Benzodiazepines Addiction

Benzodiazepines are a specific group of standard prescription drugs diagnosed by many doctors every day.  However, they can easily turn the corner from a medical prescription to a benzodiazepines addiction because of the pleasurable and desirable side effects they have, especially at high doses.

Common brands of these drugs are Ativan, Valium and Xanax and they are used to treat a variety of psychiatric conditions, especially anxiety disorders.

Most Common Benzodiazepines

The more commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Clorazepate (Tranxene)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Flurazepam (Dalmane)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Oxazepam (Serax)
  • Temazepam (Restoril)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)

Short Term Effects of Benzodiazepines

benzodiazepines addiction Benzodiazepines Addiction

Benzodiazepines are closely associated with the neurotransmitter GABA, that resides in your brain.  When the drugs enter your brain, they directly affect GABA neurotransmission.

GABA is like a “brake pedal” in your brain.  When Gaba is present, it decreases the electrical activity of nerve cells. As you can imagine, benzodiazepines are useful in treating seizures, where reducing nerve cell activity is useful.

However, they can very quickly become dangerous when they are abused.

Additional Drug Abuse

Curiously, people who suffer from benzodiazepines addiction usually abuse other drugs as well.

Approximately 80 percent of people with benzodiazepines dependence do so in conjunction with another drug, commonly opioids.

Often they are to “take the edge off” of opioid or alcohol withdrawal or to change the quality of the high of another drug being abused.

Short Term Damage

There is very little short term damage from the use of benzodiazepines, as long as they are used in the exact manner prescribed by a doctor.

However, each dose that is taken slightly increases the potential for dependence on the drug.  The main short term concern with benzodiazepine use is overdose and harmful drug interactions, discussed below.

Long Term Damage From Benzodiazepines Addiction

Over time, neurons in the brain come to rely on the calming effect of benzodiazepines. When the user stops using the drugs, the dependent neurons fire excessively, increasing the risk for seizures. Numerous studies have shown that the two main neurotransmitter systems of the brain are altered by long term benzodiazepine use (for review see Licata et al.1)

Overdose

A person that is acutely intoxicated with benzodiazepines will experience the following system:

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech

Curiously, even though these drugs exert a calming effect, users that consume very high doses may have severe agitation.

It is important to note that serious problems with benzodiazepine overdose are very rare.   However, the ramifications of an overdose are much more serious when it occurs in conjunction with certain drugs, such as alcohol, opioids, or other sedatives.

Nonetheless, benzodiazepine overdose can still cause:

  • Altered mental status
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Amnesia
  • Stupor
  • Coma

These drugs can also cause respiratory depression, which can be fatal.

Symptoms and Signs of Benzodiazepine Addiction

As mentioned above, people that have anxiety disorders, abuse alcohol or suffer from insomnia are more likely to abuse benzodiazepines.

In a sense, these drugs are both more effective for these individuals, but also more habit-forming. Therefore, anyone that has a prescription for benzodiazepines, sadly, has the potential to abuse it.

Signs of benzodiazepine abuse include an escalating dose of the drug—this likely indicates a level of dependence. Patients that drink alcohol to extend the effects of the benzodiazepine are at great risk of becoming an abuser.

Adverse Interactions

Perhaps the most dangerous drug to mix with benzodiazepines is alcohol. The two work in similar fashion to depress the central nervous system.

Too much depression of the central nervous system an cause the brain to stop performing key functions, like breathing.

Alcohol and benzodiazepines taken together can be lethal.

Opioids depress the area of the brain stem that controls breathing. High dose opioids directly depress breathing while benzodiazepines depress neurons in general. Taking opioids and benzodiazepines together can also be lethal.


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Sources

  1. Licata SC, Rowlett JK. Abuse and dependence liability of benzodiazepine-type drugs: GABA(A) receptor modulation and beyond. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. Jul 2008;90(1):74-89.