What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are effective medications used to treat a range of psychological and neurological conditions, such as insomnia, seizures, panic attacks, Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and more. These man-made medications fall under the class of psychoactive drugs.
The reason behind the preference for benzodiazepines as a prescription medicine for the above ailments is its effectiveness in enhancing the effect of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), the neurotransmitter that relaxes the brain when it goes into overdrive.
Benzodiazepines or benzos belong to the psychoactive drug class. The name is derived from the chemical structure of the compound – it has two rings: benzene and diazepine. Benzos act on the body by enhancing the neurotransmitter that causes a hypnotic sedative effect – GABA-A in the brain.
Hence, it is one of the most effective treatment options for various conditions like seizures, muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal, insomnia, and anxiety. However, its intake has to be for a limited time period; otherwise, there is a huge risk of physical dependence, and consequently, addiction.
Likewise, if you use it without proper advice from a medical professional, benzodiazepine addiction can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Most importantly, one should never consume the drug in increasing amounts, no matter the situation. Any of the above behaviors can result in major withdrawal symptoms of benzodiazepines addiction after the dose is reduced or when you decide to quit.
Xanax, Valium, Halcion, Ativan, Librium, and Versed are some of the common brand names of benzodiazepines in the market. Each category has a different strength, speed of absorption by the body, and benzodiazepines uses. Different forms target specific purposes; the physicians prescribe the appropriate benzodiazepines suitable for the patients’ situations.
Based on their effects, 15 FDA approved drugs are classified as:
Diazepam and Chlordiazepoxide
Lorazepam and Alprazolam
- Ultra-short acting
Triazolam and Midazolam
Benzo Side Effects with Prolonged Use and Mechanism of Action
Benzodiazepines also possess exceptionally strong addictive qualities, comparable to those of opiates, cannabinoids, and GHB. All these drugs produce substantial effects on the brain’s reward system, reducing the inhibitory influences on dopamine-producing cells. Their mechanism of action manages to generate huge spikes in dopamine release.
Recent studies indicate that benzos can accumulate in the body, altering the brain structure and function by impacting certain receptors. They become more susceptible to excitable surges caused by other neurotransmitters, which further increases the dopamine rush and its intensity. All these happenings and chemical reactions in the brain make people highly reluctant to give up the drug that is responsible for them to achieve such euphoria. They get progressively addicted, as they develop tolerance and benzo addiction with the drug’s use continuously for as little as 6 months or even sooner.
How Benzos Are Taken?
Since various substances abused in a variety of forms can cause different types of reactions in individuals, it is crucial to know how people with benzos addiction consume them.
Typically, benzodiazepines administration is the oral way. They are swallowed like any other prescription medication. However, according to some persons that abused benzos, other forms of intake do not seem to work. For instance, cooking, rushing, or injecting benzos may not give the desired effect as with consuming directly. Since the possibility that benzos are injectable drugs can be ruled out, we can assume that there is not much paraphernalia associated with its abuse.
Since benzos are prescription pills, individuals with sedative use disorder issues can easily get their hands on them. They go to lengths to collect the pills using several prescriptions from multiple doctors. The act of getting many medical professionals to write prescriptions for you is known as “doctor shopping.” They then fill out these prescriptions at pharmacies far away from their place of residence so no one can trace it back to them or recognize them.
If you suspect that someone close to you is abusing benzodiazepines, look at their prescription bottles and the labels on them, which will reveal if they have obtained it using multiple prescriptions from several doctors in a short timeframe.
Another way to obtain benzos is to steal them from elders in the family who have sleep issues. Here, it is fair to mention that a high dosage of the drug can show mild to moderate benzodiazepines side effects in elderly.
Buying Benzos on the Street
Abusers may also buy the medication illegally on the street from drug peddlers, which comes with its set of specific dangers. For example, street purchases of any drug cannot ensure that you are getting what you want. You may be asking for benzos, but instead, you may get some illegally manufactured product that has nothing to do with benzodiazepines. They may be mixing some chalk or other powders to achieve the consistency. Also, if other drugs are mixed into it, you will be suffering from polydrug abuse.
