The most common mental illness in the United States are anti-anxiety disorders. Currently, almost 40 million adults in the U.S. age 18 and older suffer from an anxiety disorder. In Colorado, nearly 27% of the population face some form of anxiety and Colorado consistently ranks among the states with the highest suicide rates due to mental health concerns. While anxiety disorders are considered highly treatable, still, nationwide only 36.9% of those suffering will receive adequate treatment. Often, those suffering from anxiety are prescribed specific medications to address and treat ongoing bouts of extreme worry and fear. But how do these medications impact an individual’s ability to overcome anxiety? What are, if any, the dangers of anti-anxiety medications? We’re exploring this topic below.
Anxiety disorders can be debilitating. Suffering from intense stress and worry can severely impact your ability to get through a normal day. AspenRidge Recovery offers experienced and supportive services to those that are facing the challenges of anxiety. Dial 855-288-5588 to reach our 24/7 helpline.
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What is anxiety disorder?
There is a multitude of anxiety disorders that cause anxiety, worry, and stress due to social interactions, personal health, work, or a particular phobia. Types of anxiety disorders include:
- Panic disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Agoraphobia (the fear of places that might cause feelings of anxiety)
- Specific phobia
- Social anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Separation anxiety disorder
Given that anxiety is one of the most prevalent disorders in the United States there have been several medications developed to assist with treatment. Lifestyle and environmental factors can increase the risk of having anxiety, including increased stress factors caused by health conditions, sleep disorders, work situations, financial troubles, relationship problems, and death of loved ones. In addition, genetics, major depressive disorders, and family trauma may also trigger the onset of anxiety. Given the wide complexity of these issues, different medications aim to address some of the more common symptoms. Individuals are advised to use medication in combination with therapy for the most effective treatment. But what are some of the more common anti-anxiety medications? They can include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): These medications, such as Zoloft, increase serotonin levels in the brain, which can help improve mood.
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): These medications, such as venlafaxine, increase serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain.
- Benzodiazepines: These medications, like diazepam, treat physical symptoms of anxiety by reducing tension and promoting relaxation. Typically only used in short-term management of anxiety.
- Tricyclic antidepressants: These aid in treatment of mood and physical symptoms.
While most of these medications were designed to address anxiety, they are often among the list of most abused pharmaceuticals. Due to the euphoric feelings they often produced, users may quickly find themselves building up tolerance and, further, becoming more heavily dependent on use in order to remain in control of their anxiety. The dangers of anti-anxiety medications are prevalent, but it’s important to understand how they can each be impactful for those who abuse the drugs.
Dangers of Anti-Anxiety Medications: Commonly Abused
Since most forms of anxiety have a drastic phsical impact, anti-anxiety medications seek to relieve those symptoms. However, these further explain the dangers of anti-anxiety medications as a whole. Most of these drugs includes tranquilizers and sedatives. They effectively influence the central nervous system by suppressing its overactivity. This process results in an overall relaxed feeling as the central nervous system slows down. Anti-depressants may be prescribed to help you sleep or relax your muscles. Sometimes selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs such as Prozac or Zoloft are used for anti anxiety although they are primarily used to treat depression. There is a high percentage of people that will gain at least 10 pounds when taking these medications. Benzodiazepines don’t generally cause weight gain and they are more effective with fighting against anxiety.
Benzodiazepines select GABA receptors in the brain. These neurotransmitters reduce the activity of neurons in the brain. It causes resistance to excitement or the discomfort of anxiety. Benzodiazepine abuse statistics show that this class of anti-anxiety medication are the most commonly used and abused. In the US alone, 1 in 20 people will have filled out a benzo prescription over the past year. The amount of how much medication is in each prescription has increased by double. Another alarming stat about benzodiazepine use in the United States is that every year since 1996, almost 20,000 people have misused benzodiazepines.
The many benzodiazepines medications work similarly but some will act on different GABA receptors. Also, some of the benzo’s are stronger and last longer than others. This is why there is a large range of uses within the benzodiazepines drug class. The main benzodiazepines treatment includes:
- Panic disorder
- Sleep disorders
- Muscle relaxant
- Prior to surgery for the purpose of relaxing a person and causing amnesia in order for someone to forget about present pain.
- Assisting in alcohol abstinence (by preventing delirium tremens and relaxing the addict)
Types of Benzodiazepines
Within the benzodiazepine anti-anxiety drugs, the medications include:
- Alprazolam (brand name-Xanax)
- Clonazepam (brand name-Klonopin)
- Diazepam (brand name-Valium)
- Lorazepam (brand name-Ativan)
- Clobazam (brand name-Onfi)
All of these medications affect the brain within 30 minutes of ingesting. This helps a person quickly if they’re going through an anxious episode like a pain attack. Benzodiazepine prescriptions in the US are high because they have been found to be useful. There are drawbacks however. Benzo addiction withdrawal symptoms and the effect that they have on the brain can lead to addiction.
