Acknowledging the Harms of Recurrent Benzodiazepine Use

While the spotlight is often placed on the use and abuse of opioids, concerns regarding benzodiazepine use must also be brought to attention. Benzodiazepines create feelings of calmness and are often prescribed to treat short-term insomnia, anxiety, and seizures. Although benzodiazepines are intended for short-term use, many individuals may find themselves engaging in benzodiazepine misuse or abuse in an attempt to achieve desired effects. To best prevent the harms of benzodiazepine use from affecting loved ones, it is crucial to be informed about the possible dangers of this type of drug abuse. What’s more, it’s essential to work closely with health care professionals who can administer medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

At 12 South Recovery, we specialize in mental health and addiction treatment for a wide range of conditions and symptoms. We integrate evidence-based treatment approaches, using strategies such as medication in tandem with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other therapeutic approaches. This integrative approach is the most effective way to treat the underlying cause of anxiety disorders, insomnia, and other disturbances. Moreover, we provide the professional guidance and support that individuals need to overcome recurrent benzodiazepine use and other problematic behaviors through our individualized treatment plans and programs.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), “Benzodiazepines are depressants that produce sedation and hypnosis, relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, and reduce seizures.” Benzodiazepines generally fall into the following categories:

  • Short-acting
  • Intermediate-acting
  • Long-acting

Short-acting benzodiazepines bind to brain receptors quickly and are metabolized rapidly. These medications are often prescribed for those who struggle to fall asleep but can otherwise stay asleep throughout the night. However, for those with chronic insomnia who struggle to stay asleep throughout the night, intermediate-acting benzodiazepines can be helpful. These medications can keep individuals asleep longer and create feelings of calmness throughout the day.

Both short-acting and intermediate-acting benzodiazepines are preferred for treating insomnia and other sleep disturbances, whereas long-acting benzodiazepines are most commonly utilized for the treatment of anxiety.

Some of the most common brand-name prescription benzodiazepines include:

  • Valium
  • Xanax
  • Halcion
  • Ativan
  • Klonopin

The Effects of Benzodiazepine Use on the Brain and Body

Benzodiazepines depress activity within the central nervous system. As a result of benzodiazepine use, individuals experience sleepiness as well as a relaxed mood. Other effects of benzodiazepine use on the brain and body can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Light-headedness
  • Confusion
  • Unsteadiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle weakness
  • Amnesia and other memory problems
  • Hostility
  • Irritability
  • Vivid and/or disturbing dreams

The Dangers of Recurrent Benzodiazepine Use

Benzodiazepines are intended for short-term use, with the exception of some cases of seizure disorders. When benzodiazepines are misused, abused, or otherwise taken on a long-term basis, they can become less effective. This can lead to increased tolerance, increased withdrawal symptoms, and the potential development of addiction. Those who abuse benzodiazepines are vulnerable to developing physical and psychological dependency as well, which leads to chronic insomnia and other cognitive issues once use is ceased.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that benzodiazepine abuse is common, specifically among adolescents and young adults who intend to use the medication to get high. Individuals who engage in polysubstance abuse (the abuse of more than one substance in tandem) with substances such as cocaine, heroin, and opioids are particularly at risk of abusing benzodiazepines in an attempt to enhance already perceived euphoria. Moreover, those engaging in polysubstance use experience an even higher risk of potential life-threatening harm, specifically as a result of a drug overdose.

The Risks of Concurrent Opioid and Benzodiazepine Use

Unfortunately, the abuse of both benzodiazepines and opioids in tandem is common. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains, “In 2021, nearly 14% of overdose deaths involving opioids also involved benzodiazepines.” Moreover, “Combining opioids and benzodiazepines can increase risk of overdose because both types of drugs can cause sedation and suppress breathing – the cause of overdose fatality – in addition to impairing cognitive functions. Research shows that people who use opioids and benzodiazepines concurrently are at higher risk of visiting the emergency department, being admitted to a hospital for a drug-related emergency, and dying of drug overdose.”

When benzodiazepines and opioids are used concurrently, overdose effects may involve sedation, respiratory depression, coma, or death. Further, the DEA notes the following symptoms of benzodiazepine overdose alone:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Impaired coordination
  • Decreased motor reflexes
  • Respiratory depression
  • Coma
  • Death

Preventing the Harms of Benzodiazepine Use With 12 South Recovery

One of the most important ways to prevent the negative effects of benzodiazepine use is to participate in a treatment program that provides MAT. MAT involves the strategic use of medications to wean a person safely off of benzodiazepines. When participating in this type of program concurrently with benzodiazepine use, a person is less likely to spiral into addiction. 

Those struggling with anxiety or insomnia who are prescribed benzodiazepines are encouraged to seek therapy and other treatment modalities to better manage the symptoms of their condition. When used short-term, benzodiazepines can increase an individual’s ability to participate in therapy effectively. In therapy, individuals will learn new ways to cope with their symptoms and develop new ways of thinking that will improve their behavior. Thus over time and with consistent participation in therapy, individuals are better equipped to wean off and or cease benzodiazepine use without the potential for distressing symptoms to resurface.

At 12 South Recovery, we offer comprehensive benzodiazepine addiction treatment designed to address any underlying causes of addiction and help individuals regain control over their lives. We believe in the value of timely intervention in establishing and securing sobriety from benzodiazepine use. This is why we encourage all who are struggling to seek treatment as soon as possible. All of our programs are customized to fit the unique needs and recovery goals of all of our clients. We believe we can effectively meet everyone where they are at on their journey to recovery.

Benzodiazepines are medications that slow activity in the central nervous system, informing feelings of calmness, sedation, and sleepiness. While these medications are effective when used as a short-term treatment for insomnia or anxiety, they are often misused and abused. Some of the most evident harms of recurrent benzodiazepine use include physical and psychological dependence, the development of addiction, potential drug overdose, cognitive decline, and chronic insomnia. If you or a loved one are struggling with any of these symptoms, let us help you begin your journey to recovery. We at 12 South Recovery offer a number of comprehensive outpatient treatment programs with an individualized focus. Learn more by calling (888) 830-8374 today.

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