Benzodiazepines help millions of people but are harmful and dangerous in the hands of an addict.
Benzodiazepines are the sixth most misused drug among adults ages 18 and older in the United States, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Every year SAMHSA conducts the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. They gather information on individuals ages 12 and older and determine statistics for mental health and wellbeing as well as drug and alcohol use and abuse.
Top 10 Most Misused Drugs in the United States
The top 10 most misused drugs in the United States according to the most recent 2015 study, along with the number of people who misused them in the past month, are as follows:
- Alcohol (138,322,000)
- Tobacco (50,912,000)
- Marijuana (22,226,000)
- Pain Relievers (3,775,000)
- Cocaine (1,876,000)
- Tranquilizers (1,874,000)
- Stimulants (1,653,000)
- Hallucinogens (1,240,000)
- Methamphetamine (897,000)
- Ecstasy (557,000)
Benzodiazepines are included underneath the umbrella of tranquilizer medications. As you can see, tranquilizers only have a couple thousand less reported cases of misuse per month.
Are You Worried About Benzodiazepine Use in a Loved One?
So why do so many people misuse benzodiazepines? What is the pull of their tranquilizing effects? Are you even familiar with what benzodiazepines are?
How about what a benzodiazepine addiction is like? Or what benzodiazepine abuse looks like?
If you are worried a loved one may be struggling with a benzodiazepine addiction, read on to learn more. We will cover what the various types of benzodiazepines are, signs to look for when wondering if someone is using them , what a benzodiazepine withdrawal is like, and how to find help for someone with a benzodiazepine addiction.
Benzodiazepines: What Are They and What Do They Do?
Benzodiazepines are a type of prescription drug mainly used to treat:
- Panic disorders
- Sleep disorders or difficulties sleeping
Some of the most common brand names of benzos include Xanax, Valium, and Ativan.
They operate directly on the central nervous system and react with the GAB-A receptors in the brain. By reacting with these receptors, benzodiazepines dull the neuron’s ability to fully activate.
This means that individuals using benzos are less prone to unnecessary excitement, that which leads to anxiety or panic attacks and seizures, as well as causes troubles sleeping.
Ultimately, benzodiazepines help to relax the user’s body and brain. Again, they are part of the tranquilizer class of medications in reference to the calm, unwound feelings they provide.
When used under proper medical supervision, benzodiazepine medications are usually extremely helpful for those struggling with the listed complications and disorders. They assist those with agoraphobia in socializing or help to calm the seizures experienced in epileptics.
Benzos Aren’t Safe For Everyone, Though
However, for those who have struggled with alcoholism or drug addiction in the past, benzodiazepines are not a smart or responsible course for treatment. The calmness they induce is somewhat of a “high” and drug addicts always seek out more of a good thing.
The more benzos an individual takes, the greater the effects. For drug addicts, the potential for overshooting the mark is incredibly high. Benzodiazepine abuse, addiction, and overdose are all possible outcomes.
As benzodiazepines are often taken recreationally, they have many different “street” names used to refer to them, such as:
- Blue V
- Sleeping Pills
Though any responsible doctor will explain the potential for addiction, it is best to know before entering into an agreement to use the medication. If your loved one already struggles with alcoholism or drug addiction, seeking an alternate method of care would be the smarter choice.
A Full and Comprehensive Benzodiazepine List
There are many different types of benzodiazepine on this list, all operating in essentially the same fashion yet each affecting various subtypes of GAB-A receptors. This means that each operates in a slightly different fashion or for a shorter or longer period of time.
As for the list of benzodiazepines, some of the most common benzos include:
Lesser known benzodiazepines include:
There is no end-all, be-all benzodiazepine medication. Each serves a different purpose and are better suited for specific diagnoses or individuals. Some medications on this list of benzodiazepines last for up to 12 hours. Others on the list require multiple doses throughout the day as their effects wear off after a few hours.
The medication prescribed depends on a variety of factors including diagnosis, health, weight, and gender, among others. The best way to find out the right brand and dosage for an individual’s situation is to speak with their doctor.
Never seek sound medical direction or advice on the Internet without first consulting a primary care physician. Never seek the assistance of benzodiazepines without the direction of a doctor either.
What Does Benzodiazepine Addiction Look Like? How Does it Differ From Dependence?
Many people are capable of taking benzos without ever developing a benzodiazepine addiction. However, dependence is a very real part of taking any benzodiazepine medication.
Benzodiazepines heavily influence the way the brain and body function as a unit. When an individual takes benzos for an extended period of time, their body becomes dependent upon the constant supply of chemically-induced calmness and slight euphoria.
If they or their doctor suddenly removes the supply of benzodiazepines from their body, they will experience withdrawal symptoms. Dependence does not necessarily imply addiction, but almost all addicts are dependent.
What is the differentiating factor between dependence and addiction?
Dependence refers to the elements of tolerance to and the withdrawal symptoms experienced when the individual or their doctor removes the drug. Addiction adds in the compulsive behaviors associated with the way addicts use drugs.
Those who are dependent on benzodiazepines will push through the withdrawal symptoms and come out clean of the medication. Those with a benzodiazepine addiction will likely avoid quitting at all and continue to use despite the negative consequences experienced, including financial, social, or familial loss.
Differences Between Benzodiazepine Abuse and Addiction
The difference between dependence on benzos and addiction to benzos is clear. But what is the difference between benzodiazepine abuse and benzodiazepine addiction?
Drug abuse and drug addiction are often used interchangeably. People refer to drug addicts as drug abusers and vice versa.
However, there is a distinct difference between someone who abuses benzodiazepines and someone who is addicted to them: compulsion.
