Thousands of people every year benefit from benzodiazepines side effects. The anti-anxiety medication softens the edges of the usually sharp world we live in. More commonly known by their brand names (Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan to name the big four), benzodiazepines help many adults nationwide.

Medical detox doctors also realized that benzodiazepines side effects ease the pain of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. They find use in detox facilities all over the country in helping relieve some of the discomfort in that first week or two of getting sober.

This directly contrasts the fact that a few thousand people abuse these prescription drugs. They overtake the medication and take the side effects of benzodiazepines to another level. But while a significant portion of research focuses on opioid abuse, benzodiazepines seem to slide a notch or two lower on the radar.

Benzodiazepines (commonly known as benzos) are a class of psychoactive drugs most prescribed by doctors to help people deal with a wide range of issues including anxiety disorders, panic disorders and insomnia to name a few. Commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include Xanax, Klonopin, Atvian and Valium among others. It is estimated this group of powerful drugs are prescribed at 66 million doctors’ visits yearly. When prescribed as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, benzos can be an effective tool.

Despite their effectiveness, benzodiazepines are extremely potent and are highly addictive. While some may not feel these drugs are dangerous because they are prescribed by a medical professional, these drugs can produce harrowing and even life-threatening signs and symptoms when misused. This article will further explore what these powerful medications are and the signs and symptoms of misuse. Additionally, benzodiazepine side effects will be discussed and the importance in finding professional help if one becomes addicted to these drugs.

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are medications that directly affect your body’s central nervous system. When taken, they amplify the effects of GABA neurotransmitters which are responsible for producing a calming effect on your brain. For those who suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, GABA neurotransmitters help level out your responses. As a result, you become more level-headed and relaxed in stressful situations.

Benzodiazepines vary widely regarding how quickly they start to work. For example, diazepam (Valium), Tranxene and Halcion are short-acting, and users can feel the effects within 30-60 minutes. Benzos such as Xanax and Ativan take a little longer to start working but are longer lasting with durations between 11-20 hours. Medications such as Librium and Klonopin have lasting effects in the body between 1-3 days.

One study of about 60 percent of US pharmacies looked at their benzodiazepine prescription distribution. More than 5 percent of people ages 18 to 80 filled at least one benzodiazepine prescription during the year 2008. They also found that more older adults receive prescriptions to benzodiazepines than younger adults.

Their study revealed the following breakdown of benzodiazepine use by age:

  • 18 to 35 years old: less than 3%
  • 36 to 50 years old: 5.5%
  • 51 to 64 years old: 7.5%
  • 65 years and older: almost 9%

They also found that older people with prescriptions tended to use them on a long term basis of at least four months.

Why Do People Abuse Benzodiazepines?

13.5 million adults filled a benzodiazepine prescription in 2013. The majority of these people used their medication for its intended purpose. A small percentage misused or abused (0.5% and 0.6% respectively) their access to a prescription, though. The benzodiazepines effects catch them off guard and they find themselves chasing the high that follows.

When people think of prescription drug addiction, most think of painkiller abuse. The opioid epidemic is no secret. But the number of benzodiazepine prescriptions rose 67 percent between 1996 and 2013. Some articles refer to benzodiazepines (or “benzos”) as the “other prescription drug problem” in the United States.

Benzodiazepines Side Effects

Even if people take these drugs under strict medical supervision, people will experience a wide variety of benzodiazepine side effects. These side effects are even more pronounced if they are taken in higher doses or mixed with other medications and substances. The most common benzo side effects include the following:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Difficulties walking or balancing
  • Memory lapses
  • Blurred vision
  • Muscle weakness
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision

Not all people experience the intended calming effects of benzodiazepines, though. Some have the opposite reaction (also called a “paradoxical reaction”) to their medication. Paradoxical side effects include:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Aggression
  • Agitation, frustration, or irritability
  • Bursts of rage
  • Delusions
  • Psychoses
  • Headache
  • Detaching from reality
  • Personality changes
  • Hallucinations
  • Nightmares
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Difficulty sleeping and insomnia

They can also cause adverse reactions or physical and mental harm after using them for a long time. If you use more than prescribed for an extended period of time, you may notice:

  • Overwhelming irritability, frustration, or impatience
  • Feeling dull or “slowed down”
  • Difficulties concentrating or remembering things
  • Feeling isolated from your surroundings or detached from your emotions
  • Loss of confidence or self worth
  • Weight problems

Danger of Benzodiazepines

The side effects of benzodiazepines are unsettling in of themselves, but there are great dangers for those who abuse benzos. First and foremost, these drugs linger in the system for a considerable time period after the effects subside. Some benzos can stay in a person’s system for several days. This is dangerous because people will assume, they resume dosage or increase their dosage without realizing the body is still storing the drug. Benzodiazepine overdoses are
common in these situations.

Another disturbing fact is that users will combine benzos with other drugs. Common drugs that people use with benzos include alcohol, opiates and stimulants. These combinations make benzo side effects worse and increase the risk of overdose and death. For those who quit taking these drugs altogether, the withdrawal symptoms they experience can be very excruciating. Depending on the length of time taken, frequency taken, quantity taken and the use/abuse of other drugs, benzo withdrawals can last days and even weeks.

Getting Professional Help is Key

For those looking to quit benzodiazepines, quitting cold turkey or trying self-detox methods will put their health and lives in danger. To minimize the pain of benzodiazepine withdrawals and to break the cycle of addiction, professional help must be sought. 

Hawaii Island Recovery offers a wide range of treatment programs that will help you get and stay in recovery.

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