Although effective at treating anxiety disorders, benzodiazepine use causes a variety of unpleasant side effects and can easily lead to abuse.
Benzodiazepines: A Risky, Addictive Solution for Anxiety
Anxiety is a common problem in modern American life. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18 percent of Americans will experience clinical anxiety in a 12-month period. Of these cases, 22 percent can be considered severe.
Major anxiety interferes with daily functioning and can make it difficult to work or to maintain normal relationships. A variety of treatments are available—but certain medications called benzodiazepines have addictive potential.
What are the Most Common Treatments for Anxiety?
Anxiety disorders can be treated through a variety of means. Many people with anxiety receive individual or group therapy with a qualified counselor. Medication may also be used, either in addition to therapy or in its place. Some antidepressants are used to treat anxiety, but many patients find that additional medication is often required to manage the most severe episodes. In these cases, schedule 4 narcotics called benzodiazepines may be prescribed. If you or someone you love is dealing with anxiety, call our helpline at (800) 407-7195(Who Answers?).
Benzodiazepines are frequently prescribed medications for anxiety. Some of the medication names in this category include Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam) and Valium (diazepam).
What are the Risks Associated with Benzodiazepines?
These drugs tend to work very well to quickly reduce anxiety. But they also have many side effects, which include the following:
- Sleepiness or sedation
- Memory loss
- Slow heart rate
- Hangover-like effects (nausea, mental fogginess)
Patients taking benzodiazepines should be aware that certain foods or medications can increase the concentration of the drugs in your bloodstream. Grapefruit or grapefruit juice are known to increase the effect of benzodiazepines. A category of antacids called proton pump inhibitors also increases the concentration of benzodiazepines in your body.
Taking benzodiazepines with alcohol or other sedating drugs can have serious consequences. Respiratory depression can occur and can result in coma or even death.
How are Benzodiazepines Addictive?
Benzodiazepines produce withdrawal effects, particularly when they are taken for a long period of time. The intensity of withdrawal depends largely on how long the medication was taken, which specific medication was taken and in which doses. Certain benzodiazepines, such as Xanax (alprazolam) and Halcion (triazolam), have shorter half-lives and are therefore more likely to produce withdrawal symptoms.
Schedule 4 narcotics are classified as restricted substances because they have the potential to result in abuse. But many drug experts believe that the danger of benzodiazepines is understated. Physical and psychological dependence on benzodiazepines can occur very quickly—often in as little as a few weeks. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, benzodiazepines are addictive in much the same way that opiates are addictive.
Benzodiazepines weaken a group of brain cells called inhibitory interneurons. These neurons normally prevent excessive dopamine levels. But benzodiazepines override the influence of these interneurons, causing a flood of dopamine to be released. This excessive dopamine release stimulates addiction.
When patients try to discontinue use of benzodiazepines, many have the experience of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include the following:
- Increased anxiety and agitation
- Poor concentration
- Chest pain
- Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
- Flu-like symptoms
- Hearing and vision disturbances
When Benzodiazepines Require Medically Assisted Detox
People who have been taking large doses of benzodiazepines for a long period of time should never come off the drugs quickly. More serious withdrawal symptoms can result, including convulsions, catatonia, hallucinations, hyperthermia, psychosis and suicidal or homicidal ideation.
Getting off of these schedule 4 narcotics may require medical supervision and assistance. A more gradual taper may be necessary to reduce physical dependence on these drugs. When you or someone you love is addicted to benzodiazepines, call the helpful experts at (800) 407-7195(Who Answers?) today.