Benzodiazepines, also known as Xanax, Valium, Ativan, or Restoril, are prescription medications given to weaken the nervous system. Benzodiazepines are typically prescribed to help treat anxiety disorder and seizures by calming the nerve activity sent to the brain. They can also treat muscle spasms, insomnia, panic disorders, or alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Benzodiazepines, nicknamed benzos, are commonly prescribed in the United States for therapeutic benefits. However, when misused, they are addictive. There are two common reasons people abuse benzos:
- Individuals may take more of the drug than prescribed when their body builds a tolerance to it, and they are trying to reach the relaxed feeling that benzos can cause.
- Benzos are so widely prescribed in the United States. Hence, it is easier for individuals to obtain, increasing the likelihood of abuse.
Abusing prescription medications typically begins either because of recreational use or when someone tries to reach that first euphoric feeling. Chronic abuse is when an individual develops a dependence on medication to feel “normal” after consuming them for long periods. Abuse also occurs when this medication is taken with another drug or alcohol. Mixing substances like this could lead to an overdose and even death.
Consuming large amounts of benzos causes a rush to the dopamine levels in your body. When these dopamine levels rise, it sends activity to the brain and activates the Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) receptors. This then stimulates the brain to create an addiction cycle of needing more.
Side Effects of Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepine side effects can differ depending on the drug, the amount that is taken, length of use, and the individual. Short-term side effects of mild use include:
- Slurred speech
- Trouble thinking and confusion
- Reduced coordination
- Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Trouble or slowed breathing
Side effects from recreational use include:
- Intense drowsiness
- Slow reflexes
- Mood swings
- Irregular behavior
Long-term side effects with regular use include:
- Serious confusion
- Muscle weakness
- Coordination problems
- Decreased judgment
- Slow or changed speech (dysarthria)
- Long-lasting memory issues
It is known that the longer someone uses benzos, the more apparent signs of cognitive impairment are. This sudden decline in someone’s ability to function at school or work may not improve for months after they have stopped taking the medication.
Detox and Withdrawal
Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be exceptionally tough and can even cause seizures, some turning fatal. Rehab clinics advise addicts not to detox on their own. Seeking professional help from a detox and rehab facility can help control your symptoms and make sure you are kept safe during your recovery process.
Withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepine drugs can differ depending on the person as well as the length of drug abuse. Older individuals are more at risk of complication from withdrawal such as heart attacks, hallucination, and falls. The withdrawal time will depend on the type of benzodiazepine, the amount used, and length of use. For short-acting benzos (Xanax), withdrawal can begin in about 1-2 days after using and can last for up to 2-4 weeks. With longer-lasting drugs (valium), withdrawal can start in 2-7 days lasting up to 2-8 weeks or even longer.
Withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Muscle stiffness or pain
- Trouble concentrating
- High blood pressure
- Heart palpitations
Detoxing from Benzos is extremely difficult regardless of the length of substance abuse. When you begin your detox process, it is normal for any symptoms of prior mental health problems to return along with hallucinations, pain, and panic attacks. Therefore, addiction professionals suggest you begin your detox process in a professional treatment facility.
Therapy is an essential factor in addiction treatment. Detoxing from any substance should be monitored by professionals with a complete treatment plan.
Seeking Treatment for Benzo Abuse and Addiction
Treatment for addiction requires professional counseling and therapy for mental and physical health. There is not a universal treatment plan for all addicts. The three main addiction treatments include:
- Substance abuse rehabilitation
- Detox and medical stabilization
- Aftercare and relapse prevention
Detox is not the end of recovery; it is the first step. After beginning the road to recovery, everyone will require different treatments depending on the withdrawal process. After completing the detox process, individuals are urged to continue with rehabilitation programs. After discharge, addicts will often follow up with their aftercare plans which could include individual counseling, group therapy or 12-step meetings. Having a stable and robust aftercare plan helps with relapse prevention and strengthens one’s chance of having a successful recovery.
Staying sober can be just as hard as choosing to get sober. Even after recovery, addicts may get tempted to use drugs from either a trigger in their brain or being around old friends. It is crucial to have a plan on how you will deal with these triggers and the stressors that come along with everyday life.
Former addicts find weekly or bi-weekly meetings with a therapist or counselor beneficial to help prevent relapse. Others may benefit from keeping in touch with sober support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and even Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). These types of meetings are useful for long-term plans since they are free. If you are unable to attend a NA or AA meeting in person, there are online or phone meetings you can access at any time.
Recovery takes a life-long commitment. Former addicts will notice that their ability to stay in control of their recovery may be hard during the weeks and months following rehab. The risk of relapse is exceptionally high during these times. Stay in contact with your support system and remain determined. If you or someone you know is ready to live a clean and sober lifestyle, start by contacting Serenity Acres.