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Can You Become Addicted to Anxiety Medication?

anxiety-medication-addiction-abuse

Anxiety is something that everyone is guaranteed to experience at one time or another. You might feel anxious ahead of a big interview or exam, or before speaking in public. Anxiety is an emotion that’s hard-wired into the human brain as part of the natural “fight or flight” response.

When warranted, it triggers a heightened sense of alertness and a noticeable release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Together, these reactions make people better prepared to identify and respond to danger.

However, when anxiety spirals out of control or when it exists all of the time, it can be downright crippling. Anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and trauma-induced anxiety are all issues that can leave people unable to function in everyday life. When this is the case, anxiety medications may be prescribed to promote mood balance, and to keep patients from feeling overwhelmed. Unfortunately, if these medications aren’t used properly, or if they aren’t right for the needs of the individual, they may lead to addiction. 

Many common anxiety medications aren’t actually habit-forming. For instance, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) can be safely used on an ongoing basis, and without leading to physical addiction. One notable downside to these drugs is that they generally take several weeks to work. As such, they aren’t always effective solutions to many common anxiety-related problems.

Far more likely to provide the immediate relief that people seek are benzodiazepines. Commonly referred to as “benzos”, this class of drugs is capable of producing an immediate sense of relaxation and calm. The biggest drawbacks of benzodiazepines include their highly addictive nature and the tendency for people to quickly build a tolerance to them.

What is Anxiety?

There’s normal, natural anxiety such as what you might feel before making a speech in front of your co-workers or classmates. Then there’s chronic anxiety or anxiety resulting from a disorder. These types of anxiety disorders usually have no known cause. People feel anxious nearly all of the time, and without being able to identify the source of their discomfort or resolve it. The physical symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • An elevated heart rate
  • Breathing difficulties

and more. 

For someone with OCD, anxiety might arise as the result of being unable to do something in a specific way or a specific number of times. A person with panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder may be flooded with intense feelings of anxiousness for no discernible reason at all.

Veterans and victims of domestic abuse frequently suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This causes anxiety in large crowds, in response to sudden or loud sounds, and as the result of flashbacks, or disrupted sleep patterns. 

In each of these cases, prescribing habit-forming medications like benzodiazepines can actually be a preventative measure against drug addiction. That’s because one of the most common causes of substance use disorder is having an underlying, untreated mental health disorder. When people don’t have reliable, reasonable, and effective ways to alleviate their anxiety, they’ll often turn to alcohol or illicit drugs to relieve it themselves.

Available Anxiety Medications

Given their far lower likelihood of causing addiction, SSRIs and SNRIs are generally the first choices for doctors prescribing anxiety medications. However, when anxiety is extreme and when people need rapid relief, prescribing benzodiazepines is the most likely course. Benzodiazepines prescribed for anxiety include:

  • Valium
  • Xanax
  • Oxazepam Serax
  • Klonopin
  • Ativan
  • Rophynol
  • Librium

These medications are designed to make patients feel more comfortable, relaxed, and ultimately stress-free. However, many people take them even when they aren’t anxious, and even after they’ve already exceeded the recommended dose. As tolerance is built, long-term users of benzodiazepines often run out of pills long before their prescriptions are due to be refilled or renewed.

Warning Signs of Addiction

Everyone should have a variety of ways of treating anxiety. Anti-anxiety medication on its own is never an effective standalone solution to chronic anxiety or anxiety disorders. This is why many doctors and therapists recommend supplementary strategies such as:

  • Deep, diaphragmatic breathing
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Good nutrition
  • Social interaction
  • Journal writing
  • Art therapy

These and other stress management techniques should be used to supplement the benefits of anti-anxiety drugs. This will help in not becoming psychologically reliant upon them or physically addicted to them. When patients find that medication is the only way to alleviate their discomfort, this is a sign of a developing problem.

At this stage, those taking anxiety meds are more likely to reach for pills whenever they’re distressed than they are to engage in natural, stress-relieving activities and relaxation techniques. More importantly, they may begin to feel as though they cannot live without them.

Increased tolerance to benzodiazepines is also a major red flag. As tolerance increases, people tend to increase their doses. As a result, many benzodiazepine abusers start:

  • Buying prescription medications from non-medical parties
  • Lying to obtain more pills
  • Stealing pills from family members or friends

When a specific drug is not available, some people even begin experimenting with illicit drugs to achieve the same effects. One sure sign of addiction to anxiety medicines is the onset of severe physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms when no additional pills can be found. These signs and symptoms are a solid indication that an individual’s brain and body have become chemically dependent on the medication, and that addiction is full-blown. 

Treating Addiction to Anxiety Medication

Professional treatment for addiction to anti-anxiety medication honors the existence of the underlying mental health disorder by searching for effective, alternative solutions. Thus, when you attend rehab, you won’t be thrown back into the agonizing throes of untreated anxiety. 

Instead, you’ll be encouraged to explore new ways of coping with and managing your disorder. These might include immersion therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or other forms of talk therapy. Replacing benzodiazepines with SSRIs or SNRIs could be advisable as well. In a medically supervised rehab, this transition can be an easy and comfortable one. Alternative medication support is frequently supplied until the effects of new anxiety medications manifest. 

At Recovery Bay Center, we offer medically assisted detox for alleviating the discomfort caused by withdrawing from benzodiazepines. We also provide a comprehensive suite of mental health services and inpatient rehab. If you want treatment for generalized anxiety disorder and overcoming your prescription pill addiction, we can supply it. Call us today at 833-991-2955.