By Sandy Baker
Benzodiazepines (benzos) are dangerous prescription medications that can cause addiction. If your doctor has prescribed these medications for you, don’t stop taking them without first talking to your doctor. However, recognize that the use of these drugs, especially outside of the prescription written for them, can be dangerous. Could you have an addiction to benzos?
What Are Benzos Used For?
Doctors often write prescriptions for benzos to treat a wide range of conditions, including seizures and muscle spasms. Sometimes, benzos can also be used to manage tremors or to help a person in withdrawal from alcohol addiction. These drugs may help improve sleep and ease a person’s anxiety.
Benzos work by helping to relax the body. They do this by stimulating the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid in the body. As this increases, it causes the brain and the nervous system in total to slow down. This helps you to relax. Your muscles relax, too. Because of how they work in stimulating the pleasure center of the brain and creating relaxation, benzos can be habit-forming.
Some types of benzos include:
These drugs go by a variety of street names as well: K, K-pin, or Pin for Klonopin; Xannies for Xanax. Ativan is sometimes called tranqs or downers.
Because benzos are so powerful, doctors tend to prescribe the lowest possible effective dose. Only a licensed physician can write a prescription for these drugs, and the instructions should be followed closely.
What Are the Risks of Using Benzodiazepines?
Though they can be very effective in providing treatment for a person with advanced seizures or muscle tremors, benzos can also be addictive. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that over 30 percent of the overdoses occurring in the U.S. involve the use of benzodiazepines along with opioids. The two are often used in combination with each other, creating a significant amount of risk to central nervous system function.
What Happens When You take Benzos?
Numerous side effects can occur when taking these drugs. The short-term effects include:
- Lack of balance or coordination
- Weight gain
- Appetite changes
After taking these drugs, many people enter into a relaxed state. They are more able to calm down if they are experiencing intense anxiety. Some people seek out this type of drug because it helps them to “stop thinking or worrying.” It may also be used just to get sleep.
Using this drug in the long term can create a higher level of addiction risk. Other potential long-term side effects of benzo use include:
- Lower blood pressure (too low)
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
- Movement disorders
- Cognitive function decline
How Do Benzodiazepines Lead to Addiction?
Prolonged use of benzos, even with a prescription, can lead to a number of health risks, including addiction. It is possible to overdose on benzos, which leads to a shutdown of the body’s respiratory system and a dangerous slowing of the heart rate.
Even if all of this does not happen, a person can develop addiction and dependence. That means that you cannot stop using benzos on your own because your body craves them. If you try to stop, you may experience intense feelings and pain such as headaches, increased heart rate, intense mood swings, and confusion.
Could You Have an Addiction to Benzos?
Consider a few common symptoms of benzo addiction. If you are using these drugs outside of a prescription, whether using too much of your own prescription or using one written for someone else, it’s likely you are headed toward addiction. Some common signs of addiction include:
- Running out of a medication prescription too soon
- Isolating from family and friends, often not meeting obligations to them
- Engaging in risky behaviors without thinking twice about it
- Doctor-shopping in an effort to get access to more of the drugs
- Feeling intense anxiety and agitation when not getting the prescription soon enough
- Purchasing benzos illicitly
- Hiding how much you are using
How Is a Benzo Addiction Treated?
A person with an addiction to benzos may need to go through the drug detox process. This allows the chemicals to naturally work their way out of the body while your medical needs are managed. Benzo detox may be necessary for those who have intense withdrawal symptoms as well as those using benzos with other drugs such as opioids. There is the potential for serious side effects when withdrawing from benzos.
Once a person goes through addiction detox, they are likely to benefit from residential treatment programs like those offered at The Ranch at Dove Tree. Here, you’ll be able to focus on your individual health needs while working on your addiction through a number of therapies. You’ll learn how to manage your medical and emotional needs without drug use.
If you or a loved one is struggling with benzo addiction, reach out to our team to learn more about treatment.