Numerous drugs are available for the pharmaceutical needs of patients – this includes over-the-counter options like Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen, as well as controlled prescriptions like opioids and benzodiazepines. 

Even prescription drugs recommended for certain patients by medical doctors have their risks; no drug is completely safe, but by appropriately following all prescription instructions, certain stronger medications, including benzodiazepines, can be taken with reduced risk.

The problem, however, occurs when benzodiazepine prescriptions are abused, consumed by someone other than the patient or the patient themself becomes dependent on the substance. 

What are benzodiazepines?  

Benzodiazepines are depressant drugs “that produce sedation and hypnosis, relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, and reduce seizures.” They are classified as Schedule IV drugs, known by the DEA as “substances, or chemicals…with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence,” and a known medical use.

They are most often prescribed for individuals with severe insomnia, chronic stress or anxiety; if other methods of treating these conditions have failed, benzodiazepines may be used to promote the desired results. 

There are three types of benzodiazepines: short-acting, intermediate-acting and long-term. Oftentimes, short-acting benzodiazepines are the most addictive and can have the strongest withdrawal symptoms following use. 

Examples of short-acting benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax®, Kalma®, Alprax®),  oxazepam (brand names – Alepam®, Murelax®, Serepax®); and temazepam (Euhypnos®, Normison®). 

Nitrazepam (Alodorm®, Mogadon®) is one of the more common intermediate-acting benzodiazepines.

And diazepam (Ducene®, Valium®) is the most popular long-acting benzodiazepine.

All of these drugs work to slow down the activity of the central nervous system, thereby creating a sleepy and relaxed mood. And while these effects sound harmless, when used inappropriately, the effects can become incredibly dangerous to the body and addicting to the mind. 

The most addictive benzodiazepines include clonazepam (Klonopin®), alprazolam (Xanax®) and diazepam (Valium®). If you are prescribed one of these medications, in order to avoid developing dependence, or addictive habits, make sure you adhere closely to all instructions and contact your medical doctor or therapist if you are concerned about the risk of addiction.

Effects of benzodiazepines 

Any drug has both short-term and long-term effects, benzodiazepines included. These can be both harmful to the body and the mind, especially when the prescription instructions are not followed. 

Short-term effects of benzodiazepines include: 

  • Reduced stress or anxiety 
  • Euphoria
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Memory loss or impaired thinking
  • Impaired response time or coordination
  • Dizziness, blurred vision
  • Nausea, constipation or GI upset
  • Slurred speech
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth

Benzodiazepines also have a number of long-term effects that may continue to affect the user even after consumption has stopped. 

According to one source: “Generally thought of as safe and effective, benzodiazepines are often prescribed for anxiety, poor sleep, muscle aches and pains without proper caution about the hazards of use or physical dependence that can occur. Many patients often take them for months or years, though two to four weeks is the recommended course. Because benzodiazepines change the biochemistry of the brain, they require a slow tapering process to avoid elevated blood pressure, anxiety and seizures.”

This study discovered that “of 1,207 current and former benzodiazepine users … more than half of the respondents experienced memory loss, anxiety, insomnia, pain and low energy for more than a year — symptoms unrelated to the original condition for which they took the medication…

“The majority of respondents reported negative effects in their personal life, such as job loss. More than 50 percent had suicidal thoughts or had attempted suicide.”

If benzodiazepines are taken for longer than prescribed, in doses not originally intended or in conjunction with any other substance, the effects can be long-lasting and damaging. 

Benzodiazepine addiction

If not cautiously pursued, the use of benzodiazepines can lead to tolerance – where the body needs a higher dose to feel the same relief/effects – and possibly addiction – where the body cannot function properly without the substance and stopping use on one’s own is usually not successful.

There are numerous ways in which you can prevent tolerance and addiction to benzodiazepines from occurring: 

  • Stick with one physician and pharmacist – “Doctor shopping” in order to get numerous prescriptions filled is a sign of addiction, but adhering to one physician will ensure accountability and help prevent misuse from arising 
  • Don’t use someone else’s prescription – Under no circumstances should you take prescriptions not dispensed for you, nor should you offer your prescription to another
  • Follow the proper dosing instructions – Whether you are on a tapering schedule, a post-surgical dose or some other specific schedule, adhere to it; changing anything without the guidance of your therapist/doctor can cause more harm than good
  • Have open communication – If you are uncomfortable with a dose, feel like you are receiving too much medication or would like to switch off benzodiazepines, talk with your prescribing doctor about altering your prescription to suit your comfort level

Additionally, if you feel at any time that your prescription medication usage is becoming uncontrollable or uncomfortable, consider the benefits of counseling and medication management therapy. Not only can they help prevent addiction, but they can also offer guidance if dependence or addiction has already formed. 

Treatment for benzodiazepine use

If you or someone you know is struggling with benzodiazepine use, reach out to Silver Ridge Recovery to get in touch with someone to help today. Contact us online or by calling our office at 855-945-7788 to learn more.