Drug abuse is an issue that continues to cause problems in the lives of the abusers, their friends and family, and society even when it’s supposedly under control. While some people find themselves on the path of addiction through the recreational use of certain substances, others get hooked on prescription medications, which may be the result of an entirely legal treatment for a condition.
One of these classes of prescription drugs is Benzodiazepines. These drugs are known for treating medical conditions but are also quite popular due to their highly addictive properties. If you or a loved one suffer from a benzodiazepines addiction, you’ll likely be going through a difficult time and may also be finding it hard to quit due to the severe withdrawal symptoms that come with the drug. However, you shouldn’t despair as there are treatment options available that can see you get your life back on track.
If you’re hooked on any of these drugs, it’s important to find out more about your addiction so that you know what you’re dealing with and the right steps to take. There are free confidential addiction helplines in the UK that can also get you further help.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines, commonly called benzos, are a class of drugs which is central nervous system depressants. These drugs have sedative properties and are used in the treatment of certain medical conditions like night terrors, anxiety, restless legs syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, and in some cases, alcohol withdrawal.
While these drugs are known to be effective for treating these conditions, they possess a high potential for abuse. When taken, they increase the effects of a chemical known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in receptors in the brain, which leads to sedative, hypnotic, and euphoric feelings. Continued use of benzodiazepines will mean the brain gets used to the actions of GABA and subsequently become reliant on benzos.
While benzodiazepines do not produce the same level of toxicity as some drugs and substances like alcohol, they can be quite dangerous when abused for a long time. Going further to combine them with other harmful substances can be extremely risky and life-threatening.
History of Benzodiazepines Addiction
Chlordiazepoxide (Librium), which was the first benzodiazepines, was synthesized by Leo Sternbach in 1955 while working on the development of tranquillizers at Hoffmann–La Roche, a Swiss pharmaceutical company. The project was initially abandoned by Sternbach due to disappointing results but was later picked up by his co-worker, Earl Reeder, two years later. Benzodiazepines were consequently released and became a commercial success,
replacing barbiturates and older hypnotic and sedative drugs. However, the risks of benzodiazepines began to draw concern, particularly when the drugs’ potential for dependence became obvious in the 1980s. This subsequently led to the largest-ever class-action lawsuit filed against pharmaceutical companies in the history of Great Britain. The case involved 1,800 law firms and 14,000 patients who claimed that the drug manufacturers knowingly withheld information concerning the risks of benzodiazepines from doctors. Although the case never reached a verdict, it led doctors to request a signed consent from patients before issuing any prescription.
Despite present awareness of the effects of benzodiazepines, they are still widely prescribed and abused globally. While some users still abuse them to fall asleep, stay calm, or fight anxiety, others abuse these drugs recreationally.
Causes and Risk Factors for Benzodiazepines Addiction and Abuse
Addiction to benzodiazepines is caused by numerous factors and the effects can be quite dangerous depending on the amount of the drugs that were abused and the amount of time a user stays addicted. Cases of death have been recorded because of benzodiazepines, with overdose of the drug responsible for numerous life-threatening health issues.
Benzodiazepines are mostly abused by patients who are being treated with the medication for medical conditions. Addiction is likely to occur due to the tolerance which builds up after using the same medication (or drug) for a while. Over time, a patient may no longer feel the effects of the drug anymore, which will lead them to increase their dosage continually, drawing them closer to dependence and addiction.
The consequences of increasing the dosage are such that, without continued use, withdrawal symptoms will begin to flare up and cause moderate to severe discomfort. Continued usage isn’t the solution, as you could ultimately fall victim to dangerous health consequences that may lead to death. This is why, when treated by a medical specialist, you will be told that each benzodiazepines has a maximum period of use. Any more than the recommended and it will bring forth tolerance, serious side effects or a combination of both.
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Deadly Benzodiazepines Drug Interactions
Most people tend to combine benzodiazepines with other CNS sedatives to enhance the euphoric feelings of the drug. Some of the drugs known to be combined by users include opioids like morphine and heroin; suboxone; and alcohol. Using any of these substances alongside benzodiazepines is extremely dangerous and is never advised.
Suboxone is a combination of naloxone and buprenorphine, which is used in the treatment of opioid dependence. Co-abusing suboxone with benzodiazepines may stem from the treatment of opioid addiction when it’s unknown that the user may have also been abusing a benzodiazepines. This can result in fatal health complications if not detected on time.