Benzodiazepines Side Effects
Some of the general side effects associated with anti-anxiety medications may include drowsiness, confusion, and clumsiness. This is the case even with low doses. The higher the dose, the more intense the side effects are. When abused, benzodiazepines can lead to death. Long-term benzodiazepines side effects can result in over-sedation. These anti-anxiety medications take a long time to metabolize so it can build up in your body. Over-sedation will make the person feel like they’re drunk. The following day, the user could feel like they have a hangover. This includes lethargy, headaches, and potentially depression. Other side effects when used for a long period of time include flu-like symptoms, the desire to commit suicide, nausea, problems with sleeping, problems with memory, a change in personality and emotional clouding.
Benzodiazepine Overdose Statistics
The media and medical field has been very open about the dangers of benzodiazepines. In 2013, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) found that approximately 30% of drug overdose deaths were attributed to benzo abuse. Benzodiazepine usage trends include a high amount of adolescents and young adults that are abusing them. They can be purchased on the streets, often named benzos or downers. They will be taken orally or for a greater high, they will be crushed and snorted. The effects of this kind of abuse include:
- Loss of memory
- Hostile thoughts and actions
- Disturbing dreams
- Shallow breath
- Dilated pupils
- Weak, rapid pulse
- The potential of falling into a coma, leading to death
The DEA has found that Alprazolam and Diazepam are the most encountered benzo’s on the streets. People who use benzo’s can either get a legal prescription, steal them from someone’s medicine cabinet, forging prescriptions or buying them on the streets. All benzo’s are a schedule IV controlled substance. It’s important to understand the dangers of anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepine.
Benzodiazepine Anxiety Addiction Connection
Firstly, some of the characteristics of someone who suffers from anxiety can include an addictive personality. When profiling those with clinical mood disorders, it’s been found that there is a connection between how easy it is for them to become addicted. Benzodiazepines are addictive, this is clear. They can lead to physical and psychological dependence which can cause uncomfortable, even deadly, withdrawal symptoms. The brain becomes altered when you take benzo’s, which can cause disruption if stopped cold turkey. If you don’t seek out medical detox, you could experience a seizure. For those who legitimately take normal doses as prescribed by their doctor, there’s a small percentage of dependency. It’s when someone abuses benzodiazepines that it becomes problematic.
Benzodiazepine Abuse Symptoms
There are a variety of benzo’s so there is a vast range of physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms. If you notice these symptoms with loved ones, an intervention may be required to help them recover. These symptoms include:
- They may have a hard time seeing due to blurry vision
- They have poor judgment or don’t think things through
- They may ask friends or others for their benzodiazepine pills
- They may try to stop using the drug but aren’t able to
- Mood swings
- They become weak
- They may exhibit risky behavior to obtain benzo’s
- They may abuse benzo’s with other substances
One of the most popular anxiety medication over the counter drugs is Xanax. Xanax statistics in 2016 was found to be high on the list of drugs that caused overdose deaths. Xanax for anxiety is commonly prescribed. It can also be used for panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and problems with sleep. Withdrawal symptoms are a sign of dependence that has the potential of becoming addiction. Xanax and its origins go back to the 1960’s where it was originally used to help people sleep and also as a muscle relaxant. Eventually, it was discovered that it could help patients with anxiety. Xanax calms patients down by depressing the central nervous system. It inevitably causes users to increase their rate of tolerance so they have to use more to get the same effect. This is where Xanax has a high potential of addiction.
Symptoms of Xanax Misuse and Abuse
- Sleeping excessively but always feeling tired
- Dry mouth
- Stomach pain/vomiting
Xanax becomes lethal when mixed with other substances that depress the central nervous system. Drinking alcohol or using a narcotic painkiller like opioids while also on Xanax can cause the user to fall asleep and never wake up. The breath becomes so slow and there’s a risk of respiratory arrest, leading to overdose death.
Primarily, Klonopin is prescribed for those who suffer from seizures, panic attacks, phobias and social anxiety. It has been on the market since 1975 and affects the chemicals in your brain that are unbalanced. It is considered a seizure medication and is known as an anti-epileptic drug. There are those who shouldn’t take Klonopin such as those with severe liver disease or problems with blood like narrow-angle glaucoma. Due to its high addiction risk, Klonopin shouldn’t be taken for more than 9 weeks.
