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What Are Benzodiazepines?

Central nervous system depressants such as benzodiazepines slow down the activity of the nervous system, which has a variety of effects on the brain and body. By limiting the activity of the nervous system, it can act as an anticonvulsant, muscle relaxer, or anti-anxiety medication. In the US, benzodiazepines, or benzos, are commonly prescribed to treat conditions such as anxiety, amnesia, seizures or convulsions, and pain.

Despite the fact that they’ve been in use for decades and are used for medically-justified purposes, benzodiazepines also have a high potential for dependence and addiction. Since they can be obtained by prescription for a variety of different reasons, misuse is increasingly common.

Benzodiazepine have an instant calming effect on the brain and body. Taking them while in a state of panic will result in a rapid release of feel-good chemicals, and total mind and body relaxation. If other therapies for alleviating discomfort are not introduced early on, benzo users may come to believe that they cannot function without them.

Benzo addiction treatment at Recovery Bay Center offers medically necessary interventions for safely weaning the body off of these drugs. It also provides alternative strategies for managing anxiety-related mental health disorders and general sleep disorders. When you complete our benzo addiction rehab at Recovery Bay Center’s substance abuse treatment center, you can safely eliminate your physical reliance on benzos.

Benzodiazepines Addiction + Effects On The Brain

Although benzos are prescribed with the intention of improving a person’s condition and life quality, prolonged use frequently causes more harm than good. When people run out of these medications or attempt to abstain from them, the withdrawal symptoms are severe. In fact, stopping benzo use suddenly can lead to cognitive difficulties, memory loss, shaking, sweating, and even death. Without medically assisted detox or an appropriate weaning program, benzo detox is always a dangerous and incredibly painful process.

So why are benzos addictive, and why does the body respond so strongly when they are no longer present? According to research, benzos create the physical and neurological conditions for addiction much in the same way that opioids, alcohol, and the popular club drug GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) do.

The very characteristics that make benzos so effective for alleviating pain and producing a sense of calm are the same characteristics that make them habit-forming. These drugs incite a neurological reaction known as a dopamine surge.

Dopamine is a feel-good chemical that the brain’s cells naturally produce. With even short-term benzo use, dramatic surges in dopamine release cause people to feel calmer and more relaxed than they would if working to alleviate anxiety and stress in other ways. Moreover, repeated dopamine surges caused by repeated benzo use actually wear dopamine-producing cells out.

Commonly Misused Benzodiazepines

benzo addiction treatment programOften used for treating insomnia, panic attacks, anxiety, and seizures, benzodiazepines are both highly effective and highly addictive. In fact, approximately one-third of all benzodiazepine users will develop a physical dependence on these products shortly after starting them.

Although benzos are only legally available by prescription, many benzo users maintain their supplies by purchasing them illicitly. This is frequently the case even for people whose benzo use was started due to benzodiazepine prescriptions. The two most prevalent benzos on the illegal market are Xanax (Alprazolam) and Klonopin (Clonazepam). Other benzodiazepine drugs include:

  • Valium (Diazepam)
  • Ativan (Lorzepam)
  • Librium (Chlordiazepoxide)
  • Serax (Oxazepam)
  • Doral (Quazepam)
  • Tranxene (Clorazepate)

Can You Overdose on Benzodiazepines?

Due to the depressant effect of benzodiazepines, overdose is possible. When slowing down nervous system function, benzos also have an effect on vital systems of the body including heart rate and breathing. Respiratory depression can occur when breathing is so slow that the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. This is why it’s important to look out for signs such as bluish lips or fingernails as a potentially deadly overdose.

The risk of overdose is also compounded when benzodiazepines are abused in conjunction with other medications or alcohol. Prescribed limits enable doctors to determine safe amounts of the drug that will achieve the desired medical effect without leading to overdose. However, when other nervous system depressants are taken together with benzos, the effect is unpredictable and the amount required to overdose may be unexpectedly lower. So even if you are used to taking a “safe” dosage of benzodiazepine medication, if you happen to be drinking alcohol, the same dosage may be riskier.

Side Effects of Benzodiazepine Misuse

Though benzodiazepines can induce sought-after feelings of relaxation and calm, they also have some unpleasant side effects. These may be especially pronounced when they are misused because that creates a build-up of the drug in the body. These side effects may include:

  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Respiratory depression (slowed breathing)
  • Trouble coordinating movements
  • Slurred speech
  • Tremors Vertigo

In addition to these common benzodiazepine side effects, misuse may lead to more severe symptoms including:

  • Erratic behavior
  • Aggression
  • Mood swings
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Euphoria
  • Overdose

Dual Diagnosis in Benzodiazepines 
Addiction Treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment is a very important part of rehab for many benzo users. This is an element of addiction treatment that looks at both substance use disorder and any possible co-occurring mental health disorders or other comorbidities.

In dual diagnosis treatment, patients receive:

  • Clear and accurate diagnoses of their underlying conditions
  • Access to alternative, non-habit-forming anxiety medications
  • Training in the use of natural stress management techniques
  • Access to therapeutic activities and skill-building workshops
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy for encouraging a positive, proactive approach to anxiety management

With dual diagnosis treatment, rehab centers like Recovery Bay are able to set the stage for long-term success in benzo recovery.

Withdrawal Risks

Long-term benzodiazepine use may lead to withdrawal. When benzos are taken over a prolonged period of time, the body adjusts to the medication. Eventually, this will lower its effectiveness, requiring higher doses to achieve the same medical effect. This is known as tolerance. Tolerance often occurs in conjunction with withdrawal, wherein the absence of the medication causes unpleasant symptoms. Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Racing heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors or seizures

Benzodiazepine FAQs

The underlying causes for addiction and specific factors surrounding the severity of addiction are all unique to the individual. That’s why effective benzodiazepine treatment must be tailored to the individual. Typically, treatment involves a combination of physical, mental, and emotional treatment strategies which can be facilitated by a therapist along with other professionals.

Yes. Addiction doesn’t just result from illicit drug use. You can become addicted to a drug even if you’ve only ever taken it as directed by a doctor. If you experience intense cravings or other signs of addiction, you may want to consult your health care provider to change your prescription.
To effectively treat any addiction, the first step is to safely eliminate the drug from the body. This is why the detox period is so important. For many people, medically supervised detox is required to reduce unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and to ensure that it is fully out of the system.

Recovery Bay's Benzodiazepines Treatment Program Is Here For You And Your Loved Ones

Our inpatient addiction treatment effectively removes people from all outside stresses and triggers and places them in a safe, supportive environment. With numerous, specialized medical professionals on staff, we’re also able to streamline our care to meet the unique needs of each individual.

If you’re struggling with benzodiazepine addiction and need help in finding a way out, we’re here to provide it. Call Recovery Bay today at 833.991.2955 to find out more about our inpatient rehab program and all other addiction treatment services that we offer.