When we think of addiction, oftentimes we think of individuals who abuse mind-altering substances like alcohol and drugs. However, addiction and dependency can take a wide variety of forms. In fact, there are even a number of behavioral addictions that can be incredibly problematic to one’s health and life, such as addiction to sex, exercise, food addiction and eating disorders, gambling and spending addiction, and so on. Each addictive behavior or substance carries with it a particular set of effects and symptoms with manifestations that vary from one addict to the next. This is the result of each individual responding differently to the risks of each substance or behavior.
Despite all addictive substances being extremely dangerous, it goes without saying that some are more dangerous than others. The factors that affect the level of danger a mind-altering substance carries are things like how the substance affects one’s physiology, the strength of the substance, its addictive potential, and so on. For instance, alcohol is considered to be an incredibly dangerous substance because when alcoholism reaches a certain level of severity, it can be incredibly difficult to achieve sobriety with withdrawal symptoms that can become life-threatening. Methamphetamine—colloquially known as “crystal meth”—is also notoriously addictive due to the strength of the drug, causing intense cravings that are difficult to resist. Even marijuana, which is considered to be the most “entry-level” mind-altering drug, is considered to be habit-forming and somewhat addictive by some researchers.
Benzodiazepines, or simply “benzos” for short, are another type of drug that’s considered to be highly addictive and incredibly dangerous for a number of reasons. The following will explore addiction to benzos, defining the drug and explain why they’re so addictive and dangerous.
What are Benzos?
Benzodiazepines are a class of drug that is commonly prescribed for a number of legitimate medical conditions while also being very commonly abused. As a class of psychoactive substances, benzodiazepines are somewhat like a sedative on human physiology in that these drugs have a pronounced hypnotic effect. Some of the most common or widely-abused drugs that are classified as benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), lorazepam (Ativan), and temazepam (Restoril), but there are a number of other benzodiazepines as well. The main differences between the various benzodiazepines that are prescribed include the strength of the drug, its longevity and how long the drug remains in the body, whether the drug has known adverse reactions with other substances, and whether the drug has more of a targeted effect on certain symptoms.
As mentioned, the effects of benzos can be generally described as sedative or hypnotic. With small levels of variability among them, benzodiazepines tend to act as muscular and skeletal relaxants, as amnesiacs and anticonvulsants, and as anxiolytics, or anti-anxiety treatments. What’s more, certain benzodiazepines produce active metabolites, which refers to when the body metabolizes a substance into compounds that are very similar to the parent compound, effectively amplifying the drug’s effects and extending its longevity. Long-lasting benzodiazepines that produce active metabolites—of which diazepam, or Valium, is the most common—are often prescribed to individuals who are recovery from alcohol or benzodiazepine dependency in order to alleviate the severity of the benzodiazepines withdrawal symptoms.
The most common health conditions that benzodiazepines treat include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, seizures and epilepsy, and insomnia in addition to treating severe withdrawal from certain types of dependency. Metabolized in the liver, the half-life—the time it takes for the body to eliminate half of the amount of a substance that’s been administered—of benzodiazepines are known to be somewhat long with it taking the elderly and those with impaired liver functioning twice as long to eliminate benzos as younger individuals. Therefore, choosing an appropriate dose for a patient tends to be a complicated, delicate process with a number of individual factors that need to be taken into consideration to prevent insufficient or excessive dosage. When taken to the point of intoxication, benzos produce a pronounced drowsiness and slurred speech that make it often mistaken for being intoxicated on alcohol; however, benzo intoxication is accompanied by extreme drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision, lack of coordination, and when intoxication reaches a certain level, even coma and death from the body losing the ability to breathe.
Benzodiazepine Dependency and Withdrawal
Like any other substance, individuals who continue to take benzos over time will inevitably develop a tolerance to benzodiazepines. In particular, individuals develop a tolerance to the muscle-relaxant, sleep-inducing, and anticonvulsant properties of benzodiazepines, needing higher doses for those effects to be intoxicating. However, when taken for legitimate reasons the benzodiazepine will continue to treat the symptoms it was intended to treat, but increasing dosage will allow the individual to experience the desired effects, offering a particular type of intoxication that’s comparable to the effects of alcohol. Unfortunately, those who are prescribed benzos for insomnia will often escalate their dosage as the drug starts to be less effective, developing a tolerance and dependence on benzos as a result of taking higher doses to treat their sleep disorder. In fact, it’s been found that roughly one-in-four who are prescribed benzos will end up escalating their dosage of their own volition. As the dosage increases, the individual becomes physically and even psychologically dependent on benzos, resulting in his or her experiencing withdrawal symptoms if he or she goes a period of time without losing.
Typically, dependence is said to occur with prolonged use of at least a few week with withdrawal symptoms becoming apparent around week four of regular benzodiazepine use. However, dependence may happen faster or slower depending on the strength of the benzodiazepine that’s being abused. If an individual has become dependent, he or she will experience withdrawal symptoms roughly three to four days after the last dose of the drug. Much like dependence on alcohol, individuals who have become addicted to benzos may not be able to simply cease their use of the drug if the addiction is very severe; if one who is experiencing severe benzodiazepine dependency abruptly ceases use of the drug, they may experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms and seizures. As such, it’s often recommended that individuals dependent on benzos participate in a medically-supervised detox program so that withdrawal symptoms can be monitored, ensuring that the addict recovers in total safety.
If you or someone you love is addicted to benzodiazepines or another substance, the Palm Beach Institute can help. We have a team of knowledgeable, experienced recovery specialists who have helped countless individuals find their way to a healthy, sober life by matching them to the addiction treatment programs that best met their needs. Call us today so we can guide you to a better life.