Symptoms of Klonopin Misuse and Abuse
Some will abuse Klonopin because it makes the user feel totally relaxed and euphoric. Signs that someone is abusing Klonopin include:
- Clumsiness due to dizziness
- Problems with speech
- Nausea and vomiting
Klonopin can cause life-threatening problems. If the following side effects occur, the person needs to seek help immediately.
- Unable to breathe properly to the point of suffocation
- A rash develops
- The person may have a seizure
Valium is among those to be aware when evaluating the dangers of anti-anxiety medications. Valium is a benzodiazepine used for general anxiety, social anxiety and phobias. It helps with sleep disorders and is categorized as a tranquilizer. Valium is the name brand for diazepam, a benzo used in the treatment of generalized anxiety, phobias, and seizures. If a severe alcoholic is abstaining from drinking, Valium can help prevent delirium tremens from occurring.
Symptoms of Valium Misuse and Abuse
Valium is addictive and can become harmful when abused just like any benzodiazepine. Here are some of the common signs that a person is abusing diazepam:
- The user may become confused
- Vision may become blurred
- Problems breathing
- Heavy sedation
- Tremors or body shakes
More severe symptoms include:
- The person may talk about injuries themselves or even committing suicide
- They may become disoriented and hallucinate
Ativan is considered one of the best anti anxiety medication because it’s the most potent of all benzodiazepines. As effective as it is for what it’s prescribed for, it’s also the most dangerous of all the benzo’s. Ativan is used to treat phobias, panic disorders and general anxiety. When it’s abused, it can have grave consequences. Ativan should not be taken if a person suffers from;
- Epileptic seizures
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Open-angle glaucoma
- History of past drug abuse or addiction
- History of depression or suicidal thoughts
- Currently using an opioid medication
Symptoms of Ativan Misuse and Abuse
Ativan abuse symptoms include:
- A significant lack of desire to eat
- The body trembling uncontrollably
- Clumsiness due to lack of balance and dizziness
- Heavy sweating
Extreme conditions from Ativan abuse can lead to deadly symptoms such as:
- Loss of consciousness
- Respiratory arrest
- Loss of consciousness
- No memory
Onfi, Frisuim, Urbanol (Clobazam)
Clobazam is used in brand names Onfi, Frisium, and Urbanol. It has been on the market as an anxiolytic since the 1970’s and used as an anticonvulsant since the 1980’s. It helps to control seizures and offers a calming effect.
Symptoms of Clobazam Misuse and Abuse
- Potential ataxia
- Depression of the respiratory system leading to difficulty breathing
- Falling asleep could lead to a coma or death
Are There Any Non-Addictive Medications to Treat Anxiety?
Anxiety can consume people’s lives and prevent them from living fully. It is a challenging issue and can be a clinical mood disorder that demands medication. It’s important that along with anti-anxiety medication, you also utilize the other therapy that can help manage anxiety. It’s understandable to look for alternatives for your anxiety based on the benzodiazepines addiction rate. There are anti anxiety herbs on the market that may help ease the body and mind from stress. Natural supplements may not cause addiction but they are still potentially harmful. Kava, for example had promise of being a viable natural anxiety medication. Reports found that it caused serious liver damage even when it’s used for a short period of time. Herbs like kava are somewhat sedating which is why they can relax you. They are non-addictive relaxants. Some will consume excessive herbs to try to get to a relaxed place in their mind. Passionflower, chamomile, and lavender are all means of relaxing. If someone has an anxiety disorder, these options probably aren’t potent enough to prevent panic attacks and other serious anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety and Addiction Recovery
When taking a potentially addictive drug for anxiety, dual diagnosis can occur. This is when you experience addiction as well as a mood disorder. It’s more challenging to treat two disorders so recovery should incorporate a variety of tools. Benzodiazepine use in the United States is prevalent and many are admitted into treatment programs to help them recover. When a patient stops using anti-anxiety medication, they can become more acutely anxious. This is why group therapy and one-on-one therapy is essential. Some may find holistic treatments like meditation will help them find the mental balance in their life. Benzo addiction stories demonstrate that someone with anxiety can’t remain on these medications for a long period of time. While on the medication, this is the time to learn how to better manage anxiety. To continue using benzodiazepines or abuse them will only exacerbate the issues you’re trying to heal. Professional treatment for benzodiazepines addiction is likely necessary. The withdrawal can be dangerous so medical detox may be necessary.
Given the dangers of anti-anxiety medications it’s important to discuss all risk factors with your doctor prior to use. If you’re struggling with ongoing misuse and abuse, please give us a call today at 855-281-5588 to discuss possible treatment programs that can aid in overcoming anxiety medication addictions.