What are benzos?
Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are a class of prescription drug (commonly called tranquilizers) that depress the central nervous system (CNS) and reduce brain function. Common varieties include drugs such as Valium, Xanax, or Librium. When properly prescribed and taken, benzos:
- treat anxiety and panic disorders
- relieve muscle spasms
- induce sleep
- produce sedation
- alleviate alcohol withdrawal
- prevent seizures
What are the effects of benzos?
In general, dosage determines the effects of benzodiazepines:
- Low doses produce sedation and are used to manage insomnia and anxiety.
- Moderate doses prevent seizures.
- High doses induce sleep.
Abusing benzos can cause severe effects—including dangerously reduced heart rate and respiration, coma and death—when used in combination with other drugs (particularly CNS depressants), alcohol and antihistamines. Using benzos while driving is particularly risky due to the fact that they can cause short-term memory loss and confusion.
While benzodiazepines have many therapeutic uses, repeated use, large doses or improper use can result in a variety of negative side effects, including:
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Disturbing dreams
Prolonged daily benzodiazepine use or abuse can also result in benzo addiction: tolerance, physical dependence and withdrawal when use is discontinued. Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe and often last longer than those of other drugs. In fact, detoxing from benzodiazepines is just as difficult as detoxing from heroin. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms associated with benzo addiction can change minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour. Even as the patient recovers, symptoms may disappear for a few weeks or months, only to return again.
Benzo withdrawal symptoms include:
- Sensory distortion
- Muscle aches
- Hypersensitivity to touch and pain
- Rapid heartbeat
- Loss of appetite
Severe benzo withdrawal symptoms include:
- Epileptic seizures
- Delirium tremens
- Suicidal behavior, particularly in young people
Severe symptoms can be dangerous and are best treated by medically supervised detox.
Avoiding unanticipated benzo addiction.
While benzodiazepines are sold illegally on the streets, it is important to note that benzo addiction can occur even in those who aren’t intentionally abusing the drug. In fact, daily use of benzodiazepines for a period longer than four weeks can result in limited drug effectiveness, tolerance, dependence and withdrawal symptoms upon quitting—all markers of benzo addiction. Thus, it is imperative that 1) doctors closely monitor patients with benzodiazepine prescriptions and 2) patients follow dosage instructions stringently in order to avoid benzo addiction.
Benzo addiction is serious, but it can be treated. If you or a loved one is addicted, please explore our programs or contact us for more information.
The typical course of benzodiazepine addiction treatment.
Usually, treatment for benzodiazepine (benzo) addiction requires detoxification and a recovery phase, during which the addict is given the tools he or she needs to live drug free. Drug rehabilitation centers, private counseling and support groups are just some of the resources available to benzodiazepine addicts. Of these, drug rehabilitation centers have some of the highest success rates, as they are able to provide a comprehensive, customized continuum of care in a private, therapeutic setting.
Treatment for benzodiazepine addiction usually begins with the detoxification. During this process, the patient should be closely monitored for seizures and other adverse complications. Medications should be administered when possible to ease withdrawal symptoms. The length of a patient’s detox, as well as symptom intensity, is dependent on the severity and duration of the patient’s addiction and the type of benzo that he or she used.
Once detoxification is complete, patients enter the prolonged recovery phase. This should involve some form of behavioral therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy or individual and group counseling. Behavioral therapy interventions address the underlying causes of addiction and teach the addict how to identify, avoid and cope with situations that trigger drug use.
Family counseling is another therapeutic method that contributes to successful treatment. It addresses dysfunctions and promotes healing within families affected by addiction. Self-help groups, such as 12-Step groups, may also benefit recovery. They provide addicts with peer support and open forums to discuss addiction-related experiences. The encouragement and hope these groups offer is often instrumental to long-term sobriety.
Once residential treatment is complete, a continuing care plan should be put in place to encourage abstinence and give the addict a continued sense of accountability.
Treating the whole person.
When treating benzodiazepine addiction, it is important to take the addicted individual’s unique needs into account. Professional evaluations and therapies should address various psychological, biological, demographic, behavioral, historical, physical, social and cultural factors in order to achieve long-term success.