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Benzodiazepines Addiction: History, Types, Uses And Effects

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs primarily used for treating anxiety, but they also are effective in treating multiple different conditions that require a sedative calming effect.

Benzos are a depressant that produces sedation and hypnosis-like effects to relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, as well as reduce seizures. Benzodiazepines appear to work by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain, chemicals that nerves release in order to communicate with other nearby nerves. The neurotransmitter that is affected by benzodiazepines is gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a neurotransmitter that suppresses the activity of nerves and produces a calming effect. Many medical professionals agree that overstimulation of nerves may be a contributing factor to anxiety and other psychological disorders.  Benzodiazepines reduce the activity of nerves in the brain and spinal cord by enhancing the effects of GABA, thus creating a calming effect. Benzodiazepines are a schedule IV substance which means they are not commonly abused but since they are so highly prescribed in the united states, they do have an abuse problem and there are severe withdrawal symptoms when Xanax is abused or misused.

The medication helps anxious people by reducing anxiety or by numbing it so it’s not as strong anymore. The problem with benzodiazepines occurs when the medication is misused or abused. Benzodiazepine abuse can form when these medications are misused recreationally over a period of time.

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Long-Term Benzodiazepine Abuse

Long-term use of benzodiazepines can lead to substance abuse. Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can be severe, particularly if someone has been taking them for a long time. When the person becomes addicted to these types of drugs, their body starts to develop a dependence on them, and normal functions are not able to happen without them. Individuals who are addicted to benzodiazepines will experience cravings for these drugs when they are not taking them. The cravings are so strong that they might go out and relapse before they even have completed rehab treatment for addiction. Benzodiazepine abuse is a condition that grips many people all over the world.

What Are The Pharmacodynamics of Benzodiazepines?

Pharmacodynamics refers to the study of how drugs react in the human body. Benzodiazepines bind to sterio-specific receptors at multiple sites within the central nervous system (CNS). The mechanism of action for benzodiazepines is unknown which is different from opiates which are known to inhibit neurotransmitter release from the primary afferent terminals in the spinal cord and activate descending inhibitory controls in the midbrain. From a practical perspective, it is understood that benzodiazepines cause central nervous system depression based on the amount or dose that is ingested which results in an impairment that can range from mild to hypnosis.

What Are The Origin Of Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are only available through a legal prescription. Many users maintain their drug supply by getting prescriptions from several different doctors, forging prescriptions, or buying them illicitly on the street. Xanax, Alprazolam and clonazepam are the three most frequently encountered benzodiazepines that are abused and sold for recreational use.

What Are The Common Street Names For Benzos?

Common street names include Benzos and Downers. This is not to be confused with opiates which are also a downer but are made up of different chemical properties and have a different high and also toxicity level. Common street names for benzodiazepines include the following:

  • Bars
  • Benzos
  • Blues
  • Chill Pills
  • Downers
  • Nerve Pills
  • Planks
  • Tranks
  • Zannies and Xannies
  • green monsters

What Are The Most Common Benzodiazepine Brands?

The most common benzodiazepines are the prescription drugs:

  • Valium®
  • Xanax®
  • Halcion®
  • Ativan®
  • Klonopin®

Tolerance can develop, although at variable rates and to different degrees. Shorter-acting benzodiazepines used to manage insomnia and sleep include:

  • estazolam (ProSom®)
  • flurazepam (Dalmane®)
  • temazepam (Restoril®)
  • triazolam (Halcion®)

Midazolam (Versed®), a short-acting benzodiazepine, is utilized for sedation, anxiety, and amnesia in critical care settings and prior to anesthesia. It is available in the United States as an injectable preparation and as a syrup for pediatric patients. Benzodiazepines with a longer duration of action are utilized to treat insomnia in patients with daytime anxiety. These benzodiazepines include:

  • alprazolam (Xanax®)
  • chlordiazepoxide (Librium®)
  • clorazepate (Tranxene®)
  • diazepam (Valium®)
  • halazepam (Paxipam®)
  • lorazepam (Ativan®)
  • oxazepam (Serax®)
  • prazepam (Centrax®)
  • quazepam (Doral®)

Clonazepam (Klonopin®), diazepam, and clorazepate are also used as anticonvulsants.

Benzodiazepine Abuse And Misuse

What are benzodiazapinesThere are many uses and functions for benzodiazepine. Benzodiazepines are typically prescribed when someone is suffering from:

  • anxiety,
  • panic attacks
  • other such conditions such as PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder)

The medication reduces anxiety and in some cases helps with sleep patterns. Benzodiazepines also include medications such as Xanax, Ativan, and Valium. When someone is suffering from panic disorders and/or the condition of anxiety, benzodiazepines can work well for treating these conditions. However, several issues arise when these drugs are abused and taken in a non-medical way.

