Struggling with a substance use disorder is the reality for millions of people across the world. Every day, millions of people everywhere, including the U.S., abuse substances, both illegal and prescription medications. As the opioid epidemic in the United States wages on, more attention than ever before is being placed on addiction.
Addiction can take many different forms and impact people from all walks of life: From a successful businessman to a military veteran, addiction does not discriminate. It can be abusing a substance or performing any other self-destructive behavior in a compulsive fashion. One particularly challenging form of addiction is that of benzodiazepine addiction.
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Benzodiazepine addiction can start innocently or intentionally. Regardless of its origin, it can wreak havoc on the lives of those addicted and their loved ones. Serious health, emotional, and financial problems are just a few of the severe side effects that befall one’s life as a result of benzodiazepine addiction.
One of the more negative characteristics of this form of addiction is the potentially life-threatening withdrawal process associated with benzodiazepine abuse. This can occur whenever trying to slow or stop benzodiazepine use altogether. With this dangerous aspect of benzodiazepine addiction in mind, it’s crucial to seek professional help to overcome the disorder.
Read on to learn more about benzodiazepine addiction and what goes into proper addiction treatment to help you or your loved one return to a happy, healthy, and sober life.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzos are a class of psychoactive drugs that function as minor tranquilizers. A wide variety of prescription medications make up this category of drugs, which are typically prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, seizure disorders, or muscular issues. Though many different drugs fall into this specific classification, benzos all operate within the brain and body in a similar way.
In fact, benzo addiction has very similar characteristics to that of alcohol addiction, which is what makes this form of addiction extremely volatile.
Benzodiazepines act upon the brain’s natural production of the neurotransmitter known as “GABA” (gamma-Aminobutyric acid). GABA is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that is directly responsible for multiple key internal bodily functions.
However, its primary function is to help in carrying messages from the brain to the rest of the central nervous system. GABA is also known for assisting in the relief of the sensation of anxiety and/or stress in the body. Upon its release, GABA produces calming effects which subsequently relax the body. This phenomenon is accomplished by GABA reducing the nerve cells’ activity throughout the entire central nervous system.
GABA has many other uses other than combating and alleviating feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress. It is also used to improve overall mood and assist in promoting sleep. In some cases, it can even diminish premenstrual symptoms in women.
Benzodiazepines function by mimicking the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA at the GABA receptor sites located on the nerves. Since some individuals do not produce enough GABA naturally or need more GABA in general, physicians and mental health experts will prescribe benzos to patients to help combat a variety of different conditions. Unfortunately, benzo use is not without risk.
For benzodiazepines to work, they will directly impact the way in which the brain naturally produces GABA. With continued use, the brain and body will begin to develop a physical dependence on these medications.
Due to the presence of the benzos in the system, the brain will begin to alter the way in which an amount of the neurotransmitter is synthesized. As production is altered, the brain will become dependant on these medications to function correctly. Without benzos, the brain will not produce enough GABA resulting in potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
Regardless of how your benzodiazepine addiction may have begun, it is very easy to develop a dependence, even when taking your prescription medication as prescribed. Full-on benzodiazepine addiction can simply develop from the prolonged use of a prescription benzodiazepine medication.
However, many individuals end up abusing these drugs. Benzos cause a rush of GABA within the brain. When a large amount of this neurotransmitter floods your system, a calming, even euphoric effect can be experienced. Achieving this euphoric effect can be the result sought by addicts who
will abuse these medications by taking a larger dose than required.
To make matters worse, benzodiazepines have been one of the most overprescribed types of prescription medication within the last decade. Due to the potentially life-threatening outcome associated with benzodiazepine addiction, identifying benzodiazepine addiction symptoms in yourself or your loved ones is important.
Receiving prompt benzodiazepine addiction treatment is also imperative when trying to prevent long-term physical damage to yourself or a loved one. Read on to learn how to identify the tell-tale signs of benzo abuse and what goes into addiction treatment.
Common Types of Benzodiazepines
- Valium. The brand name for diazepam, Valium is one of the most popular benzodiazepine medications in the U.S. It starts working quickly compared to other benzos, which makes it useful in helping people fall asleep faster. Valium is also used to treat seizures, anxiety disorders, and panic disorders.
- Ativan. Ativan is the brand name for a medication called lorazepam. The drug is used to treat sleep disorders, seizures, and anxiety. Ativan has slower onset time, so it’s not as useful in helping people get to sleep faster, but it might help people who usually wake up in the middle of the night.
