A class of anti-anxiety medication, benzodiazepines are usually prescribed for anxiety, seizures, insomnia, muscle relaxation, and acute alcohol withdrawal. In addition, according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), they are also often prescribed off-label for depression, restless leg syndrome, and many other conditions. These commonly prescribed medications have the potential for abuse, addiction, and overdose. While most people are aware of the opioid epidemic in the United States, many are not aware of the parallels that exist between opioids and benzos or that some medical professionals, according to the NEJM, are calling it “our other prescription drug problem” as they warn of the dangers.
What are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are commonly known as tranquilizers. Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), Klonopin (clonazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam) are some of the more familiar ones. Several other benzodiazepines are:
- Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
- Tranxene (clorazepate)
- Oxazepam (serax)
- Versed (midazolam)
- Halcion (triazolam)
- Restoril (temazepam)
On the street, benzodiazepines are most commonly known as benzos, bars, zannies, chill pills, downers, blues, nerve pills, tranks, and planks.
How Do They Work?
Benzos are psychoactive drugs that work on the body’s central nervous system. They reduce the activity of the neurons that cause anxiety and stress. When these drugs are taken on a short-term basis as prescribed by a physician, they are extremely effective and generally safe. But when taken long-term, used without a prescription, or taken for their relaxing, intoxicating, or sedative effects, they can lead to dependence, misuse, or addiction.
Signs and Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Addiction
When a person misuses or is addicted to benzodiazepines, they typically exhibit physical, cognitive, behavioral, and psychological signs and symptoms.
Physically, the person may experience increased anxiety, double or blurred vision, vertigo, headaches, and muscle weakness. They may have an increased number of respiratory infections and undergo changes in their sleeping and eating patterns. They may have diarrhea, stomach upset, nausea, or vomiting. Additional physical symptoms include:
- Rapid shallow breathing
- Increased sweating
- Decreased concentration
When a person is addicted to benzos, their memory is impaired and they have difficulty processing their thoughts. Their thinking is slowed, and they typically feel confused. They have a slowed reaction time and find it hard to pay attention. Several other cognitive signs include:
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty with motor coordination
- Impaired perception
- Anterograde amnesia
- Permanent cognitive problems
A person misusing or addicted to benzos experiences many psychological symptoms of their disease. They often experience severe mood swings, or their moods are very inconsistent. Feelings of increased agitation and anxiety are common. They may exhibit irritability, hostility, or aggression. Additional psychological symptoms are:
Someone misusing drugs may withdraw from their family and friends and spend more time alone. They stop doing things they once enjoyed. They may take larger doses of the drugs than prescribed or take them for a longer amount of time. To obtain more prescriptions, they may go doctor shopping or visit multiple doctors. They may forge prescriptions or steal medication from family or friends. Other examples of behavioral changes include:
- Not being able to meet their responsibilities at home, work or school
- Missing work or school
- Having relationship, legal, or financial problems
- Showing poor judgment and poor decision-making
- Buying illegal benzodiazepines
- Using drugs illicitly such as smoking, injecting, or snorting
The Effects Of Benzodiazepine Addiction
There are many dangers of benzos addiction that can lead to long-term effects and negative life consequences. Many times drug addiction leads to financial or legal problems that result in loss of employment, homelessness, or incarceration. Addiction often causes difficulties in personal relationships. Physical and mental health worsens, and feelings of intense depression and anxiety are common. Some people experience suicidal thoughts and behaviors or do harm to themselves. Additional effects of benzodiazepine addiction include:
- Being at a higher risk of motor vehicle accidents
- Full loss of control of bodily movements, called ataxia
- Brain damage, stroke
- Accidental overdose, coma
Misusing benzodiazepines alone can cause an overdose and death. However, most overdose deaths involving benzos typically occur when they are taken in combination with another substance, such as alcohol, which is also a central nervous system depressant. Alcohol and benzos together can have the life-threatening and often deadly effect of slowing or stopping a person’s breathing.
If You Need Help
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to benzodiazepines or any other drug, now is the time to get help. You are not alone. Call and speak to a professional at English Mountain Recovery located in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. When you call, we will answer your questions and help get you started on your journey to living a clean and sober life.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.