Benzodiazepines are highly addictive prescription tranquilizers prescribed to help people manage the symptoms of panic disorders, anxiety disorders, seizures, muscle relaxation problems, insomnia, and other conditions. Benzodiazepines, or “benzos” for short, are classified based on how long their effects last, which can be either short-acting or long-acting.
One of the reasons why benzodiazepine addiction has become so common has to do with the steadily rising number of prescriptions written by doctors. Between 1996 and 2013, prescriptions for benzos increased by 67 percent, from 8.1 million to 13.5 million per year.
A person who has become addicted to benzos will exhibit symptoms of their addiction. Common symptoms include:
- Blurred vision
- Poor judgment or thinking
- Mood changes
- Increasing the dosage amounts or times taken without doctor approval
- Unable to reduce the amount taken or completely stop usage
- Combining benzos with other drugs or alcohol
- Developing a tolerance that requires increasing the dosage to get the same desired effect
- Taking benzos not prescribed to the person
- Doctor shopping, which means visiting multiple doctors to try to get several prescriptions
According to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice, the most widely prescribed benzos in 2017 were:
- Alprazolam (common brand name: Xanax): 45 million prescriptions
- Clonazepam (common brand name: Klonopin): 29.2 million prescriptions
- Lorazepam (common brand name: Ativan): 26.4 million prescriptions
- Diazepam (common brand name: Valium): 12.6 million prescriptions
- Temazepam (common brand name: Restoril): 7 million prescriptions
Because of how commonly these benzos are prescribed, they are popular among those who abuse or become addicted to them. This includes both those who have a prescription for benzos and individuals who take them without having one.
A study found that, among popular prescription medications, benzodiazepines were associated with the greatest risk of early death. Additionally, people who take benzodiazepines for at least six months—under a doctor’s orders or recreationally—have an 84% higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s.
These drugs act on the central nervous system and produce sedation and muscle relaxation effects that can help lower anxiety levels. Death by benzo abuse alone is uncommon, but these drugs can be combined with alcohol, which makes them dangerous and lethal.
It’s also common for users to combine benzos and opioids, like heroin. Taking both drugs at the same time can be very unsafe because they each have sedative properties that can cause breathing to slow, which is the main cause of overdose fatality. In 2015, 23% of people who died as a result of an opioid overdose also had benzodiazepines in their system.
Most benzos come in pill form, and some users will crush and snort the pills to feel the effects more quickly than swallowing the pill. However, snorting benzos increases the risk of overdose because it enters the bloodstream so quickly.
Trying to quit a benzo addiction on their own can be dangerous for a person, necessitating finding the right treatment program. Several options for treatment exist, typically beginning with a detox program and then extending into the next step, which can include the following:
Inpatient Treatment: An inpatient treatment center provides care 24 hours a day, generally in a non-hospital setting, with the length of stay varying from a few weeks to several months. Treatment is structured, including individual and group therapy and other activities designed to help patients examine any beliefs that could have led to addiction in the first place. Some programs offer partial day treatment with supportive housing which can provide a similar experience to residential inpatient treatment. Co-occurring mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), often receive treatment, along with the addiction.
Outpatient Treatment: This type of treatment can vary with different levels of intensity, with individual and group counseling constituting an important part of the program. Outpatient treatment often provides a good fit for people who are able to continue working during their treatment and who have a good support system in place. Similar to inpatient treatment, co-occurring mental health conditions are often treated alongside addiction.
Therapy: Therapy addresses the underlying causes of benzo addiction. This is key to almost any part of the treatment journey. Therapy can be in different forms and can be done individually or in group settings. There are many factors that can trigger a relapse, and therapy can help teach individuals ways to stay sober.
Support Groups: Support groups offer members a way to give and receive support on a number of different issues. These groups are run by individuals who are in recovery and are designed to help reduce the chance of relapse in their members. Many groups follow the 12-step program philosophy, while others offer options for different kinds of peer-based support.
Withdrawal time varies depending on the type of benzo that was being used. A short-acting drug, such as Xanax, has a shorter withdrawal period that can last around seven days. Valium abuse can have withdrawal symptoms that last up to ninety days.
Quitting benzos cold turkey and without professional supervision is not recommended. When the level of medication becomes too low in the body, the possibility of withdrawal seizures exists. A slow taper detox supervised by a medical doctor is necessary to avoid harsh withdrawal symptoms. Tapering off benzos will usually involve a doctor prescribing a smaller amount of the drug over time or prescribing a different one that is less potent.
Symptoms of withdrawal from benzos can include:
- Muscle pain and tremors
- Difficulty sleeping
- Heart palpitations
- Anxiety and panic
- Difficulty concentrating
- Cravings for the drug
A detox program offers people medical and psychological support during the process of detoxification. This not only provides a safer, more comfortable way to detox but gives the person a greater chance of avoiding relapse as they move through the stages of recovery.
If you or a loved one is struggling with benzo abuse, take our short online quiz to determine if you have an addiction. At Launch Centers, we’re committed to helping our clients overcome their substance abuse issues while helping them build important life skills outside of treatment.
Contact Launch Centers today and speak to one of our helpful admissions team members to find out how we can help you heal.