Benzo Addiction: The Other Prescription Drug Addiction

January 30, 2013

In the prescription drug epidemic that has swept the US over the last decade, opiate medications such as OxyContin and Percocet have stolen most of the media attention due to their highly addictive nature and tendency to cause overdose and death. However, opiates are not the only prescription drugs that are addictive and causing major health hazards. Benzodiazepines have been somewhat of a “forgotten” addiction in the headlines. These tranquilizers (aka, “benzos”) ease the symptoms of anxiety, panic and insomnia – and they are highly addictive.

Benzodiazepines

There are a number of well-known brand name benzos, including:

  • Ativan
  • Klonopin
  • Valium
  • Xanax

Benzos are fast-acting medications and can be used intermittently. Most anxiety conditions come and go, so constant medication is not necessary. A doctor will prescribe benzos “as needed.” This opens the door to abuse among those who are clearly in crisis and unable to control their need to immediately quell their anxiety and panic.

Benzos Cause Dependence Relatively Quickly

It is possible for medical treatment that utilizes benzodiazepines to create both physical and psychological dependence as quickly as a few months after the start of use for those prescribed high doses. Long-term use can lead a patient to believe that he or she needs the drug to be calm, thus eroding their self-confidence and ability to function without the medication. As tolerance builds and the benzos start having a decreased effect, patients may start to use alcohol and other substances of abuse in order to avoid the anxiety they are sure will overcome them.

Withdrawal Symptoms

An individual undergoing detox from benzodiazepines will experience high anxiety as well as some, all or none of the following issues:

  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure level
  • Tremors
  • Inability to sleep
  • Hypersensitive sensory experiences
  • Seizures

For a smaller number of patients, it is possible to experience a protracted depression or anxiety for up to several months after detox is complete.

When Abused, Benzodiazepines Are Rarely Used Alone

Studies indicate that as many as 80 percent of those abusing benzos are also using other drugs. The most common combination is with opioid medications. Research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) discovered that nearly three-quarters of heroin addicts have used benzos weekly for a year, and 15 percent used them every day.

Also, there is a rate of overlap with benzodiazepines and methadone, and alcoholics often use benzos to balance out their intoxication level and stave off withdrawal symptoms.

The following actions lend benzos to poly-drug abuse for a variety of reasons:

  • Enhances the euphoric effects of drugs from the opioid family (both prescription and illicit)
  • Relieves withdrawal symptoms from opiates
  • Evens out a cocaine high
  • Alleviates alcohol withdrawal symptoms

If you know someone who is afraid of ceasing benzodiazepine abuse, we can help. Call and talk to our professional counselors about all levels of treatment available here at Michael’s House. Contact us today.

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