Not all drug abusers are drug addicts but all drug addicts are drug abusers. The thing that separates the two is the compulsive manner in which benzodiazepine addicts, or drug addicts in general, use their drugs.
Benzodiazepine abuse can stand as a single instance or occur over multiple times, but often they are isolated occurrences. When someone has a day or a few days where they take too many pills, that would be drug abuse.
Then What is Benzodiazepine Addiction?
However, those who are addicted to benzodiazepines use them in a compulsive manner. There is no real thought to the process, it’s just what they do. Addicts will continue to get high despite any and all consequences.
It doesn’t matter if they lose their job, home, or family; nothing is important enough to come in between them and their next fix.
The line between benzodiazepine abuse and addiction can be fine; sometimes it may seem impossible to tell the difference.
Ultimately, does the difference really matter? If benzodiazepine use has become a problem, something should be done about it. If the benzos are negatively impacting the life of the person using them, it might be a better idea to remove them from the equation.
How Does Someone Develop a Benzodiazepine Addiction?
Despite extensive research, there is still no single factor that determines whether or not someone will become a drug addict. There is no “addiction gene” or single common occurrence that causes someone to become an alcoholic.
The closest researchers have come to an answer is that there are a combination of both biological and environmental factors at play.
Drug addiction often seems to “run in families.” This could be due both to a biological impact, something in an individual’s genetics which makes them predisposed to use and process drugs differently.
It could also have something to do with the environmental impact, particularly when a parent or sibling in a child’s life is an active drug addict. If they see addictive behavior displayed throughout their childhood, they may copy these behaviors and exhibit them in their own lives later on.
Additionally, exposure to drugs in a school or work environment can influence someone to become an addict. If they were never around drugs, they may never have developed an addiction.
The most terrifying environmental impact is the use of prescription medication. The potential to develop a benzodiazepine addiction exists whether or not the person has had previous struggles with drug and alcohol use.
Someone with no prior drug and alcohol experience may receive a prescription for their anxiety, panic disorder, or sleep disorder. When they experience the calming, almost euphoric effects of the benzos, some may attempt to self-medicate by taking more than prescribed.
What starts as a simple effort to feel a bit better, though, can quickly spiral out of control.
This is the most alarming aspect of the pharmaceutical industry. It is how many people, those who would have never looked in the direction of hard drugs, develop addictions to dangerous substances.
As the government continues to crack down on prescription drugs, those with pill addictions must seek outside sources.
And it all starts with a simple trip to the doctor. Who would have imagined that prescription medication could be such a gateway drug?
Benzodiazepine Withdrawals: A Necessary Evil to Get Clean
Whether or not a benzodiazepine addiction is present, dependence is absolutely at play. Since the body is both physically and mentally dependent on the medication, there will be a withdrawal process.
Withdrawals from benzodiazepines are the symptoms experienced when an individual remove the drugs from their system. Especially with a heavy psychiatric medication like benzos, the withdrawals can be rather uncomfortable.
Benzodiazepine withdrawals are sometimes referred to as “benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome.” Symptoms of benzo withdrawals on a regular dosage include:
- Sleep disturbance, difficulties sleeping, or insomnia
- Irritability or frustration
- Increased tension and anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Hand tremors
- Difficulties concentrating
- Dry heaving
- Minor weight loss
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle soreness, pain, or stiffness
For those on a higher dosage, obviously, their withdrawal from benzodiazepines will be more difficult to endure. Symptoms will increase and also include:
- Increased risk of seizures
- Psychotic reactions
Though benzodiazepine withdrawals are not an enjoyable experience by any means, they are necessary in order to entirely remove the drugs from an individual’s body.
It is never a good idea to “cold turkey” or immediately and completely cut off someone’s benzodiazepine supply. Instead, tapering under a psychiatrist or doctor’s direction is the safest method to remove benzos from their system.
How Can Someone Get Help for a Benzodiazepine Addiction?
For those with normal dependence from regular, as-prescribed benzodiazepine use, addiction treatment is not necessary. However, for those who are addicted to benzodiazepines, seeking addiction treatment may be one of the safest and smartest ways to clear the body of the person using the benzos.
If the user struggled previously with a drug or alcohol addiction, the potential for relapse is much higher than with someone who simply took a few too many benzos on a few different occasions.
How do you know whether the person with a benzodiazepine addiction needs to seek treatment? You can have them take an assessment or call a treatment center and receive a free consultation call. Consulting with their primary care physician is also highly recommended.
Drug detox gives the addict the opportunity to (usually) detox in a medication-assisted environment. Rather than the “cold turkey” approach, a team of doctors and nurses supervise the detox process to ensure safety and care.
After detox, inpatient rehab or an intensive outpatient program teaches the coping skills and relapse prevention methods to help with long-term sobriety. Rather than struggle alone to stay sober, working with a network of individuals with the same goal is usually helpful.
There is no right or wrong way to get sober, just the way that works for the addict in your life. Whether they use addiction treatment or an alternative like a 12-step program, as long as they stay away from drugs and alcohol they are on the right path.
There is Help For You, Too
If you need help finding help for your loved one, there are many resources available online to help you. There are also groups available to support you during difficult times.
Just as the addict never has to fight their addiction alone, you don’t have to live on the sidelines of addiction alone, either. There are places for you to find help as well.
Benzodiazepine addiction is often an incredibly isolating experience, both for the addict and those who love them. Getting back on your feet may seem impossible but there is always a chance for a better life.
Continue to educate yourself on the variety of options available for both you and the addict. Never force them to do anything; if they don’t want to get sober, they never will. Instead, arm yourself with facts about addiction and the process of getting sober.
When they are ready to seek help and escape benzodiazepine addiction, you will be able to provide them with the assistance and direction they need.
“Sedatives and Tranquilizers” Mass.gov