In the year 1957, the shelves of American pharmacies began to be stocked with a new anxiety relief drug that would be developed over time to become one of the most widely prescribed drugs of the next century. Then known only as Librium and today found in that form and many others such as Xanax, Klonopin, Valium and Ativan, this benzodiazepine element has gained popularity and purpose through the years. In fact, the four latter drugs mentioned there are among the top 100 most popular prescription drugs right now.
Benzodiazepine drugs work as a depressant on the central nervous system. Overactive nervous systems stimulate heightened anxiety levels that lead to chronic stress disorders, and a host of other psychological and physical conditions, like insomnia. Benzodiazepines offer temporary relief— at a price.
One common purpose of benzodiazepine prescriptions is the prevention of seizures. The muscle relaxing properties of benzos work as an anti-convulsant that is very effective in this regard. This is because benzos go to the GABA part of the brain, otherwise known as the gamma-amino butyric acid transmitter. This transmitter is like a little school crossing guard that catches neurons running through the brain and tells them to slow down. Benzos increase GABA activity, effectively helping it to catch more neurons and tell them to calm brain function.1
Placebo-controlled studies have time and again shown that benzodiazepine drugs are effective. However useful as they are, though, these drugs are also highly addictive. The form in which they are taken has an effect on the level of addiction danger. That is why benzodiazepines are split into categories: short-acting and long-acting.
The form in which they are taken has an effect on the level of addiction danger. That is why benzodiazepines are split into categories: short-acting and long-acting.
Short-acting benzodiazepines are only in the body for a little while, then they are let go, in essence like that part time school crossing guard that goes home after school hours and lets the streets go back to their normal buzz pace. This is good for helping a patient to relax from short term bouts of hypertension and anxiety. They are by no means free from side effect, however. Vertigo, tremors, nausea, depression and confusion are among the feelings sometimes experienced while on this drug. It’s as if the cars are allowed to pass through the school zone slowly but everyone in the car feels somewhat dizzy as they go.
Long-action benzodiazepines actually accumulate in the bloodstream. These will be used to treat more long-lasting and complicated hyper-activity of the neuron transmission activity. In these high doses, addiction is a risk factor and side effects can include mood swings that range from hostility to euphoria and back again. Muscle relaxation may be accompanied by muscle weakness, and the confusion experienced won’t help to provide the coordination necessary to do much with those muscles anyway.
Benzodiazepines should never be taken outside of their intended treatment use. When a doctor prescribes these medications to those who actually have a legitimate need outweighing the consequences of possible side effects, they should monitor the use of the drug closely. Tolerance is likely to develop after a six month period, and it is likely that the prescription will need to be adjusted.
Most people who abuse benzodiazepines drugs use them in conjunction with other drugs, including opioid drugs, either prescriptions or in heroin form. As many as 15% of heroin users report having used benzodiazepine prescriptions along with heroin for at least a one year period. Other drugs are often combined with benzodiazepines in dangerous ways, and alcohol and benzo abuse together is not unheard of either.
Most benzodiazepine addicts get their drugs by prescription, but many obtain them by purchasing someone else’s prescription. Sharing prescription medications is illegal, even with family members. When one no longer wishes to complete their prescriptions, they must take caution to properly dispose of leftover pills, perhaps by returning them to the pharmaceutical counter where they had them filled. Saving them to take in a later occasion out from under medical supervision is not highly recommended either.
Stopping the use of long-action benzodiazepines without gradually decreasing the dosage is extremely dangerous to one’s health, as it can result in hyperactivity and seizures. The potency of the drug that has been taken will greatly determine the withdrawal symptoms that are felt. Professional assistance should be enlisted when attempting to stop using these drugs so that advice can be given on how to judiciously step away from the medications.
One can distinguish benzodiazepine addiction from dependency in the same way that they would identify any other addiction. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, these may include the following:
- Loss of control over substance use
- Taking risks to obtain a substance
- Experiencing relationship issues as a result of taking a substance
- Secrecy regarding substance use2
Integrated treatment is available for benzodiazepine complications by providing answers regarding dependency and addiction, and if necessary detoxification along with medications and therapy to maintain an addiction-free life.
1. Center for Substance Abuse Research. Benzodiazepines. Found online 1/26/16 at http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/benzos.asp#history.
2. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Signs and Symptoms. Found online 1/26/16 at https://ncadd.org/about-addiction/signs-and-symptoms/signs-and-symptoms.