood pressure
- Slurred speech
- Involuntary eye movement
- Loss of muscle control
- Lowered breathing rate
- Heart failure
If you suspect that someone you know has overdosed, seek medical attention immediately. Hospital staff can provide treatment to prevent further absorption and counteract the effects of the benzodiazepines.
Aside from overdose, benzodiazepines come with other risks and side effects as well.
The most noteworthy among them is an increased risk of suicide in those who take this drug. Other side effects include excessive sleepiness, weakness, and dizziness. After prolonged use, a person may experience paradoxical effects, or effects that are the opposite of what the medication should do. For instance, instead of a sense of calm, some may experience increased anxiety after a certain amount of time. Prolonged use brings other risks, including falling, worsening mental health issues, and slowed cognition and memory.
In 2008, approximately 5.2% of US adults aged 18 to 80 years used benzodiazepines.
If you need help with an addiction to benzodiazepines, you have many options. From inpatient to outpatient facilities, from privately-owned to government-owned rehab centers, these choices provide proven ways to overcome addiction in a supportive environment. The number of options can become overwhelming, though, and you might not be sure where to start. That’s where Rehab Info can help. We’re experts on all sorts of drug rehabilitation options, and we can help you explore your options so that you find the best fit for your situation. Our caring staff can listen, assess your needs, and help you figure out which program will work best for you.