Benzodiazepines (aka “Benzos” and “Downers”) are a class of psychoactive drugs that enhance the effect of a chemical in the brain called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). This neurotransmitter suppresses neuron activity, slowing the brain and nervous system. There are over a dozen benzodiazepines on the market, and they differ in absorption rate, duration of effects, and time it takes for the drug to exit the body. The effects of this medicine include sedation, muscle relaxation, anticonvulsants, and the reduction of stress and anxiety. Have you ever heard of diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), or clonazepam (Klonopin)? It won’t be surprising if you have. They are commonly prescribed and also, unfortunately, widely abused. These drugs are typically prescribed for mental and emotional disorders like anxiety and panic disorder, and even muscle spasms and insomnia. It is generally very effective at providing relief. Some might even say too effective…
The incredible relaxing effects that these drugs induce can be highly addictive because, well, it feels good. Our internal reward system says, “Give me more,” even though this is a dangerous request to fulfill. Many people who end up addicted to benzos start with a legitimate prescription from their doctor. They probably walked into their appointment with good intentions to get a hold of their stressful life. They probably didn’t intend on getting hooked. But it happens. Because of this, their addiction can be challenging or even embarrassing to admit. It could happen to the best of us. This is why abuse of benzodiazepines is so common, combined with their ease of access. If you have a medical history of anxiety, you’ll likely be offered a prescription for benzos.
The side effects of misusing benzodiazepines include:
- Memory loss
- Irregular appetite
- Disturbing or vivid dreams
Severe abuse can result in other, crueler, and life-threatening effects that signal you should go to the hospital, including:
- Slowed heart rate
- Respiratory depression
Beware of Mixing!
Benzos do not mix with alcohol; this combination can be fatal. Alcohol heightens the effects of the drug, resulting in intense side effects that produce much more quickly than usual. Taking other drugs like opioids that similarly impact the central nervous system will interact with your prescription, also enhancing its effects on your brain. Combining benzos, alcohol, and/or opioids can impair cognitive function and cause severe depression on the brain and respiratory system, leading to overdose and possibly death. Respiratory depression is the leading cause of overdose in those who mix benzos with alcohol or opioids.
Some opioid pain medications to look out for that can cause respiratory depression are:
- Morphine (MScontin)
- Fentanyl (Duragesic)
- Oxycodone (Oxycontin)
- Hydrocodone (Zohydro ER)
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco, Lorcet)
Individuals should also proceed with caution when taking medicines that cause sedation, including:
- Zolpidem (Ambien, ZolpiMist)
- Zaleplon (Sonata)
- Eszopiclone (Lunesta
You should always inform your doctor about all prescriptions you take, in addition to being proactive and asking questions about how other substances might interact with benzodiazepines. Consulting your doctor about the potential dangers of using various medications and substances together can save your life.
Coming Down, Down, Down…
With all of this in mind, it is crucial to know if you or someone you know is abusing or addicted to benzodiazepines. Recognizing addiction and dependency can help save a life.
Do not quit cold turkey. That’s right. Do NOT quit cold turkey. It might sound like poor advice, but it could save your life; withdrawal symptoms from stopping the use of benzos can be unrelenting and deadly. You may experience delirium and hallucinations, causing you to lose your footing in reality. A grand mal seizure can occur, causing violent muscle contractions, loss of consciousness, and potentially death. To come off of these drugs, tapering off slowly with the guidance of a physician will be necessary.
The statistics on benzos are sobering. Would you believe that more than 30% of overdoses involving opioids also involve benzodiazepines? In 2015, 23% of opioid overdose victims were found to have benzos in their system. Knowing how addictive benzos are, it is hard to imagine that between 1996 and 2013, benzodiazepine prescriptions increased by 67%. A study conducted in North Carolina found that the rate of death by overdose was ten times higher among patients receiving opioids and benzos as opposed to opioids alone. Benzos are serious business, and finding recovery after a benzo addiction should be done with professional care.
Benzodiazepines are psychoactive prescription drugs used to treat anxiety, stress, and other conditions. Not only can they be very useful, but they can be dangerously addictive. The FDA requires all benzodiazepines to post a warning emphasizing the risks of dependency, addiction, or withdrawal symptoms of this drug. This is why your loved one might feel like it’s impossible just to quit. Combining benzos with other drugs or alcohol can, too, be fatal. Some who start benzodiazepines might not know what they are getting into and the risks they face and get addicted. Don’t be ashamed to reach out for help. Your life is on the line, and at Oceanfront Recovery, our expert clinical staff knows what to do to get you on your way back to health and stability. Our programs will take you from detox all the way to our sober living homes in California for lasting recovery. Call us at (877) 279-1777 to find healing today. Your journey starts at Oceanfront.