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Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, were first developed and marketing in the mid-20th century. For the past 70 years, many different types of benzos have been developed to treat a variety of conditions, including seizures, insomnia, and alcohol withdrawal. The most common use, however, is for the treatment of anxiety and anxiety-related disorders.
Benzos treat anxiety by stimulating gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that inhibits the excitability of neurons and produces a calming effect in the brain. Because benzos slow brain activity, they can also cause drowsiness, impaired coordination, dizziness, and more. While the various types of benzos work the same at their core, each different drug formula has its own variations on dosage, half-life, absorption time, and potential for abuse.
There are two primary types of benzos:
Benzos come in pill, tablet, capsule, and, less commonly, intravenous form. Generally, a doctor will prescribe benzodiazepine as a short-term treatment for anxiety. The doctor may have to adjust the dosage or the specific benzo based on effectiveness and the patient’s reaction to side effects. Common side effects of benzos include:
When an individual takes benzodiazepine without a prescription, takes more than the prescribed dosage at a time, or continues taking benzos for an extended period of time, this is considered benzodiazepine abuse. The potential for abuse is lower when individuals take benzos only as prescribed. However, because the drugs alter brain chemistry, it is possible that users can form a dependence on them for the calming, pleasurable feelings they cause. Individuals who are not prescribed benzos may seek out the drugs to use recreationally for the same effects.
Because of the potential for abuse, benzos are classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as Schedule VI controlled substances.
A number of factors can contribute to benzo abuse and addiction:
It is not always easy to identify someone who is abusing or addicted to benzos, but the following symptoms can be an indication of a problem:
Physical Abuse Symptoms
Psychological Abuse Symptoms
Long-term benzo abuse can also lead to the following psychological symptoms:
Behavioral Abuse Symptoms
Addiction to benzos can also manifest in changes to the individual’s behavior and lifestyle. Common behavioral symptoms include:
Long-term abuse of benzos can lead to a number of serious physical and psychological consequences, including:
Generally, addiction to benzodiazepine is diagnosed by a physician, based on the patient’s habits and history. Doctor’s may use a diagnostic tool like Severity of Dependence Scale, but diagnosis still relies heavily on the patient’s honesty and transparency. In situations of overdose, you or others with you may be able to tell the doctor what you ingested. The assessment should also evaluate the severity of the abuse, and the potential for relapse.
The first step in the recovery process is usually detoxification, or detox, when the drugs begin to work their way out of the patient’s system. This can be a difficult and even dangerous process if not monitored carefully. Because benzos stimulate neurotransmitters in the brain, the brain may stop producing essential neurotransmitters, like gamma aminobutyric acid, on its own. If an individual quits benzos cold turkey, the body suddenly does not have this important acid, and can react with severe, uncomfortable symptoms. The duration of an individual’s drug use, and the amount of drugs used will also impact the severity and length of their withdrawal symptoms.
Physical withdrawal symptoms may include:
Psychological and emotional withdrawal symptoms may include:
Because of the intensity of the benzo detoxification process, it is common for patients to wean themselves off of the drug a little at a time in a detoxification center or under the care of a physician. This method involves slowly lowering the dosage of benzos, giving the patient’s body time to readjust to the absence of drugs. In some cases, a physician may prescribe other medication to assist in alleviating withdrawal symptoms, or help the brain transition off of benzos. These medications can include Buspirone, Flumazenil, and Acamprosate, but should not be taken without a doctor’s consultation.
Once the patient has detoxed and withdrawal symptoms have subsided, they can begin the addiction treatment and recovery process. There are a number of options available for treatment, including:
Individuals should consult with their physician, counselor, and other trusted parties when deciding what type of treatment plan and facility is right for them. Often, people were prescribed benzos initially as a treatment for another disorder; there may also be other underlying issues that contributed to their addiction. These concurrent issues must be addressed to reduce the chances of relapse. The road to recovery from benzodiazepine addiction can be difficult, but individuals should not give up as they work towards a healthy, drug-free life.