Opioids, such as heroin, codeine, fentanyl are pain-management medications which are abused by both patients and recreational users due to the high they induce. These drugs are commonly abused alongside benzodiazepines mainly to increase the rush of euphoria. If you abuse these, you’ll be putting yourself at risk of heavy sedation and severely repressed breathing which can even lead to death.
Alcohol is the most common CNS depressant used to boost the effects of benzodiazepines. Mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol can easily lead to a dangerous case of overdose and withdrawing from both substances at once can also be lethal.
What is Benzodiazepines Addiction?
Benzodiazepines act on the brain in a distinct manner, to induce sedative and euphoric feelings. The neurochemical known as GABA acts to prevent neurons from firing uncontrollably while trying to induce calmness and make the body fall asleep. But, with the aid of benzodiazepines, the effects of GABA are enhanced, causing the neurochemical to suppress neurons even further. This typically results in severe sedation and drowsiness.
When this action occurs, over time the brain will begin to see this as normal, and will also begin to depend on benzos to recreate such feelings. As time goes on, more and more of the drug will be required as the brain will continue to give up its functions to the benzodiazepines being abused. This will result in negative health symptoms when the use of the drug is discontinued or drastically reduced, causing any user to seek the drug compulsively to quell the negative health effects. This is when addiction to benzodiazepines becomes real.
How Benzodiazepines Addiction Starts
Addiction is caused by a number of factors. While most people take the drugs without the intention to abuse them or to get high, some use benzos recreationally, following a straight path to addiction. Although benzos are not as intoxicating as other substances, such as alcohol and most opiates, addiction still develops easily.
Benzodiazepines use, for most people, commonly starts from a legitimate prescription where the drug is used to treat their medical condition. You may be prescribed them by your doctor to manage your anxiety, induce sleep, and treat epileptic seizures. However, after a while, the effects may no longer be achieved with regular doses and you may be tempted to increase the intake next time you’re faced with an episode of your condition.
Addiction occurs more easily with recreational users who just want to enjoy the sedative effects and the buzz of euphoria that benzos offer. They typically use the drug in incremental doses to continue to up their ‘highs’ and feelings of pleasure. You may have chosen to feel this way for a while but may get hooked and continue using. The lack of professional control over the consumption is essential source of heath risks.
Why Are Benzodiazepines So Addictive?
Benzos are addictive due to the way they interact with the brain and how they hijack neurochemical processes. Using a benzodiazepines as prescribed by your physician will put you at a lower risk of becoming dependent but abusing it will see your chances of becoming addicted increased significantly.
Benzos interact with the brain in a way that you may be tempted to recreate the feelings they
induce regularly. Most times, prescription doses begin to seem inadequate, which may cause you to increase your intake. Benzodiazepines are addictive for those who acquire the drug illegally and use it without a doctor’s prescription. If you use the drug for recreational purposes, you can easily become addicted because the volume required to get the feeling you’re after is quite high, which means that you may start out abusing the drug if you’re going for high levels of euphoria and sedation.
You may be abusing benzos even if they are prescribed by a doctor; this is called “doctor shopping” and means that patients often visit more than one medical specialist in order to receive multiple prescriptions for the same medication.
Signs, Symptoms and Effects of Benzodiazepines Abuse and Addiction
It can be hard to find out that a loved one is abusing or has become addicted to a benzodiazepines. You may brush off warning signs of abuse as natural side effects. You should take note to look out for warning signs of abuse and addiction and report to your doctor before things slip out of control into a full-blown addiction. Some of the warning signs may come a few days to weeks after your loved one goes beyond their prescription, depending on how much you consume.
There are also negative side effects of using benzodiazepines on the body, which can be worsened by increased doses and long-term use. The common effects and risk of benzodiazepines can occur in the long or short term, and they include tolerance and dependence.
Short-Term Effects of Benzodiazepines on the Body
Using benzodiazepines in the short term can induce drowsiness, sedation, euphoria, anxiety relief, relaxation, and increased self-confidence. However, negative side effects can occur in the short term when you increase your dosage beyond what was prescribed by your physician. Some of these short-term effects include:
- Blurred vision
- Decreased libido
- Lack of coordination
- Difficulty breathing
Using large doses of benzodiazepines to fall asleep or induce instant effects can also result in difficulty performing day-to-day activities, as it can reduce cognitive function and mental alertness. Your driving skills can be seriously reduced which may put you at risk of a road accident if you drive moments after your dosage. Short-term use of benzodiazepines, according to research, can also cause cognitive difficulties and issues with memory. Cases of anterograde amnesia have also been attributed to the short-term use of these medications.
