Benzodiazepine Abuse

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Benzodiazepine Abuse

What Are Benzodiazepines and Why Do Doctors Prescribe Them?

Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are a family of sedative drugs that work by slowing down brain activity and depressing the central nervous system. Doctors prescribe benzos to treat anxiety, panic, acute stress reactions, and sleep disorders.

Benzos increase the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is a chemical that slows the brain down. Increased GABA activity causes you to feel drowsy and calm. This makes benzos an effective treatment for anxiety disorders and insomnia.

There are several different kinds of benzodiazepines, including:

  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)
  • Estazolam (Prosom)

The main difference between types of benzos is how quickly you feel their effects and how long the effects last.

With an ultra-short acting drug like Alprazolam, you may feel the effects half an hour after using the drug. The effects last around one and half hours. For a long-acting drug like Valium, it takes around one to two hours to notice the effects, but they usually last around six hours.

Benzodiazepine Abuse Overview

How Do People Abuse Benzos?

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines prescription drug misuse as when you:

  • Take medicine in a way or dose other than prescribed
  • Take someone else’s medicine
  • Take medicine for the effect it causes — to get high

Benzos are one of the most commonly abused drugs. This is partly because they are relatively easy to obtain. In 2016, research by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (JCP) found that 17.1% of people who used benzos misused them.

Most people misuse benzos to experience their calming sedative effects. Users also seek their muscle relaxing properties.

A JCP study asked benzo users about their motivation for the last time they misused the substance. They found that:

  • 3% used them to relax or relieve tension
  • 4% used them to help with sleep
  • 8% used them to “get high” or because they were “hooked”
  • 7% used them as “experimentation”

Benzos are also known as ‘date rape’ drugs because they can affect your ability to resist sexual assault. In recent years, there has been an increase in reports of cases of sexual assault using drugs in the United States. People usually add benzos to drinks in powder or liquid forms, so it is hard to taste.

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Mixing Benzodiazepines with Other Drugs

Benzodiazepine abuse often involves mixing benzos with other drugs to enhance their effects. Mixing benzos is very dangerous and greatly increases the chance of overdose.

Benzos are most commonly mixed with alcohol. Taking both substances together enhances the effects of both. This may require a visit to the emergency department and can be fatal.

Combining benzos with opioids is also very dangerous, as both opioids and benzos sedate users and suppress breathing.

A study in North Carolina found that death by overdose was ten times higher in patients taking opioids and benzos than in those just taking opioids. Unfortunately, many people receive prescriptions for both substances at the same time.

What Is the Difference Between Benzo Abuse and Addiction?

Substance abuse is when you use a drug in a way that harms you.

Addiction is when you compulsively seek and use that drug despite knowing its harmful effects. It involves chemical changes in the brain that produce urges to use it, even when it negatively affects your health and well-being.

While it is possible to abuse benzos without becoming addicted, it makes it much more likely.

Repeated use may lead to a physical dependence on the drug. Your body builds a tolerance to the substance, and you need to take higher and higher doses to experience the same effect. This increases the chance of developing a benzodiazepine addiction.

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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Abuse?

Benzodiazepine abuse puts your mental and physical health at risk.

Repeated use of benzos can quickly lead to physical dependence and a range of physical and psychological side effects. It can end up exacerbating the anxiety or insomnia that they usually treat.

If you recognize any of these signs and symptoms in you or a loved one, please contact us immediately to speak to one of our professional representatives. All calls are entirely confidential. We treat all clients with compassion and respect.

Short-Term Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse

Short-term effects of benzodiazepines include drowsiness, sedation, and relaxation. However, if you take higher doses of benzodiazepines than your doctor prescribes, you may experience adverse side effects.

Taking high doses of benzos to fall asleep or experience instant effects can make you less alert and less able to think logically. This can make it hard to perform day-to-day activities in the hours following your dosage.

The effects of benzos can continue for much longer than the user is aware. You may believe you are completely sober when in reality, you are still under the influence. This can cause you to behave dangerously, putting yourself and others at risk. Many people try to drive while still under the influence of benzos, leading to driving offenses and accidents.

Other short-term side effects include:

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Lack of coordination
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Impaired memory
  • Coma

Long Term Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse

If you continue to abuse benzodiazepines over a long period, you can cause serious damage to your physical and mental health. You also may become addicted to the drug.

Long-term effects include:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Difficulty in thinking clearly
  • Loss of sexual interest
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and other social activities
  • Increased anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping

In severe cases, long-term use can result in:

  • Severe depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Insomnia

What Are Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms?

If you repeatedly use a drug over a period of time, you may develop a physical dependence.

Your body adjusts to the substance being present and becomes dependent on it to function normally. When you stop taking the drug, you experience a series of withdrawal symptoms.

With benzodiazepines, this can happen very quickly. Research suggests that anyone using benzos for longer than three to four weeks is likely to have withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking it suddenly.

Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions

Benzodiazepine Detox

Withdrawing from benzos without medical support can be dangerous and even fatal.

At Cirque Lodge, we have a specialized luxury detox facility with 24-hour supervision by medical professionals. Our staff will be by your side to cater to your needs and ensure you are completely safe. They may prescribe you medication to help relieve withdrawal symptoms, and we make sure the process is as comfortable and easy as possible.

Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment

Continued benzo abuse may ultimately lead to addiction.

In this case, detox alone is not enough to stop you from misusing benzos. Addiction treatment programs are required to identify and overcome the behaviors that cause you to use the substance.

At Cirque Lodge, we offer an evidence-based, individualized addiction treatment program to help you recover from your addiction and maintain abstinence in the following years. We provide a holistic treatment approach that aims to heal the entire person. We help you to make a fresh start and rediscover the joys of life free from addiction.

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If you or a loved one is suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction, please contact us today. We can help.

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