Across the nation, communities are riddled with fears of the growing drug epidemics, impacting millions of families. Overdose increases, however, are not due to illicit drugs like cocaine and ecstasy but legal medications prescribed by licensed physicians. Most cities and rural communities are witnessing a rise in methamphetamine use annually, but a perhaps more dangerous choice are the pharmaceuticals called benzodiazepines, benzos for short. As one of the most commonly abused medicines after opioids, those addicted to these easy-to-obtain pills face extreme complications and health risks with ongoing misuse.
Due to its potency and rapid onset, benzodiazepines have a high propensity for misuse and abuse. It can be of particular concern due to its significant, long-lasting high. Furthermore, it can interfere with the effectiveness of certain overdose-reversing drugs. Learn more about what it means to be addicted to benzos and treatment options for long-term recovery.
If you or someone you know is struggling with Benzo addiction, contact our 24/7 helpline for information on recovery options at 855-281-5588.
What are Benzodiazepines?
You may not know the specific class of antianxiety drugs, but you’ve definitely heard of their brand names. Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan all fall into this category. These prescription medications can be lethal and highly addictive. They come in many different forms and treat a wide variety of ailments, including:
- Muscle spasms
They have even been used in the medical community as sedation aids during surgery. The drug is habit-forming and carries a high-risk for addiction due to its effects. But what is this medicine, and why are so many Americans addicted to Benzos?
Commonly Prescribed Benzos
While benzodiazepines have been around since the 1930s, it wasn’t until 1990 that the American Psychiatric Association launched a task force to investigate the dangers of rising benzo prescriptions.
Today, benzodiazepines are the pharmaceutical industry’s top-selling family of prescription drugs. There are now 94 million prescriptions for various benzodiazepines in the U.S. alone. Among the most commonly prescribed benzos and those abused most frequently, including:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
These groups of medicines pose many health complications and increase risks for substance dependency and even overdose. Between 2004 and 2011, emergency room visits due to benzos increased by 150%.
They’re most commonly used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. They’re also used as muscle relaxants. As with most prescriptions, there are various risks associated with continued use. However, for benzos specifically, its toxicity reveals the true dangers of these anti-anxiety medications.
A nationwide study by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that recreational use of benzodiazepines accounted for 35% of all drug-related visits to hospital emergency rooms and urgent care facilities.
Risks of Benzodiazepines
Benzos are referred to by various slang names like footballs, xannies, totem poles, handlebars, z bars, and more. In 2010, Xanax was the 12th most prescribed medication in the country, and it remains in the top 20, with 27 million prescriptions written annually.
Those addicted to benzos often find the calming, sedative, or tranquilizing effect of the drug alluring. Additionally, when used in large quantities, benzos can create a dopamine rush, providing a sense of reward and pleasure, both of which reinforce patterned behavior and push individuals farther toward dependency. As benzo abuse becomes more frequent, the body, mind, and physical actions may exhibit changes.
What are the health risks?
Being addicted to benzos can pose many health risks. Even when used as prescribed, benzos are known to trigger substance use disorder (SUD). In particular, people who have a history of drug or alcohol abuse are more likely to develop a dependency to these prescriptions. What are some of the health risks?
Benzodiazepine abuse can trigger the following mental and emotional changes:
- Emotional numbness
- Fuzzy thoughts
- Impaired judgment
- Impaired memory
Physically, benzos can cause the following changes:
- Altered vision
- Breathing changes
- Dry mouth
- Impaired motor coordination
- Low blood pressure
- Poor reflexes
- Speech troubles
The study published by the American Psychiatric Association in 1990 concluded that up to 80% of those taking the drugs would experience withdrawal upon cessation. In 2010, the Veterans Health Administration recommended against benzodiazepines as a treatment for PTSD due to its high propensity for abuse.
Additionally, benzos, like intoxication, can slow a person’s reaction time, significantly impairing their ability to drive. This has been linked to an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.
Benzo Addiction: Mental Health Complications
At extreme levels of abuse, benzos can have the opposite effect of intended use. Individuals may experience rebound anxiety or insomnia when withdrawing from the drug. In some, the medication may be used as an emotional anesthetic. Then, to counter these effects, many users may increase their dosage, which only strengthens the hold of addiction.
Research by Harvard Medical School shows that chronic, high levels of benzo addiction can cause severe mental health issues. These medications can build up in the body, leading to side effects that manifest as depression.
Signs of Benzo Abuse
Are you or a loved one addicted to benzos? At times it’s challenging to spot the signs of patterned drug abuse, but it’s critical to address it early before it escalates into addiction or substance use disorder.
Many of the physical side effects of benzos resemble the first stages of drunkenness. Some of the physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms of abuse include:
- Blurred vision
- Poor judgment
- Risky behavior
- Doctor shopping
- Asking family, friends, coworkers, or classmates for the medicine
- Wanting to cut back but being unable to do so
- Frequently mood changes
- Combining benzos with alcohol or other drugs
- Withdrawal seizures
When abuse stops, withdrawal symptoms may begin to emerge. Withdrawal from benzos can be life-threatening. It’s important to seek outside help for medically assisted detox from benzos.
Causes of Misuse
Addiction to benzos is becoming more and more prevalent. National Surveys on Drug Use and Health found that 12.5% of U.S. adults (30.5 million people) used benzodiazepines. Among benzodiazepine users, 17.1% misused them, and around 2% (610,000) had benzodiazepine disorders.
Additionally, in 2019, of the total people misusing this prescription, about 46% reported that the motivation was to relax or relieve tension, followed by help with sleeping (22%) and about 12% reported experimenting or looking to get high.
Addicted to Benzos: Treatment Options
The onset of addiction when it involves benzodiazepine prescriptions is often quick and unexpected. After three to four weeks of regular use, a person will likely experience withdrawal, which means they’ve become physically dependent on the drug.
If you or a loved one is addicted to benzos, it’s important to evaluate individual needs and seek immediate recovery assistance from well-established treatment care centers. For many Americans experiencing benzo addiction, medical detox is the first step in recovery. Medications may be used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, which can help prepare an individual for the next stage of treatment.
AspenRidge Recovery: Benzo Addiction
Our Colorado benzo addiction treatment program remains committed to addressing substance misuse and addiction for state residents, as well as identifying contributing factors that may trigger a relapse.
AspenRidge treatment may include any or all of the Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, EMDR and trauma therapy, twelve-step, and community-based treatment. Our certified and trained clinicians and psychologists work with clients experiencing negative impacts caused by benzo addiction and can help through the recovery process.
Our Therapies include:
- Addiction treatment therapy
- Mental Health therapy
- Depression and anxiety therapy
- Trauma therapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
AspenRidge Recovery treats any co-occurring mental health disorders you may also be facing. For benzo treatment, this is especially important, as often the underlying causes of addiction are a direct result of untreated anxiety disorders.
The programs we offer to treat benzo addiction include:
- Day Partial Hospitalization (PHP)
- Day Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
- AspenRidge REACH Online IOP
- IOP for Professionals and Working Adults
- Outpatient Program
- Alumni & Aftercare Program
Please give us a call at 855-281-5588 for specific program information based on our treatment locations.