Long-Term Effects of Using Benzodiazepines
Using benzodiazepines over a long period is not advised due to the risks of becoming addicted and suffering the adverse effects that come with addiction to this class of drugs. Your mental and physical health are also at risk.
Adverse effects include cognitive impairment, difficulty in thinking clearly, agoraphobia, loss of sexual interest, loss of interest in social functions and formerly enjoyed activities, and, in some cases, opposite effects like increased anxiety and a lack of sleep.
Long-term effects are also known to worsen the medical and psychological conditions that the drugs were prescribed to treat. These include exacerbated cognitive impairments in cases of anxiety disorders, severe depression that may result in suicidal ideations, worsened insomnia, as well as memory problems. Long-term use will also expose you to withdrawal symptoms when you stay off the drug for a period of time or reduce your dosage.
Physical Signs and Symptoms of Benzodiazepines Abuse and Addiction
While benzodiazepines mainly affect the brain and cause neurological problems, physical symptoms also act as indicators that your loved one may be abusing the drug and has become addicted. These physical signs can flare up during withdrawal or long-term use of the drug:
- Lowered blood pressure
- Shallow breathing
- Extreme weakness
- Blurred vision
- Body pains and aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slurred speech
Psychological Signs and Symptoms of Benzodiazepines Abuse and Addiction
If benzodiazepines begin to hijack your brain activity and affect your chemical balance, you’ll notice this through the psychological symptoms that are unique to being addicted to this class of drugs. Cognitive impairments, memory problems, mental confusion, cravings for the drug, rebound anxiety and depression, suicidal thoughts, and irritability are common signs of abuse of benzodiazepines. Other psychological indications of abuse and addiction are symptoms of withdrawal, which includes the opposite mental effects of the drug.
Signs of Benzodiazepines Withdrawal and Overdose
If you continue to abuse any benzodiazepines over a long period, you’ll ultimately become dependent on the drug, which leads to addiction. When this occurs, reducing your dosage to a large extent or attempting to quit will trigger withdrawal symptoms. You’ll also be at risk of overdosing on the drug when you continue to abuse, or when you relapse after attempting to quit. Some of the symptoms of benzodiazepines withdrawal include:
- Aches and muscle tension
- Nausea and vomiting
- Panic attacks
- Poor memory and concentration
- Irritability and agitation
- Mental confusion
- Paranoia and delusions
While overdose is very possible, fatal symptoms are considered to be very rare when users abuse benzodiazepines alone. Cases of polydrug abuse where benzodiazepines are misused alongside opiates or alcohol can result in fatal cases of overdose. Overdose symptoms include respiratory depression, extremely low blood pressure, amnesia, extreme agitation, visual impairments such as blurred vision, altered mental state and profound confusion, and coma.
Therapy, Treatment and Rehab for Benzodiazepines Abuse and Addiction
Going through the ordeal of benzodiazepines addiction can be really difficult and daunting. You, or your loved one, may have the desire to quit, but be unable to manage the withdrawal symptoms that flare up whenever you stay away from the drug. However, you should take comfort in the knowledge that there are treatment programmes with the right tools and resources that will see you make it to recovery.
Professional treatment starts with a medically-assisted detox programme that will aid your body to flush out the remnants of the benzodiazepines in your system. Doctors will also employ medication therapies, as well as psychotherapy, to help manage your withdrawal symptoms and make them more bearable.
After the detox process, you’ll be transitioned to rehabilitation where you’ll be treated psychologically to sever your mental ties with addiction. Rehab will also help you to learn new ways to stay off the drugs you were addicted to and teach you techniques and strategies that will come in handy when dealing with cravings and relapse cues.
If your addiction started from a medical condition like insomnia or anxiety, through rehab, you’ll be taught alternative ways to manage these conditions. There are therapies that can help you form healthy sleep patterns and also teach you anxiety management.
Staying off Benzodiazepines after Treatment
Treatment for benzodiazepines addiction doesn’t make you immune to using again and subsequently becoming addicted. Treatment and rehab will equip you with strategies that will help you stay sober in the long run. You have to employ these methods and techniques and also get support after your treatment is over.
