A person who is struggling with benzodiazepine addiction is both physically and psychologically dependent on the drug. Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are commonly prescribed to help people reduce anxiety and panic disorder, but unfortunately, they can also be highly addictive.
Those who suffer from benzodiazepine addiction can experience severe physical, psychological, and behavioral withdrawal symptoms such as muscle pain, memory problems, poor judgment, and shifts in mood.
After some time, a person’s body will build a tolerance for the drug, resulting in having to increase the dose to receive the same effect. The more often the drug is used, the more your body will become dependent on it. As a result, it can become easier to get addicted to the drug and harder to stop taking it.
A few more troubling facts about using benzodiazepines for long periods of time is that it can often create cognitive impairment, a person is more likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease, and there is a significant chance of dying early. Keep these facts in mind, and be sure to speak with a doctor about any health concerns you may have before taking benzodiazepines.
Benzodiazepines are a class of psychoactive drugs commonly prescribed for people with anxiety or panic disorder. They work in the central nervous system by attaching to certain brain receptors called gamma-aminobutyric acid A, or GABA-A, and making nerves in the brain less sensitive to stimulation. As a result, you will begin to feel calmer.
When you take benzodiazepines, your brain suddenly fills up with these feel-good neurotransmitters called dopamine. The surge in dopamine levels is what’s responsible for making you feel calmer, and this pleasure can become appealing to a lot of people. This is one reason why benzodiazepines can quickly become addictive.
People can also use benzodiazepines to treat other issues, such as sleep disorders and seizures. The relaxing effect you get from taking benzos can be beneficial for those looking for a muscle relaxant or something for alcohol withdrawal.
Even before a surgical procedure, benzodiazepines can be taken as a relaxation method. Overall, the drug is quite suitable for making people feel calmer and helping others manage certain disorders.
According to the ADAA, anxiety is the most common mental health illness in America, which means there are a significant number of people who are prescribed antidepressants to help them manage it. Although all benzodiazepines work similarly, they vary in how long they last and how potent they are.
For example, Xanax has its effects felt quicker than lorazepam because it is more potent. However, lorazepam lasts longer in the body than Xanax because it has a longer half-life. Because of those slight differences, different types of benzos can be used to treat different kinds of issues. Some of the common benzodiazepines prescribed in the United States include:
Xanax is a short-acting benzodiazepine that is commonly prescribed to help treat anxiety and panic disorders. Xanax should not be used for more than four months if you are taking it for anxiety or ten weeks if you’re taking it for panic disorder unless instructed otherwise by a doctor.
Ativan is a medium-acting benzodiazepine, and its common uses are for anxiety, insomnia for short-term use, seizures, and sedation. Unless instructed to do so by a doctor, you should not use Ativan for more than four months.
Valium is a long-acting benzodiazepine commonly used to help treat anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizure disorders. Other common uses for this drug can also be for alcohol withdrawal and sedation. Because Valium is long-acting, it’s intended to be used for a short period of time. Similar to lorazepam and alprazolam, you should not be taking diazepam for more than four months unless a doctor tells you otherwise.
There are a host of physical and psychological symptoms that a person can experience when he or she becomes addicted to benzodiazepines. Once your body becomes dependent on the drug, stopping its use becomes increasingly difficult. In fact, 44% of people who use benzos become dependent on the drug. A person can become physically dependent on benzodiazepines in about six months if it’s continually being used.
The signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine addiction can include, but are not limited to, physical weakness, slurred speech, drowsiness, dizziness, difficulty breathing, and in rare cases, death. Benzo addiction becomes fatal when a person overdoses on the drug or mixes it with alcohol. People who abuse the drug can also feel psychological symptoms such as insomnia, increased anxiety, and memory problems.
If you notice any of these changes in a friend or a loved one, it’s crucial that you help them seek treatment right away.
If you would like to stop using benzodiazepines, the best way to do so is to gradually wean off of it. Complete cessation, even when taking the drug at smaller doses, can result in serious withdrawal symptoms like muscle pain, tremors, heart palpitations, and panic attacks. Although the withdrawal process is not easy for most people, it is definitely possible.
Detoxing the drug from your system is the best way to help with your addiction. A medically supervised detox can help reduce the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms, which in turn will significantly decrease the chances of relapsing.
Most people go back to using benzos because the withdrawal symptoms are too unbearable since their body has become dependent on the drug. Detoxing helps remove the drug from a person’s system, ensuring a safe recovery.
Depending on how long you have been using the drug, the withdrawal timeline should take about a few weeks. You will notice that your withdrawal symptoms will be at their worst during the first couple of days after you’ve stopped taking the drug.
These symptoms can last for about two weeks before they begin to diminish. If you have been taking benzos for a more extended time period or at a higher dose, withdrawal symptoms will start to reduce after about three weeks.
You may also notice a persistent occurrence of symptoms that happen months after you’ve stopped using benzos. These are known as post-acute withdrawal symptoms, or PAWS, and are normal for those who have struggled with addiction.
PAWS happens because your brain is trying to “return to normal” again after suffering from addiction. Common PAWS symptoms include loss of sex drive, depression, insomnia, and persistent anxiety.
There are plenty of treatment options to help you recover if you or someone you know is suffering from benzodiazepine addiction. These include:
If you struggle with an addiction, it’s recommended to purge the substance out of your system with a medically supervised detox before trying to quit. Detoxing will allow time for the drug to be eliminated from your body so that you can begin treatment. This will also help lessen the severity of the withdrawal symptoms you might experience once you stop using.
Next, you will begin your addiction treatment with rehabilitation programs. You have the choice to do outpatient treatment or residential treatment. The difference between the two is that you will be treated either inside of a facility or outside of it.
Those who choose outpatient treatment will receive the care and rehabilitation services based on their schedule. This option will allow patients to live their daily lives as normal and also gives them the freedom to move and recover at their own pace.
If you choose residential treatment, you will be staying at the facility and participating in different therapies to help you recover. Residential treatment is thought to be the highest standard of care, and those who choose this treatment option are less likely to relapse.
This is due to the fact that the patient will be removed from the habits or people that encourage their bad behavior and also because of the heavily structured environment that residential treatment provides.
The road to recovery does not stop after rehabilitation treatment. Aftercare is critical to helping you recover from addiction, as the programs offered can help prevent you from relapsing by expanding your coping strategies. Some examples of aftercare treatment options include individual or group therapy and 12-step programs.
The professionals at Free by the Sea are dedicated to providing the care that you need. We have the resources, treatments, and rehabilitation services to get you started on the road to recovery. Please don’t hesitate to contact us to learn more about what we have to offer for you.
Dr. Richard Crabbe joined our team in 2019 as our psychiatrist and medical director. He attended the University of Ghana Medical School where he became a Medical Doctor in 1977. From 1978 through 1984, he was a medical officer in the Ghana Navy and provided a variety of services from general medicine to surgeries. He received his Certificate in General Psychology from the American Board of Psychology and Neurology in 2002.