The rate of benzodiazepine abuse among American adults is reaching worrisome proportions. Below, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about benzos, including how to overcome a dependence on this risky and addictive medication.
What Are Benzos?
Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are a family of psychoactive drugs that work by enhancing the effects of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Benzos work on the brain’s GABA receptors, which results in hypnotic, sedative, anticonvulsant, antianxiety and muscle-relaxant properties.
Once a benzodiazepine drug has crossed the blood-brain barrier, it triggers the brain to release large amounts of dopamine. Dopamine is known as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter and is responsible for feelings of pleasure and happiness. This chemical reaction in the brain is the reason why benzos have such a high rate of abuse and addiction.
How Long Are Benzos Usually Prescribed for? And for Which Illnesses?
Benzos come with an extremely high potential for abuse, which is why medical groups usually recommend that benzos should only be prescribed for between two to four weeks at the most, and at the lowest effective dose. However, this advice is very often ignored, and many patients may use benzodiazepine medications for months or even years on end.
Because benzodiazepine drugs act as a powerful central nervous system depressant, they are frequently prescribed to treat the following medical disorders:
Learn about the addiction signs, effects and treatment of benzodiazepines by reading through our answers to a number of frequently asked questions:
Who Typically Gets Prescribed Benzos?
Benzos are usually prescribed to adults without a history of substance abuse or addiction. Because benzos have such a high addiction potential, they should not be prescribed to those at risk for developing an addiction.
Individuals with a history of alcohol abuse are at an elevated risk for dangerous central nervous system depression as well as addiction if they take benzos while drinking. Patients who have a history of suicidal behavior or are suffering from severe depression are also frequently denied a prescription for benzos. Why? They may experience a worsening of their depression symptoms while taking benzos.
How Many Americans Are Prescribed Benzos?
Benzodiazepine medications are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. In fact, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine recently reported that in the 17-year period between 1996 and 2013, the number of prescriptions for benzodiazepine medications rose from 8.1 million to 13.5 million.
A 2008 studyAnother study found that the prevalence of benzodiazepine prescriptions among American adults steadily increases with age, from 2.6 percent between the ages% (of 18 and -35 years old ) to 8.7 percent between% (65 and -80 years old).
Benzo use was also found to be twice as prevalent in women compared to men.
What Are the Names of the Commonly Prescribed Benzos?
Below is a list of benzodiazepine medications that are commonly prescribed in the United States. The generic names are listed first, and the popular brand names follow in parenthesis:
Alprazolam (Xanax, Niravam)
Diazepam (Valium, Diastat)
Lorazepam (Temesta, Ativan)
Midazolam (Versed, Dormicum, Hypnovel)
Quazepam (Doral, Dormalin)
Estazolam (ProSom, Eurodin, Nuctalon)
Flurazepam (Dalmane, Dalmadorm)
Clorazepate (Tranxene, Novo-Clopate)
How Long Does It Take to Detox from Benzos?
The length of time it takes to detox from benzos varies from person to person and depends on a number of factors, such as:
The type of benzodiazepine medication used
The severity of addiction and quantity of benzos consumed regularly
A family history of substance abuse
The abuse of other drugs or alcohol while abusing benzos
The individual’s pre-existing physical and mental health status
The method used to consume benzos
Generally, the first symptoms of benzo detox will appear within 6 to 12 hours after the last dose of short-acting benzos, and after 24 to 36 hours for long-acting benzos.
Users of short-acting benzos such as Xanax can expect acute detox symptoms to last for about 7 days. Users of long-acting benzos may experience acute detox symptoms for up to 3 months.
Some benzo users may experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which consists of symptoms like insomnia, fatigue and intense cravings. While PAWS can persist for months after the user is no longer physically dependent on benzos, the symptoms are generally less intense than they were during the acute withdrawal phase.
What Are the Dangers and Symptoms of Benzo Withdrawal?
For those with a severe addiction to benzos, quitting cold turkey can be extremely dangerous. The most serious side effects of benzodiazepines withdrawal are seizures, delirium tremens and psychosis, all of which can lead to long-term health consequences and even death.
This is why many health care professionals strongly advise that individuals battling a severe addiction to benzos should enter a medically assisted detox program. Even in less severe cases of benzodiazepines addiction, patients can expect to go through a host of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, which include:
Muscle pain and stiffness
Impaired motor skills
High blood pressure
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Repeated Benzo Use?
In addition to becoming addicted, a user may experience numerous health consequences due to long-term benzo abuse. The physical and psychological effects of prolonged benzo abuse include:
Impaired memory and ability to concentrate
Depression and suicidal thoughts
Increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease
Compromised immune system
The long-term abuse of benzos can have disastrous effects on other areas of the user’s life, such as:
Poor performance at work or school
Engaging in criminal activity in order to support the benzo addiction
Loss of self-confidence and hope for the future
Social withdrawal and isolation
Engaging in risky behaviors, such as driving under the influence
What Are Some Signs that a Loved One Is Abusing Benzos?
If you fear that a friend or family member is abusing benzodiazepine medication, there are a number of warning signs that you can look for, including:
Seeking prescriptions for benzos from more than one doctor, also known as “doctor shopping”
Buying benzos illegally on the black market, including over the internet
Appearing drowsy or falling asleep at inappropriate times
Losing interest in activities that they once enjoyed
Lying to others about the extent of their benzo use
Sudden mood swings and agitation when benzos are unavailable
If you personally take benzos on a regular basis but are still unsure if your use of the medication qualifies as an addiction, follow the link below and answer the questions in our “Am I Addicted” quiz.
What Are the Dangers of Combined Benzo and Alcohol Use?
Benzos and alcohol are both powerful central nervous system depressants. Many benzo addicts, especially those with a high tolerance to the effects of benzos, will drink alcohol at the same time in order to heighten the drug’s sedative effects.
Drinking while on benzos is extremely dangerous, and can lead to:
Immune system depression
Loss of consciousness
What It Takes to Treat Benzo Dependence
The safest and most effective way to break an addiction to benzos is through a three-stage process consisting of:
Medically Assisted Detox: Benzo withdrawal can lead to potentially dangerous and life-threatening complications, which is why medical supervision is extremely important. Doctors may also prescribe medications to relieve the unpleasant side effects of benzo detox.
Substance Abuse Rehabilitation: Once the physical dependence on benzos has been broken via detox, patients should undergo extensive benzo addiction treatment, in the form of inpatient and/or outpatient programs, to address the underlying causes of their addiction.
Aftercare and Relapse Prevention: Recovering benzo addicts should take advantage of aftercare services and support groups to manage the stresses and addiction triggers of everyday life without relapsing.
Learn More About Benzodiazepine Addiction and Treatment
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