Benzodiazepines and The Unexpected Face of a Growing Addiction Problem

Heroin might be the most highlighted drug problem in America today, but benzodiazepines are trailing close behind—and the main users might surprise you.

Part of the reason why benzodiazepines (or “benzos”) are such a big problem? Users are combining them with opiates like Oxycontin and heroin, a cocktail that perilously represses the respiratory system. A study in the American Journal of Public Health showed revealed deaths from benzodiazepine overdoses accounted for nearly a third of the 23,000 deaths by prescription drugs in the U.S. in 2013.

This isn’t to say that benzodiazepines can’t be helpful and in some cases, life saving, for users. However, it’s important to know what these drugs are, and the risk factors associated with them. Read on to learn about what benzodiazepines are, their side effects, the warning signs of an addiction, and who's using these most in America today.

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines [ben-zoh-dahy-az-uh-peens] are “downers,” essentially drugs that lower physical and mental activity. They are frequently used to treat panic and anxiety disorders, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, insomnia, and more.

The first benzodiazepine was discovered accidentally by Leo Sternback, an employee of the Hoffman-LaRoche company. He publicly introduced benzodiazepine in the 1960s, in the form of an anti-anxiety drug called Librium©. Between 2002 and 2007, benzodiazepine prescriptions in the U.S. grew from 69 million to 83 million.

They lowered in popularity for a short time while SSRI antidepressants grew in popularity, but don’t be fooled—as we stated earlier, benzos are making a comeback, particularly in the older crowd. These drugs may prove helpful for short term use, but the danger lies in long term use and dangerous medication combinations that are landing more users in the emergency room.

Types of Benzodiazepines

You have probably heard a lot about Rohypnol©—a.k.a “roofies”—in the news, and you may not have known that this drug is in the same class as Valium©. Benzodiazepines vary in potency, half-life, and effects. If you need a prescription for chronic anxiety or recurring panic episodes, a drug’s half life will partially inform your doctor’s choice of prescription.

Here are some of the most well-known and commonly prescribed benzodiazepines in the U.S., based on a list by Drugs.com:

  • Xanax© (alprazolam)

  • Librax© (chlordiazepoxide)

  • Valium© (diazepam)

  • Klonopin© (clonazepam)

  • Ativan© (lorazepam)

  • Serax© (oxazepam)

  • Restoril© (temazepam)

  • Halcion© (triazolam)

Side Effects of Benzodiazepines

Some benzodiazepines kick in within 30 minutes, others take longer. In addition, benzos vary in how long they continue to work. However, there are some common short term side effects you may experience whether you’re using Xanax or Valium, according to RX List.

  • Sedation

  • Dizziness

  • Weakness

  • Unsteadiness

Long term side effects, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research:

  • Impaired thinking, memory, and judgment

  • Disorientation

  • Confusion

  • Slurred speech

  • Muscle weakness, lack of coordination

Keep in mind that these side effects may also vary by how long you use a drug. Over a longer period of time or with a higher dose, you may experience other symptoms such as irritability, aggression, memory impairment, headaches, sleep disturbance, and even depression.

More serious long term effects of using benzodiazepines include a heightened risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, according to a study sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Who’s Using Benzodiazepines?

There were 85 million benzodiazepine prescriptions dispensed in 2007. Interestingly, it’s not the young adults who are flocking to the pharmacy—many of these are mature users between the ages of 65-80. Researchers have found that use of benzodiazepines increases steadily with age, according to one 2008 study, and of the 31.4% users aged 65-80 took long-acting formulations made for extended use. Remember that last dangerous long term benzo l with Alzheimer's? The risk nearly doubles for long term users of more than 180 days.

The study narrows down typical users further, finding that 1 in 10 women aged 65–80 in this study use Benzodiazepines. Unfortunately, the use of these drugs likely far exceeds the need, as research has shown that the rate of anxiety disorders actually declines with age.

Signs of a Benzodiazepine Addiction

A benzodiazepine addiction depends on the individual, the potency of the drug, and the length of use. Benzodiazepines may not be quite as addictive or deadly as the Barbiturates they largely replaced, however, they are still incredibly addictive.

How do you recognize a benzodiazepine addiction? Signs are both psychological and physical. First, there is obviously an increase in the amount of drug needed to feel an effect, especially if a prescription transitions into recreational use. Less obviously, there may be a loss of interest in activities and life in general. There is also a declined mark in healthy interactions with others, and a growing desperation to acquire a more potent prescription due to the lack of current effects. Other signs of addiction, according to the American Family Physician, include a loss of self-confidence and reckless drug combinations with other drugs/alcohol.

If you or a loved one is currently addicted to benzodiazepines, it’s important to seek help right away. At Pat Moore Foundation, we know the importance of a safe custom detox, recovery, and support program.

The Pat Moore Foundation is based in sunny Southern California. We use our safe and comfortable campus to create an environment where every addicted individual has the best chance to recover. Get in touch with us today to learn more.

 

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