Benzodiazepines are a type of prescription medication used to treat anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and insomnia. Commonly referred to as “benzos,” this class of medications can be life-saving when anxiety becomes overwhelming, however, these drugs can be very addictive and are some of the most abused prescription medications in the country. Benzodiazepines are also one of the only classes of drugs with the capability to be deadly upon withdrawal.
How Do Benzodiazepines Work?
Benzodiazepines work by enhancing the action of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which inhibits anxiety by reducing certain nerve-impulse transmissions within the brain. These drugs act as sedatives by slowing down the central nervous system which can reduce levels of anxiety, panic, and racing thoughts. Typically, benzodiazepines are prescribed for use on a short-term basis.
Thirty million adults in the United States have used benzodiazepines in the previous twelve months. Of these, about one in six report misusage of the medication. Xanax prescriptions are the most popular ones written by medical professionals, with 45 million being written each year.
Common names of benzodiazepines include:
Benzodiazepines provide much-needed relief for millions. While many people achieve relief from anxiety, depression, and grief with the prescribed use of benzodiazepines, when benzodiazepines are abused, they can become extremely harmful and possibly fatal.
While the majority of benzo prescriptions are used as directed, they have the potential to be abused. Benzos help people with anxiety to experience less severe symptoms. When people with anxiety take these drugs, they often report feeling like a “normal person” for the first time. Because this feeling of normalcy can be so relieving, many people don’t want to go back to feeling anxious, so they begin taking their medication at larger doses or more often than prescribed.
It is also possible for those without a prescription to obtain benzodiazepines through family, friends, or a drug dealer and use them as a way to attempt to treat their own medical issues without a prescription.
How Do Benzodiazepines Affect Mental Health?
Long-term use or abuse of benzodiazepines can create dependency or the need for a higher dose to produce the same effect. Anxiety has been associated with a deficiency in the production of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain. Benzodiazepines help increase a person’s GABA efficiency, which, in the long term, can result in the brain producing less of it. Because benzos don’t produce a profound feeling of being high, many people begin to take more and more of the substance without realizing the inherent medical danger they are placing themselves in.
As the dose of benzodiazepines that a person is taking increases, so do their side effects. Benzodiazepine side effects may include, sleepiness, slowed breathing, slurred speech, blurred vision, difficulty thinking and concentrating, weakness, difficulty with motor control functions, impaired short-term memory, blackouts, hallucinations, and seizures. Ultimately, when a person’s side effects become too much to handle and they finally realize they are taking too much, they often have become so used to the numbing and relaxing effects of the medication that trying to live life without drugs becomes excruciating. At this point, a person’s mental health is bound to be worse than it ever was. In this way, long-term benzo usage or withdrawal can cause or exacerbate depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms.
Quitting benzos without proper medical supervision can be dangerous, especially if benzodiazepine abuse was coupled with alcohol use or abuse.
The Dangers of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal
Detoxing from benzodiazepines without appropriate medical supervision can be extremely dangerous or even fatal. Similar to alcohol detox, benzo detox must be performed in a medical facility with access to health care and mental health care professionals. A facility such as Clear Behavioral Health can provide detoxification medications, treatments, and therapies that can ease the brutality of the withdrawal process. Again, benzo withdrawal can be very dangerous or fatal without medical support, especially if an individual has been using or abusing benzos like Xanax, Klonopin, or Valium extensively or for an extended period of time.
Detox or stabilization is an important part of the recovery process. It is the time that allows an individual to safely and comfortably step away from the substances they have been using. If someone has been using substances for any extended period of time, attending a detox or stabilization program can be extremely helpful, and often is very necessary for safety and comfort.
About half of people who seek treatment for substance abuse also have a mental health condition, some of whom struggle with anxiety.
Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment in California
Are you experiencing benzodiazepine abuse along with an anxiety disorder? Clear Behavioral Health can help you safely and effectively manage both conditions. We offer a full range of outpatient treatment options, including detoxification, residential treatment, outpatient services, and alumni support. If you or a loved one would like more information about our dual diagnosis treatment programs, contact our clinical team today. We are happy to answer any questions and concerns you have.