Benzodiazepines are a type of tranquilizer that is often prescribed to patients suffering from anxiety and panic-related disorders. However, people also abuse these drugs even when they’re not prescribed, because benzos create sensations of extreme happiness. Benzos are among the most commonly prescribed drugs, as there are over 15 types of benzos approved as medications. Some of the more familiar brand names are:
Although benzos do have therapeutic uses, they’re also addictive, and this often leads to abuse and long-term misuse of the drug.
What are Benzos?
Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants, meaning they slow down functions like blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, and temperature. The first drug of this kind was discovered in 1955 by the chemist Leo Sternbach. These drugs typically come in a tablet or pill form, but they can also be dispensed as a liquid or administered intravenously. Because benzodiazepines also relax muscles and have a hypnotic effect, they’re often prescribed to treat people who have insomnia, anxiety, panic disorders, tremors, and seizures. Benzos are addictive because they create a dopamine surge that produces feelings of euphoria, and this can lead to dependence, increased use, and addiction. On the street, benzos are sometimes referred to as:
Effects of Benzo Abuse
Using and abusing benzos has both immediate and long-term effects on the body and mind. When you take these types of drugs, the immediate sensations you’ll experience can include:
- dry mouth
- nausea and vomiting
- slurred speech
Over time, repeated use can lead to changes in the brain structure that lead to both memory loss and addiction.
Long-term abuse of benzos can also cause gastrointestinal and musculoskeletal problems, as well as depression and an inability to experience emotions acutely.
Causes of Benzo Abuse
As with other drugs, there are many factors that can lead to abuse and addiction:
- Prescription drug Abuse: A common cause is being prescribed benzos to treat a disorder like anxiety or insomnia. Because the drug is addictive, it’s easy to become dependent and start abusing the substance.
- Genetic Factors: Sometimes abuse is more likely if any close family members have struggled with abuse and addiction.
- Environmental Factors: Some people also use benzos to self-medicate to deal with emotional problems like depression or tough life situations.
Often, the causes of abuse and addiction are varied and complex, and usually, there are multiple factors at play that lead to the abuse.
Common Co-Occurring Disorders with Benzo Abuse
A co-occurring disorder is a mental health disorder that exists in conjunction with drug abuse or addiction. Because benzos are often prescribed to treat general anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and panic disorders, these are among the most common co-occurring disorders that appear with benzo abuse. Long-term abuse can also cause depression, which is another common co-occurring disorder.
Effects of Mixing Benzos with Alcohol
About 80 percent of the time, benzo abuse occurs in conjunction with another substance, and that substance is often alcohol. Alcohol and benzos each have negative effects on the body, and combining them can exacerbate the damage. One of the major problems is that both benzos and alcohol act as depressants, so when they’re combined, the central nervous system can slow to dangerous levels, and this can lead to coma or unconsciousness. Moreover, combining these drugs can lower the immune system and increase the risk of infections. Taking large quantities of these substances together can result in organ failure and death.
Benzo Overdose Symptoms
Although the risk of fatally overdosing on benzos is quite low, over-sedation is possible, and the symptoms include:
- Mood swings
- Extreme drowsiness
- Shallow breathing
- Irregular heart rate
- Low blood pressure
Over 16 million Americans use benzos, which is more than 5 percent of the population, and nearly 9 percent of people between the age of 65 and 80 use benzos. In 2014, benzos were responsible for about 8,000 deaths in the U.S. The majority of people who abuse benzos are prescribed the medication by a healthcare practitioner, but about 95 percent of people who seek treatment are also abusing another substance.
Benzo Abuse Among Teens
Benzo abuse in teenagers is dangerous because the drug can have unexpected behavioral symptoms, including lowered inhibitions, impulsivity, aggression, excitement, and antisocial behavior. Most teens don’t abuse benzos on their own but in conjunction with marijuana. Often times, teens begin abuse after using prescribed benzos for common procedures. Once they experience the high, they may find other ways to get the drug such as taking someone else’s prescription.
If you suspect your teen is abusing benzos, it’s important to look for the signs and symptoms of abuse and get help immediately.
Signs, Symptoms of Benzo Abuse & Withdrawal
The symptoms that indicate a person is abusing benzos include:
- muscle weakness
- lack of focus
- anxiety or depression
Other signs include drug-seeking behavior like getting multiple prescriptions, taking more of the drug than what’s been prescribed, and experiencing cravings for the drug.
Withdrawal occurs when a person who’s addicted to a substance stops using, and as the body detoxes, the symptoms of withdrawal appear. These symptoms typically last one to several weeks, though some can persist for several months. The most common symptoms of benzo withdrawal include:
- increased heart rate
- high blood pressure
Benzos can be beneficial drugs that have many uses in treating things like seizures and panic disorders, but their addictive nature also leads to abuse and addiction. At Futures of Palm Beach, we’ve treated many patients who became addicted to benzos after taking a prescription, as well as people who abuse this drug in conjunction with other substances.
At Futures, We understand the importance of getting clean for people who want to get their lives back on track. With the right detox and rehab plan, it is possible to get sober and take back control, and it all starts with recognizing the symptoms of abuse and deciding to seek help. People who abuse benzos often mix them with other substances, and this can have fatal consequences for people who don’t get the help they need to get clean.