Benzodiazepines are very dangerous when abused. This is largely due to the quickness with which dependence and addiction can form. After three to four weeks of regular use, a person will likely experience withdrawal, which means they’ve become physically dependent on the drug. This may happen quicker if a person is abusing an amount greater than is typically prescribed.
When used as prescribed, benzodiazepine (benzos) drugs are useful in treating a variety of conditions.
However, many of the most commonly prescribed benzos are those which are most readily abused, including:
- alprazolam (Xanax)
- clonazepam (Klonopin)
- chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
- diazepam (Valium)
- lorazepam (Ativan)
- temazepam (Restoril)
- triazolam (Halcion)
When abused, benzos are frequently consumed orally, however, some individuals may try to smoke, snort or inject these substances. Benzodiazepines may be referred to as Candy, Downers, Sleeping Pills or Tranks.
Though not prescribed legally in the United States, flunitrazepam (Rohypnol) is also abused recreationally. While this drug is abused to create a high, it’s most well known for its use as a date rape drug. For this reason, in addition to being referred to as Roofies, this substance may also be called Forget-Me-Pill.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepine medications are prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, including panic disorder; insomnia and seizure disorder. In certain instances, they may also be used as muscle relaxants or to treat symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
These drugs are used for these purposes due to their ability to create a calming, sedative and/or tranquilizing effect. However, it’s these very properties that make these substances appealing to many individuals who abuse these substances recreationally.
When used in larger quantities, benzos can create a dopamine rush, much like other addictive drugs of abuse. Dopamine is responsible for creating a sense of reward and pleasure, feelings which enforce patterns of drug seeking and using. When dopamine floods a person’s brain it creates a pleasurable effect which encourages them to use the drug again. As a person’s drug abuse becomes more frequent, their body, mind and behaviors will begin to exhibit changes.
Signs of Benzodiazepine Abuse
One of the best ways to prevent addiction, second to abstinence, is to spot and address patterns of drug abuse before they escalate into addiction.
While benzodiazepines create a calming effect on the brain, they can also cause a person to act in an uncharacteristic way. In addition to this, many of the physical side effects of benzodiazepine abuse look like the first stages of drunkenness.
Benzodiazepine abuse can cause the following mental and emotional changes:
- emotional numbness
- fuzzy thoughts
- impaired judgment
- impaired memory
- losing one’s inhibitions
Benzodiazepine abuse can cause the following physical changes:
- altered vision
- changes in breathing
- dry mouth
- impaired motor coordination
- low blood pressure
- poor reflexes
- nausea and/or vomiting
- speech troubles
- unexplainable drowsiness
Addicted people frequently push close friends and family members away or even steal their medications. A large number of prescription drugs that are abused actually come from close loved ones. Misusing a personal prescription or someone else’s is a dangerous choice which can ultimately lead to addiction.
Dangers Of Benzodiazepine Abuse
Addiction and overdose are the two greatest dangers of benzodiazepine abuse. Benzodiazepines are frequently abused with other drugs, a practice which increases the odds of overdose even more.
Dangers of benzodiazepine abuse include:
- birth defects
- an increased risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease
- elderly persons who abuse benzos have an increased risk of falls and injuries
- paradoxical disinhibition, a state which can cause agitation, hostility, rage or violence.
Benzodiazepine 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.
The more a person uses these substances, the greater the damage to their life. Like all forms of drug abuse, benzodiazepine abuse can destroy a person’s quality of life.
As a person becomes addicted, and use becomes chronic, their physical and mental health, relationships, career and social functioning can all begin to suffer. In the most severe cases, a person may not be able to properly take care of their children, their marriage may crumble and/or they could lose their job.
Benzodiazepine Abuse Can Cause Mental Health Problems
Even though these drugs can provide relief from certain mental health problems when used as prescribed, at levels of abuse the opposite effect may occur.
Certain individuals experience rebound anxiety or insomnia when they stop or run out of their drug. In addition to this, abuse could cause “emotional anesthesia.” In this state, a person may be emotionally numb or unable to feel a significant amount of feelings or emotions. To counter these effects, many people up their dosage, an action which only serves to strengthen the hold of addiction.
Research has also found that chronic, high levels of benzodiazepine abuse can cause depression. Some individuals may also become depressed during withdrawal. The mood instability caused by benzodiazepine abuse can become extreme. In certain cases, a person may become so depressed from benzodiazepine abuse that they struggle with thoughts of suicide.
Signs Of A Benzodiazepine Overdose
The depressant effects of benzodiazepine drugs climb when a person uses higher quantities of the drug more frequently. When too high of a dose is consumed, a person’s body cannot eliminate the drug fast enough from its system.
At these toxic levels, a person’s central nervous system (CNS) can begin to malfunction or slow down. When this occurs, a person’s blood pressure, breathing, heart and temperature rates begin to slow to levels that can’t the body and brain. At the onset, a benzodiazepine overdose can resemble alcohol intoxication.
Spotting the signs of overdose early can save a life. Signs of a benzodiazepine overdose include:
- blurred or double vision
- the lips and fingernails take on a blue cast
- slow or stopped breathing
- slurred speech
- stomach troubles
- tremor or weakness
When used with other drugs, the risk of overdose climbs. Benzodiazepines may be abused with other depressants, or “downers,” or stimulant drugs (“uppers”) like cocaine.
Combining a benzodiazepine with another central nervous system depressant, such as alcohol or an opioid drug (heroin or prescription opioid painkillers) will cause the CNS depression to be experienced more intensely. This can cause respiratory depression, or dangerously slowed or stopped breathing, which can cause a fatal overdose.
On the other hand, combining a benzodiazepine drug with a stimulant (such as cocaine or methamphetamine) can cause overdose as well. The stimulant drug’s side effects can mask or reduce the perceived side effects of the benzodiazepine. Despite this, the body is still very vulnerable to both drugs. Without feeling the benzodiazepine’s full side effects (or vice versa), a person may continue to take more of the drug, which can lead to overdose.
The Dangers Of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal
People who are heavily addicted to benzodiazepines will likely experience severe withdrawal. In addition to being highly uncomfortable, unsupervised withdrawal can become very dangerous.
Like alcohol, withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be deadly. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can cause seizures or delirium tremens, states which require hospitalization and prompt medical intervention. Choosing a medically supported detox delivered by highly trained professionals helps to protect a person from this risk.
Even if withdrawal doesn’t progress to this extreme, it’s still important for a person to have medical support. Cravings and withdrawal symptoms can become intense, prompting an unsupervised person to relapse as a way to reduce their discomfort.
Side effects of withdrawal include:
- changes in perception
- difficulty concentrating
- heart palpitations
- excessive sensory stimulation
- muscle pain and stiffness
- nausea and dry heaving
- panic attacks
- raised blood pressure
- raised heart rate
- rebound anxiety
- rebound insomnia
- tremors or weakness
During a medical detox, clinicians will supervise a person 24/7. During this time they will work tirelessly to make a person as comfortable as possible. In many cases, medications may be used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms so that a person can prepare for the next stage of treatment.
Benzodiazepine addiction can be treated and a balanced recovery is possible. Contact us today.