Understand benzodiazepines and the symptoms of abuse. Be better prepared to help someone close to you struggling with benzo addiction.
What are Benzodiazepines?
Commonly called “benzos”, benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that are used for their sedative and hypnotic effects. The most common therapeutic use for benzodiazepines is in the treatment of anxiety and other mood disorders. Benzos are among the wide class of drugs used as sedatives, or to treat panic disorders, insomnia, alcoholism, seizures, and more.
Benzodiazepines were first synthesized in the late 1950’s, and soon thereafter were approved for use as a sedative and hypnotic. The effectiveness of these new drugs was enough that benzos very quickly came to replace the class of drugs known as barbiturates that had been heavily relied upon previously. The first two benzos introduced were Librium and Valium, and their use increased throughout the 70’s and were soon commonplace prescriptions in every hospital and doctor’s office.
Over time, the risks of dependency on benzos became evident, and during the 1980’s, doctors began to be more careful with how they were prescribed. Despite this danger, the effectiveness of benzos as an anti-anxiety medicine has made them a standby treatment across the U.S. since their introduction.
When taken recreationally, or in larger doses, benzos provide a high by influencing the brain’s chemical activity. Benzodiazepines can have drastically different effects when taken in different doses. The typical effects of very low dosages of benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety, sedative, sleep-inducing, anticonvulsant, and muscle relaxant. The possibility of benzo addiction presents itself when high doses or mixing with other substances create feelings of euphoria. Benzodiazepines are known to be physically addictive over periods of repeated use.
The most well-known benzodiazepines are Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), Klonopin (clonazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam). Slang/street terms for these drugs include:
- Club drugs
- Blue bombs
- Blue footballs (or just “footballs,” referring to a xanax pill appearance)
Dangers of Benzo Abuse
One of the serious concerns when prescribing benzodiazepines for long-term use is the potential of it leading to a dependency. It is not completely understood how, but benzos produce a surge in the pleasure chemical dopamine. In people with anxiety, this contributes to the calming and sedative effect. For others, or in high doses, this can result in a pleasurable “high”.
Over time, the brain and nervous system become dependent on the dopamine surge from benzos, and the normal brain activity changes in response to the new dependency. Because of this, benzo abusers go through withdrawal if they abruptly stop taking the drug, as well as a number of other side effects, including the following:
Short-Term Side Effects
- Mental confusion
- Body aches
- Blurred Vision
Long-Term Side Effects
- Suicidal Thoughts
- Shallow Breathing
Signs of Benzo Abuse
Even if someone is prescribed benzodiazepines by a doctor, it is still good to keep an ear and eye out for anything that could indicate addiction or abuse. The most obvious effects of taking high doses of benzos are the highly sedative or hypnotic results. As with any addiction, the user is likely to lie and attempt to hide his/her use, or downplay the scale of use. There are a number of behavioral changes that may be cause for concern if they suddenly arise in someone close to you.
Possible changes from chronic benzo abuse:
- Violence or hostility
- Missing important appointments, work, or school
- Chewing, crushing or snorting pills
- Visiting multiple doctors or “doctor shopping”
- Increasing use, becoming dependent
- Unsuccessful attempts to cut back or quit using
- Impaired judgement
How to Speak to Someone with a Benzo Addiction
As always, when confronting someone about their substance abuse, it is important to be as sympathetic as possible and avoid angering the person. Many people who slowly develop a benzo addiction may be in denial about requiring assistance to quit. The best way to get them help is to bring in an addiction treatment professional to assist with an intervention.
An intervention should not really be attempted without someone experienced present to help mediate the process. Confronting a person about their drug abuse can be an emotionally volatile situation, but planning and preparation make it possible to move towards a positive outcome. When having such a conversation, make sure to be prepared with specific treatment program options to suggest if the loved one is open to entering treatment.
If you or a loved one is struggling to end a benzo addiction, the best way to resume a healthy life free from substance abuse is to enroll in a treatment program that includes medically supervised detoxification as the first step.
Take time to speak to clinicians from different programs and learn about how they have and currently help their clients addicted to benzodiazepines. Ask questions about the different types of therapies available and the program structures that could be an easy fit into someone’s schedule and timeline.
If you have questions about beginning a journey towards recovery, contact Futures of Palm Beach today. Speak with one of our staff members about what makes our programs so successful and the benefits of our caring and supportive environment for our inpatient clients.
Contact Futures today to speak with a specialist and start your recovery. (866) 351-7588 or Contact Us