Also, being the cure for seizure disorders such as epilepsy, benzodiazepines can truly help those who suffer from these problems. It can be a life-saving medication for some people that have seizure disorders. Loss of control is a major issue when it comes to benzodiazepine abuse. Not only do they lose control, but so does everyone who loves them and cares about them.

However, benzodiazepine abuse does not mean that all is lost with the use of the medication. Substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation provide hope for those who are struggling with substance use disorder.

What Are The Dangers Of Benzodiazepine Abuse?

Benzodiazepine misuse, along with abuse of other drugs, causes a lot of issues. Not only does it destroy the person who is addicted but also their family members and friends. Let’s have a look at some of the dangers of using benzodiazepines.

Sleep Disturbances

Using benzodiazepines can cause severe sleep disturbances. While many people suffer from these issues, the direct side-effects of benzos make this problem even worse.

Cravings

Benzodiazepine abuse causes very dangerous cravings. When people get addicted to benzodiazepines, not only do they feel withdrawal symptoms when detoxing but they also start craving their drugs of choice. These cravings can cause them to go back on benzos even before rehab treatment is over.

Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are common when someone is addicted to benzodiazepine. Those that suffer from anxiety before getting addicted often find that their issues become worse while they are addicted. These folks can experience long-term issues with anxiety even after rehab treatment has ended.

Headache

Those that are addicted to benzodiazepines suffer from headaches when detoxing.

Heart Palpitations

When people are dependent on benzodiazepines, they experience heart palpitations. These issues can also cause them to feel dizzy and lightheaded. This is a dangerous issue that requires immediate medical care if it continues for long periods or becomes very severe.

Muscle Stiffness

Muscle stiffness and tightness is a common issues for those that are addicted to benzodiazepines. When detoxing, people experience muscle aches and pains throughout the body. These issues sometimes last for quite some time after they have stopped taking benzos.

Benzodiazepine FAQs

What Are The Side Effects Of Benzodiazepine Use?

The most common side effects of benzodiazepines include:
  • drowsiness
  • light-headedness
  • confusion
  • unsteadiness (especially in older people, who may fall and experience injuries)
  • dizziness
  • slurred speech
  • muscle weakness
  • memory problems
And many other problems. It's also important to know that when benzodiazepines are combined with other sedatives like opiates or alcohol, the risk of serious side effects such as profound sedation, respiratory depression, coma, and death may occur.

What Is A Benzodiazepine Receptor Agonist?

(BZRAs), also referred to as Benzodiazepine receptor agonists include benzodiazepines and drugs such as zolpidem (Ambien), that are often used to treat insomnia. Although they are beneficial for short-term improvement in sleep onset latency and duration, they also have associated harms, including problems with dependence. Sleeplessness and anxiety are one of the underlying mental health issues that many times lead to chemical dependence.

Benzo Dependence and Withdrawal Symptoms

Benzodiazepines are addicting and hard to quit when you’ve been using them regularly. The FDA  lists many benzos, such as Valium that come with warning signs of physical dependence after prolonged use even if taken correctly every day – which can lead someone who has fallen into this habit patterned thinking desperately seeking out their next fix. Benzodiazepines have extensive and protracted withdrawal symptoms including seizures, sweating, restless leg syndrom, diarhea and extreme headaches.

Final Thoughts On Benzos

Benzodiazepines are a very helpful and highly prescribed substance. If benzodiazepines are abused or taken for too long, they can have negative side effects and also be very difficult to stop taking. If you stop taking benzos, you may need a residential detox facility. As with any prescription medication, it’s best to consult with a doctor immediately. If you need help with benzo addiction, our admissions team is standing by 24/7.

This content is verified and moderated by Dr. Brendan Bickley

This content is verified and moderated by Dr. Brendan Bickley

Dr. Bickley graduated from U.C. Irvine with honors: Phi Beta Kappa, Golden Key International Honor Society, Cum Laude. He has been featured on national radio and print media. He is also a frequent lecturer at National Conferences. He holds an A.S. degree in Drug & Alcohol Studies, and two B.A. degrees in Criminology & Psychology, and masters and doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology. He is a licensed California Drug & Alcohol Counselor Level II, a licensed Clinical Supervisor and is certified in treating Eating Disorders.

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