Benzodiazepine Addiction and Treatment Options

Benzodiazepines are prescription sedatives that are central nervous system depressants. Their extremely calming and reward-producing effects may lead people to misuse and abuse them. Benzodiazepine misuse can easily lead to overdose, dependence, and addiction requiring treatment to overcome.

What are Benzodiazepines?

Central nervous system depressants such as benzodiazepines slow down the activity of the nervous system, which has a variety of effects on the brain and body. By limiting the activity of the nervous system, it can act as an anticonvulsant, muscle relaxer, or anti-anxiety medication. In the US, benzodiazepines, or benzos, are commonly prescribed to treat conditions such as anxiety, amnesia, seizures or convulsions, and pain.

Despite the fact that they’ve been in use for decades and are used for medically-justified purposes, benzodiazepines also have a high potential for dependence and addiction. Since they can be obtained by prescription for a variety of different reasons, misuse is increasingly common.

Benzodiazepine Addiction and its effects on the Brain

Benzodiazepines may become addictive because its effects alleviate sensations of anxiety or discomfort. Even when prescribed by a medical doctor, it’s possible to develop tolerance with prolonged use. This may push individuals that use the drug as prescribed to take more than the prescribed amount of the drug to achieve the same effect. In addition to seeking out more of the drug’s intended effects, benzodiazepines have unintended consequences on reward pathways in the brain.

Researchers have discovered that benzodiazepine can cause addiction in the same way drugs such as opioids, cannabinoids, and GHB can. The key to this addiction pathway is the drug’s effect on dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that is involved in the sensation of pleasure. Benzodiazepines weaken the effect of inhibitory interneurons, which are involved in the regulation of dopamine release. When these interneurons are weakened, the result is a surge of dopamine in the brain, which has a rewarding effect. As with other drugs, benzodiazepines thus create a motivation for users to use more of the drug – that is, to achieve the pleasurable surge in dopamine.

Commonly Misused Benzodiazepines

The most commonly misused benzodiazepines are also the most commonly prescribed, because sometimes addiction only requires easy access. These drugs are well-known by their brand name:

Xanax (alprazolam)

Xanax is frequently used for treating panic and anxiety disorders. It’s fast-acting, so it works immediately, though it also comes in extended-release versions, which takes effect over a longer period of time. Because its effects come on quickly, it is perfect for treating short-lived panic attacks. However, it also makes it especially dangerous for illicit use because the rewarding sensation occurs right away.

Klonopin (klonazepam)

Klonopin is an intermediate-acting benzodiazepine that is commonly prescribed to treat seizure disorders as well as anxiety and insomnia. Like other benzos, Klonopin can interact with other substances to produce a more powerful synergistic effect, making it especially lethal.

Valium (diazepam)

Valium was one of the earliest known benzodiazepines. It has been approved to treat seizures, anxiety, insomnia, and even alcohol withdrawal. Valium’s effects take longer to come on, making it slightly less rewarding than some of the fast-acting benzos. Nonetheless, it has the potential for addiction and overdose, particularly when combined with other substances.

Ativan (lorazepam)

Ativan is a short to intermediate-acting benzodiazepine that is used to treat panic and anxiety. Lorazepam quickly improves insomnia and anxiety over a period of days. It can create side effects such as drowsiness and impaired coordination.

Ambien (zolpidem)

Ambien is commonly prescribed to treat insomnia. The hypnotic drug works by slowing down nervous system activity and thus inducing an immediate sedative effect. Prescription sleep aids such as Ambien have the potential for abuse because it may become difficult for a person to fall asleep without them.
Side Effects of Benzodiazepine Misuse

Though benzodiazepines can induce sought-after feelings of relaxation and calm, they also have some unpleasant side effects. These may be especially pronounced when they are misused because that creates a build-up of the drug in the body. These side effects may include:

  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Respiratory depression (slowed breathing)
  • Trouble coordinating movements
  • Slurred speech
  • Tremors Vertigo

In addition to these common benzodiazepine side effects, misuse may lead to more severe symptoms including:

  • Erratic behavior
  • Aggression
  • Mood swings
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Euphoria
  • Overdose
Can You Overdose On Benzodiazepines?

Due to the depressant effect of benzodiazepines, overdose is possible. When slowing down nervous system function, benzos also have an effect on vital systems of the body including heart rate and breathing. Respiratory depression can occur when breathing is so slow that the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. This is why it’s important to look out for signs such as bluish lips or fingernails as a potentially deadly overdose.

The risk of overdose is also compounded when benzodiazepines are abused in conjunction with other medications or alcohol. Prescribed limits enable doctors to determine safe amounts of the drug that will achieve the desired medical effect without leading to overdose. However, when other nervous system depressants are taken together with benzos, the effect is unpredictable and the amount required to overdose may be unexpectedly lower. So even if you are used to taking a “safe” dosage of benzodiazepine medication, if you happen to be drinking alcohol, the same dosage may be riskier.

Withdrawal Risks

Long-term benzodiazepine use may lead to withdrawal. When benzos are taken over a prolonged period of time, the body adjusts to the medication. Eventually, this will lower its effectiveness, requiring higher doses to achieve the same medical effect. This is known as tolerance. Tolerance often occurs in conjunction with withdrawal, wherein the absence of the medication causes unpleasant symptoms. Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Racing heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors or seizures

Benzodiazepine Addiction FAQs

Benzodiazepine Addiction Recovery at Riverwalk Ranch
A Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Area Addiction Treatment Center

At Riverwalk Ranch, we can treat benzodiazepine addiction as part of our comprehensive addiction treatment services. Located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, our professionals use only empirically-supported treatments to help you safely and comfortably begin your journey toward recovery. Our facilities provide an encouraging and safe haven to detox, surrounded by medical professionals, addiction specialists, and other like-minded individuals all working toward a healthier addiction-free life.

If you or a loved one is suffering from benzo addiction, don’t hesitate to contact our addiction treatment center today at (877) 863-3869. Riverwalk Ranch can provide a therapeutic and supportive home for you whether you already live in Texas or you’re looking to begin your recovery journey in a new environment. Everyone deserves a happy and healthy life free from addiction, and we are committed to helping you overcome benzodiazepine addiction in order to get you there.

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