Health Risks of Benzodiazepine Abuse

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Health Risks of Benzodiazepine Abuse

Benzodiazepines (benzos) are central nervous system depressants that doctors prescribe to treat anxiety, panic, and sleep disorders.

Over five million adults misused benzodiazepines in the United States in 2016.

Benzodiazepine abuse may lead to short-term and long-term health problems, including emergency room visits, mental disorders, and suicidal ideation.

Types of benzodiazepines include:

  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)
  • Estazolam (Prosom)
Health Risks of Benzodiazepine Abuse Overview

What is Benzodiazepine Abuse?

Benzodiazepine abuse is when you use benzos in a way that is harmful to you, despite knowing the health risks.

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.

People usually misuse benzos to experience their relaxing effects and euphoric properties. Research by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (JCP) found that during the past year, benzo misusers reported the following:

  • 46.3% primarily used it for relaxation or relieving tension purposes
  • 22.4% used the drug with sleep
  • 5.7% took the drug as experimentation
  • 11.8% used it to get high or because of being hooked

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What Are the Short-Term Health Risks of Benzodiazepine Abuse?

Benzos have a range of short-term effects, including relaxation, sedation, and drowsiness.

However, if you misuse benzos, you may experience adverse side effects.

Taking higher doses of benzos than your doctor prescribes can make you less alert and impair your judgment. It puts you at risk of accidents and causing injury to yourself and others, which may result in visits to the emergency room.

The effects of benzos can continue for much longer than you are aware. You may try to complete certain tasks believing you are sober when in reality, your physical and cognitive abilities are still impaired. People sometimes try to drive while still under the influence of benzos, risking serious road accidents.

Other short-term health risks include:

  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Impaired memory
  • Overdose
  • Coma

What Are the Long-Term Health Risks of Benzodiazepine Abuse?

If you repeatedly use benzodiazepines over some time, you may develop long-term health problems.

Long-term health risks of benzo abuse are both mental and physical.

Research by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that long-term use of Valium led to substantial cognitive decline that continued over three months after withdrawal from the substance. Benzos may also increase the risk of hip fracture by up to 50%.

Other long-term health risks include:

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

Doctors usually prescribe benzos to treat mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and insomnia. In severe cases, repeated and prolonged benzo use can have the opposite effect and worsen the condition it is supposed to treat. 

Severe benzo abuse may lead to:

  • Severe depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Insomnia

Misusing benzos also puts you at risk of developing an addiction. Addiction is a chronic disease that makes you compulsively seek and use a substance despite its harmful consequences. It causes changes in the brain that are long-lasting or even permanent.

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What Are the Risks of a Benzodiazepine Overdose?

Benzo overdose happens when you consume more of the substance than your body can metabolize.

It typically involves excessive sedation, and in larger doses, respiratory depression or coma.

Benzo overdose is dangerous and can be fatal. Most deaths from overdose result from respiratory depression or mixing benzos with other substances.

Benzodiazepine Dependence and Withdrawal

If you use benzos repeatedly, your body begins to adjust to the presence of the substance, and you need higher and higher doses to experience the same effects.

After some time, you need to use benzos just to feel normal.

You can develop a physical dependence on benzodiazepines very quickly. Research has found that you are likely to develop benzodiazepine dependence after just three or four weeks.

If you suddenly stop using benzos, you may experience certain withdrawal symptoms. Central nervous system depressants work by slowing the brain’s activity. When you stop taking them, it can have the opposite effect, causing seizures and other harmful consequences.

Other withdrawal symptoms include:

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

Withdrawing from benzos without professional medical support can put your mental and physical health at risk. At Cirque Lodge, our detox program is under the 24-hour supervision of licensed medical professionals to ensure you are safe at all times. They may prescribe you medication to ease withdrawal symptoms if necessary.

What Happens When You Mix Benzodiazepines With Other Substances?

Benzo abuse often involves combining benzos with another substance to intensify their effects.

Mixing benzos is hazardous and puts you at increased risk of overdose.

Benzodiazepines and Alcohol

Benzos and alcohol are an extremely dangerous combination. Both are CNS depressants, meaning they slow down neural activity. Taking both substances together compounds their effects and may have severe consequences, including overdose and death.

Health risks of mixing alcohol and benzos include:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Impaired cognition
  • Amnesia
  • Immune system depression
  • Unconsciousness
  • Organ failure
  • Coma

Opioids and Benzodiazepines

Mixing benzos and opioids is also extremely dangerous. Both substances are sedatives that suppress breathing, the leading cause of death from benzo overdose.

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.

How Do People Obtain Benzodiazepines?

Doctors can legally prescribe benzos to treat certain illnesses. However, benzo misusers usually obtain the substance through illegal means. This includes:

  • Buying benzos illegally
  • ‘Doctor shopping’ and getting prescriptions from multiple doctors
  • Acquiring benzos from friends and family

A  study found that most users obtained benzodiazepines from friends or relatives, with only about 20% receiving them from their doctor and others purchasing them online. 

Buying black market benzos is risky, as often, these tablets do not contain the drug advertised, and there are multiple instances of deaths caused by Xanax tablets containing fentanyl.

Benzodiazepine Addiction and Substance Abuse Treatment

Benzodiazepine abuse and addiction puts your mental and physical health at serious risk and can be fatal.

However, addiction is treatable, and rehabilitation can be the first step towards a healthy and happy life of sobriety.

Cirque Lodge offers evidence-based, individualized addiction treatment programs that treat your entire person. We offer a combination of behavioral therapies, experiential therapies, and support groups adapted to suit your specific needs. Surrounded by the breathtaking Rocky Mountains, Cirque Lodge is the perfect place to heal and find inspiration for your journey ahead.

Cirque Lodge provides the highest levels of care and comfort. Our luxury facilities offer everything you need to relax and focus on your treatment. Our compassionate team of medical professionals is by your side 24-hours a day, and we create an environment conducive to growth where you can overcome your addiction and rediscover your sense of self.

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