- Xanax. Xanax is the brand name for a chemical called alprazolam. The medication is often used to treat panic disorders and anxiety. It works longer than other benzos and can last between 11 and 20 hours.
- Librium. Librium is the brand name for the drug chlordiazepoxide, which is used to treat anxiety disorders. It’s a long-acting benzo and can be active for as long as three days.
- Restoril. This is the name of a medication called temazepam that’s used to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. It also works for 11 to 20 hours, so it can help patients stay asleep longer, but it may cause drowsiness the next morning.
- Klonopin. Klonopin is the brand name for clonazepam, a drug used to treat anxiety, seizures, and insomnia. It has an intermediate onset of action.
What Are the Signs of Benzodiazepine Addiction?
As mentioned previously, identifying benzodiazepine addiction symptoms is important to get the proper help from a drug rehab as quickly as possible. Addiction, in and of itself, is a unique disorder that may look different on a case-by-case basis. This means that not everyone will experience or display the same exact benzodiazepine addiction symptoms.
However, despite the variability of benzodiazepine addiction, there are some signs that are more commonly noted among benzo addicts. Some of these common benzodiazepine addiction symptoms may be:
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty with memory
- Muscle spasms
- Motor impairment
- Feeling lightheaded
- Sensitivity to sound, touch, and light
- Having sensations of numbness
- Smell sensitivity
- Muscle pain
- Mood swings
What’s important to remember is that benzodiazepine addiction symptoms can be physical and psychological. Benzos have high addiction potential, meaning that it can happen to anyone.
Keeping an eye out for any of these benzodiazepine addiction symptoms is important as is making sure you or your loved one is taking the correct dose of the medication, each and every time.
If you believe that you or a loved one is struggling with benzodiazepine addiction, then seeking proper benzodiazepine addiction treatment is important. Benzo withdrawal can produce various symptoms that can result in permanent physical injury and even death in some cases.
What Is Involved in Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment?
Upon receiving an official substance use disorder diagnosis from a physician or mental health professional, it’s time to seek out proper benzodiazepine addiction treatment. This can come in a variety of forms, but the most suggested and effective route is by completing the full continuum of care.
The full continuum of care is the process by which benzodiazepine addiction treatment is completed and conducted by completing different levels of care in a “stepped” format. You will start at a higher level of care, which consists of more hands-on clinical and medical intervention, and progress through lower levels of care, which contain fewer hands-on techniques.
By completing the full continuum of care, you will receive the appropriate amount of clinical and medical intervention based on your progress in benzodiazepine addiction treatment. This can help increase the likelihood of long-term success in recovery and provides the proper amount of medical treatment that benzodiazepine addiction treatment specifically requires.
The first, and arguably the most important part of the full continuum of care for benzo addiction is medical detox. This level contains the highest amount of clinical and medical supervision and its primary purpose is to provide medical stabilization following the cessation of benzodiazepine use.
Since benzos have a notoriously dangerous withdrawal process, receiving proper medical care is crucial to avoid some of the nasty detox side effects that you may encounter.
When you arrive at detox, you’ll undergo a full medical assessment by the medical staff made up of physicians, nurses, and medical support staff. They will take into consideration the severity of your addiction as well as your overall physical health.
From there, they will create and implement a personalized detox plan tailored to fit your specific needs. Your detox plan will usually include a variety of different detox medications designed to help you safely, comfortably, and quickly detox off of benzos.
A full clinical staff of therapists, case managers, and support staff will also be present to help you navigate the emotionally challenging time that detox often is for patients. Since not all withdrawal symptoms are physical, having access to intense clinical support can make a huge difference in your experience.
While the primary focus of detox may be the physical aspect of benzodiazepine addiction, you will begin having minor therapy sessions and groups at this stage to start looking at the underlying causes of your addiction as well.
Following detox, it is recommended to continue your treatment process by going to inpatient/ residential treatment. This stage of care focuses more on the therapeutic aspect of treatment since you will be medically stabilized at this point.
Each addiction treatment program is unique from the different addiction therapy methods employed to the amenities offered at the facility. It is important to ensure that the program meets your needs whether they are dual diagnosis treatment, PTSD therapy, etc.
Regardless of the details surrounding the specifics of the program, the overall experience is generally the same.
You will live full-time onsite at the facility and undergo a full-time curriculum of therapy sessions and groups geared toward getting to the underlying root causes of your addiction and other emotional issues.