Individual counselling is a form of therapy in which you are taught coping techniques and relapse prevention skills through one-on-one meetings with your psychologist.
Support groups include counselling carried out in a class setting, which involve addicts and one or more licensed psychologists. This counselling method is commonly carried out in most rehabs to help addicts learn from each other and rebuild social confidence.
Family therapy is conducted by a psychologist and typically involves the family members of the addict. The aim of this kind of counselling is to identify and tackle issues within the family that may have resulted from the behaviours of the addict or may have caused the addiction of the patient.
Benzodiazepines Addiction Facts / Statistics
- According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, addiction to benzodiazepines occurs in 40% of people who take the drug for longer than six weeks.
- The British Medical Association (BMA) reported that benzodiazepines prescriptions issued in 2015 totalled 12 million and came at a cost of £50 million.
What is Benzodiazepines Addiction and Treatment?
Addiction to a benzodiazepines occurs when you take one of these medications for longer or more than is recommended by a physician. Benzodiazepines are known to be addictive drugs that are often taken for the pleasurable effects they induce. Even through a legitimate prescription, it’s easy to become addicted to these types of drugs.
While addiction to benzodiazepines is dangerous, you can break free and live healthily again through the treatment options available. You’ll undergo a detox programme that will clear the drug’s toxins from your system and go on to receive psychological treatment through rehabilitation. You should seek help the moment you realise that your use of a benzodiazepines is slipping out of your control.
What Is the Benzodiazepines High Like?
Benzos will affect you depending on the dose you’re on. At low doses, you’ll experience relaxation, sedation, drowsiness, anxiety/stress relief, and increased self-esteem. Taking lower doses of benzodiazepines produces similar sensations to one or two bottles of alcohol. However, increasing the dosage can cause euphoria and extreme feelings of relaxation, closer to the effects of alcohol intoxication and heroin use. You may also begin to experience slurred speech, heavy drowsiness and sedation, and impaired coordination.
What Is Benzodiazepines Abuse?
Abuse of benzodiazepines occurs when you consume excess amounts or continue using even after your prescription period has expired. These drugs can be easily abused due to the rush of euphoria they cause when taken. You may want to sleep faster or feel more pleasure than what simple doses can accomplish and up your dose as a result. Recreational users tend to abuse benzos quickly because they want to feel an increased sense of euphoria.
What are the Dangers of Overdosing?
Benzodiazepines, compared to some other addictive drugs, are not easily overdosed on, but if you continue to consume abnormally high doses of the drug over a long period, you can overdose. Overdose can also occur when taken in combination with alcohol or other harmful substances. There are many risks involved in overdosing on benzodiazepines and they include dangerously slowed breathing, coma, extreme dizziness, blurred vision, and slurred speech, among others.
Are Benzodiazepines Harmless?
While benzodiazepines are less toxic and harder to overdose on than some other addictive drugs, they can cause dangerous health complications if used in large doses over a long period. Overdosing on benzodiazepines is possible and easy because you’ll naturally be compelled to take more after every dose, which draws you closer to abuse and overdose. Benzodiazepines also come with dangerous withdrawal symptoms that can cause fatal health issues in extreme cases.
How Are Benzodiazepines Legally Classified?
Due to their effectiveness in treating certain medical conditions, and the dangers they pose when abused, benzodiazepines are mainly controlled substances which are only legally acquired by prescription. Depending on the potency of each individual benzodiazepines, they’ll be classed into different categories. Commonly known benzos like Alprazolam (Xanax) and Diazepam (Valium) are Schedule IV drugs in the US and Canada, and Class C drugs in the UK.
Are Benzodiazepines Addictive?
Yes, benzodiazepines have high abuse and addiction potentials due to their interaction with the brain. If you continue to abuse any benzodiazepines, your brain will adjust to depending on the drug for the production of certain chemicals. This causes addicts to go through desperate means to acquire the drug. Physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms that occur when you discontinue using the drug for a while indicate the addictive nature of benzodiazepines.
What are the Dangers of Mixing Benzodiazepines with Other Drugs?
Most recreational users, being dissatisfied with the effects of benzodiazepines alone, go on to combine them with other addictive substances like cocaine or heroin, in order to enjoy a heightened state of euphoria. Doing this can draw overdose nearer and also put the individual at risk of severe health issues that may claim their life. If you mix a benzodiazepines with alcohol or other drugs, you’ll be at risk of losing consciousness, brain damage, coma, repressed breathing, and death.
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