What are benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are typically prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders. When taken properly, benzos relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, induce sleep, produce sedation, alleviate alcohol withdrawal and prevent seizures. Occasionally, benzodiazepines are used before dental and medical procedures.
Benzodiazepines include drugs such as Valium, Xanax and Librium.
How do benzos affect the user?
In general, dosage determines the effects of benzodiazepines:
- Low doses produce sedation and are used to manage insomnia and anxiety.
- Moderate doses prevent seizures.
- High doses induce sleep.
Using benzodiazepines improperly can be very detrimental to one’s health. They can cause severe effects—including dangerously reduced heart rate and respiration, coma and death—when used in combination with other drugs (particularly CNS depressants), alcohol and antihistamines. Using benzos while driving is particularly risky due to the fact that they can cause short-term memory loss and confusion.
While benzodiazepines have many therapeutic uses, repeated use, large doses or improper use can result in a variety of negative side effects, including:
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Disturbing dreams
Prolonged daily use or abuse can also result in tolerance, physical dependence and withdrawal when use is discontinued. Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe and often last longer than those of other drugs. In fact, detoxing from benzodiazepines is just as difficult as detoxing from heroin. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms associated with benzos can change minute-to-minute, and hour-to-hour. Even as the patient recovers, symptoms may disappear for a few weeks or months, only to return again.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms include:
- Sensory distortion
- Muscle aches
- Hypersensitivity to touch and pain
- Rapid heartbeat
- Loss of appetite
- Epileptic seizures
- Delirium tremens
- Suicidal behavior, particularly in young people
Severe symptoms can be dangerous and are best treated by medically supervised detox.
Benzodiazepine abuse and dependence
While benzodiazepines are sold illegally on the streets, it is important to note that benzodiazepine dependence can occur even in those who aren’t intentionally abusing the drug. In fact, daily use of benzos for a period longer than four weeks can result in limited drug effectiveness, tolerance, dependence and withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use. Thus, it is imperative that 1) doctors closely monitor patients with benzodiazepine prescriptions and 2) patients follow dosage instructions stringently in order to avoid dependence.
According to a study in the journal Addiction, people who have addictions to these medications can take 30 to 120 times more than experts recommend. They’re chasing a high, and as they work for euphoria, their bodies amend responses to the drug. In time, they might be forced to take the drugs in unusual ways, including snorting the medications or injecting the ingredients in pills. They’re not coming close to following a doctor’s orders here. They’re chasing a high.
The course of benzodiazepine addiction treatment.
Usually, treatment for benzodiazepine (benzo) addiction requires detoxification and a recovery phase, during which the addict is given the tools he or she needs to live drug free.
The White Oak Run Recovery Center has some of the highest success rates, as they are able to provide a comprehensive, customized continuum of care in a private, therapeutic setting.
Treatment for benzodiazepine addiction usually begins with the detoxification. During this process, should be closely monitored for seizures and other adverse complications. Medications should be administered when possible to ease withdrawal symptoms. The length of a client’s detox, as well as symptom intensity, is dependent on the severity and duration of the patient’s addiction and the type of benzo that he or she used.
Once detoxification is complete, clients enter the prolonged recovery phase. This should involves behavioral therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy along with individual and group counseling. Behavioral therapy interventions address the underlying causes of addiction and teach the addict how to identify, avoid and cope with situations that trigger drug use.
Family counseling is another therapeutic method that contributes to successful treatment. It addresses dysfunctions and promotes healing within families affected by addiction. Self-help groups, such as 12-Step groups, may also benefit recovery. They provide addicts with peer support and open forums to discuss addiction-related experiences. The encouragement and hope these groups offer is often instrumental to long-term sobriety.
Once Partial Hospitalization treatment is complete, a continuing care plan should be put in place to encourage abstinence and give the addict a continued sense of accountability.