While at residential treatment/inpatient treatment, you’ll live with other recovering addicts and alcoholics in campus-style living. Here, you’ll learn different life skills, coping mechanisms, and relapse prevention techniques in a sequestered environment away from outside stressors and temptations. You will learn these new skills and techniques and be able to apply them to your daily life even long after treatment ends.
Following inpatient/residential treatment, the next level of care in benzodiazepine addiction treatment is intensive outpatient (IOP). IOP is different from inpatient in that you will no longer live onsite at the facility. Instead, patients are required to find alternative housing whether it’s returning to your home or finding a sober living facility/halfway house. These halfway houses provide further structured living geared towards creating an environment of recovery.
Regardless of your living arrangements, you will commute to your IOP sessions each week. IOP will typically occur several days a week for multiple hours at a time. IOP provides intensive clinical intervention while you acclimate to having more free time and subsequent responsibility for maintaining your sobriety on your off-hours.
This can be a big transition that many people may struggle with. This is what makes IOP such an important facet of the full continuum of care. By continuing on in your therapy sessions and being subjected to random drug testing, it can help keep you on track in your recovery and your program.
After IOP comes routine outpatient programs. These programs are similar to IOP in that you still must find alternative housing and commute to sessions, but the number of hours spent in therapy each week greatly diminishes. In fact, outpatient usually only occurs for a single one-hour session per week.
The idea behind outpatient is to make the final transition from the safety of an inpatient drug/alcohol rehab program into society at large as a sober person. By this point in benzodiazepine addiction treatment, you should be fairly stable and capable of handling the majority of the responsibility for your recovery. However, having lingering support from your outpatient program and drug testing may help you stay on track.
Many people utilize 12-step programs and alumni programs in tandem with outpatient programs. This compounds the amount of support you’ll have during your recovery as you re-emerge into the world as a newly sober individual.
Since outpatient lasts far longer than IOP (IOP only six to eight weeks; outpatient several months), it provides long-lasting support well into your recovery when you can successfully handle all of the responsibility to your program.
How Dangerous Are Benzodiazepines?/ Benzodiazepine Overdose
As mentioned earlier, benzodiazepines are a notoriously dangerous type of drug. These drugs have various effects on the body, including suppressing the respiratory system, heart rate, and blood pressure. Benzos can easily cause overdose simply by themselves, but especially when combined with other drugs, known as polydrug use.
A common combination is benzos and alcohol. Drinking alcohol while under the influence of benzodiazepines can result in overdose due to both of these substances being depressants. You may lose consciousness and your ability to breath and maintain a safe heart rate/blood pressure.
Benzos are also often overprescribed. This means that more prescriptions for benzos are given by doctors to patients who may not necessarily need them. With more pills in circulation, they more easily fall into the wrong hands.
As a result, there has been a rapid increase in the number of people struggling with benzodiazepine addiction. It’s important for you and your loved ones to understand how powerful and potentially hazardous these drugs can be, especially due to their recent glorification in pop culture.
Benzodiazepine Abuse Statistics
In recent years, the number of people suffering from benzodiazepine addiction has greatly increased. This increase is illustrated in the recent benzodiazepine statistics circulating throughout the United States. Read on to see just how common and severe benzodiazepine addiction is:
- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), in 2015 9,000 individuals died as a result of benzodiazepine overdose.
- Benzodiazepine addiction treatment admissions have tripled from 1998 to 2008 according to SAMHSA.
The Medical Expenditure Panel Survey determined that within the 17 years between 1996 and 2013, the number of U.S. adults with benzodiazepine prescriptions grew by one-third from 8.1 million to 13.5 million people.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017, September 15). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
SAMHSA. (2013, May 23). Benzodiazepine abuse treatment admissions have tripled from 1998 to 2008. Retrieved from from https://www.samhsa.gov/newsroom/press-announcements/201106091200
Kennedy, M. (2016, February 26). Benzodiazepine prescriptions, overdose deaths on the rise in U.S. Retrieved from from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-rxdrugs-benzodiazepine-overdos/benzodiazepine-prescriptions-overdose-deaths-on-the-rise-in-u-s-idUSKCN0VZ2TU
RxList. (n.d.). Benzodiazepines Drug Class: Side Effects, Types & Uses. Retrieved from from https://www.rxlist.com/benzodiazepines/drugs-condition.htm
WebMD. (n.d.). Gaba (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid): Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage, and Warning. Retrieved from from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-464/gaba-gamma-aminobutyric-acid