When benzos are not available, the dealers may claim that they have another sedative drug that is even better, and push dangerous products to you. Since the street drugs are never tested, verified, approved, or even classified, you don’t know what you are consuming. This kind of situation is even worse than benzodiazepines abuse as you may encounter life-threatening circumstances.
You may also go into a withdrawal mode as you don’t get the right amounts of benzodiazepines. The consequences may not be fatal, still, if you take the drug with alcohol, in however small dosages, the combination may be deadly. Other long-term side effects of benzodiazepines may include cognitive impairment.
Users may start forgetting things they can easily recall or mistake things they clearly knew before. They may even all sense of how to perform certain tasks, which they were previously skilled at doing. These issues may crop up even in the short-term application, with the recommended dosages by the doctors.
Benzodiazepines mechanism of action produces a tranquil effect, which might cause the user to become dependent on the drug.
However, in the U.S, the intentional abuse of benzodiazepine drugs is relatively uncommon. Still, caution must be exercised while using the medication. Especially for long-time users and patients with a history of abuse, the risk of seeking the drug to experience a “high” is greater.
Going by the statistics, we can say that the abuse of these drugs alone is very rare as people tend to mix two or more drugs to enhance the euphoria feeling. At the same time, combining benzodiazepines and alcohol or other drugs, especially certain opioid pain relievers, can lead to devastating results.
Abusing benzodiazepines without a prescription or in a higher dose than originally intended, may cause severe benzodiazepines overdose, which can also result in a coma or death.
Benzodiazepine Addiction Statistics
Benzodiazepines are prescription tranquilizers, a class known as sedatives or anxiolytics. We have already mentioned how benzodiazepines’ side effects with alcohol can rear their ugly heads. Both substances help the users in achieving a high and also numbs down their faculties. They start taking more amounts of benzos to get the familiar high and in a short period since they develop a tolerance to the drug, which is a natural process.
This condition has a medical nomenclature, called physical dependence. As users become increasingly accustomed to benzodiazepines, even a little time apart from one hit to another can cause irritation and mood swings in them. This is how withdrawal symptoms begin. They can become more and more severe with time, and particularly dangerous, such as seizures. Before you get these persons started on benzo addiction treatment, it is beneficial to take them to a doctor to undergo medical detox.
Benzodiazepines Addiction Symptoms
The tranquilizing ability of the drug has caused the world to deem it safe for use. However, given the high success rate of the drug, it is no wonder that it carries a higher risk of addiction. As prescription sedatives, benzodiazepines cause a calming effect in the user, which means, when abused for longer periods, the drugs can cause related side effects.
Benzodiazepines Side Effects:
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Seizures or convulsions
- Mood changes and risk-taking behaviors
- Severe drowsiness
- Poor judgment or confusion
- Slow heartbeat or difficulty breathing
In the long run, they face a higher risk of the development of dementia, which causes loss of memory and motor skills. Unable to control benzodiazepines addiction issues, they may also resort to begging their friends or family for pills or indulge in doctor shopping to get their drugs.
When Should You Contact a Benzo Addiction Specialist?
Look for these signs in the person who you doubt has an addiction to benzos (within 12 months):
- They start taking exceeding higher volumes than they first began.
- Between each use, they exhibit cravings for the drug or other signs of withdrawal.
- They spend most of their time trying to obtain the drug, consuming it, or coming down from its effects.
- Over time, they complain about the drug not doing its intended job even in higher doses.
- Their performance at work, home, or school gets increasingly impaired.
Remember that legitimate doctors will not overprescribe, and if your family members or friends have large amounts of the drug in their possession, something may be wrong. Contact a detox center immediately to give them the much-needed help, even if they don’t realize it.