What You Need To Know About Benzodiazepines – Are They Friend Or Foe?
Benzodiazepines (also known as ‘Benzos”) are a class of psychoactive drugs which are used to treat a range of medical conditions, including anxiety and muscle disorders, and they are among the most commonly prescribed medications in the USA. Almost everyone has heard of Xanax, which was the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepine drug that was used to treat psychiatric conditions between 2005 and 2015. Other popular brand names are Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, and Librium.
Today we will learn how these medications work, what they are used for and the side effects and risks associated with their long-term use
What Are The Uses Of Benzodiazepines?
In general, these are used as a shorter-term treatment for:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) - this is where everyday worries become severe absolutely consumes the thoughts of young people and adults. The United Kingdom (U.K.) National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends taking benzodiazepines only as a short-term GAD treatment for no longer than 1 month. Anxiety is a major problem for the young and research has demonstrated there are links between severe GAD and substance abuse by young people.
Alcohol Withdrawal – chlodiazepoxide is a type of benzodiazepine that is often prescribed for people who are being treated for alcoholism withdrawal, and as well as a commonly known medication that you have probably heard of called diazepam. These drugs assist with the risk of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms and help remove toxins from the patient’s system. “In general, the duration of benzodiazepines treatment should be limited to the first 3 to 7 days after the cessation of alcohol” per World Health Organization’s Statement “Management of alcohol withdrawal” (2012).
Seizures -benzodiazepines help to counter convulsions, and help prevent and control epileptic seizures. They act as a sedative that slows down the central nervous system, and reduce irregular electrical activity.
Insomnia - is a huge problem as it can affect people of any age, and is more prevalent amongst females than males. It increases the risk of developing chronic diseases and obesity. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 30-40 percent of American adults report that they have had symptoms of insomnia within the last 12 months, and 10-15 percent of adults claim to have chronic insomnia. But long-term usage is not recommended because of risk of drug dependence.
So you see that Benzodiazepines have multiple medical uses. But what is the downside of using them?
Are There Risks Of Short-Term and Long-Term Use Of Benzodiazepines?
These medications work by depressing the central nervous system and activating the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, which in turn creates a natural hypnotic, calming, and relaxing effects. The feel-good factor created by this results in common abuse by the people who use them. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2013 reported that 1.7 million Americans over the age of 12 abused tranquilizers in the month prior to its survey.
Further statistics from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cite drug overdose as the leading cause of injury death in 2012, and approximately 120 people die every day from a drug overdose in America. It CDC further reports that 51.8 percent of the drug overdose fatalities in the United States are related to pharmaceuticals, with 30.6 percent of the pharmaceutical overdoses being linked to benzodiazepines.
Benzodiazepine Overdose may cause irregular heart rate and blood pressure, dizziness, muscle weakness, drowsiness, slurred speech, and loss of consciousness. If mixed with opioids and/or alcohol, benzos can reduce vital life function in the body to dangerously low levels and death. The mixing of benzodiazepine medications and opioids or alcohol resulted in serious medical health issues 50 percent of the time in hospital emergency visits, as published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Whilst regarded as relatively safe if used for a short period, benzodiazepines act and can create a ‘hangover’ effect the following day. If used in larger doses, side effects include:
- Mental Confusion
- Memory issues
- Loss of vision
- Slurred speech
- Mood swings
Even short-term use as prescribed can lead to dependence – for example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that dosages greater than 4 mg/day or using Xanax for more than 12 weeks may increase the severity or potential for dependence and withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped.
The regular use or abuse of a benzodiazepine medication can quickly lead to drug tolerance, which may then continue on to dependence (i.e. physical dependence occurs when the brain depends on the chemical’s interaction with it to feel ‘normal’). Furthermore, a research study has found hat is long-term use of benzodiazepines increases the risk of dementia. Benzodiazepines are supposed to be used for short periods of time. However, some people have used them for many years.
Risks include loss of memory, perception, brain function, processing of information speed and learning ability. These risks increase by 32 percent in those taking benzos for three months or longer, rising to an increase of 84% when used for six months or longer
The study showed that among a group of adults over sixty-five years old, those that used benzodiazepines were 50 percent more likely to develop the dementia form of Alzheimer’s disease over a fifteen-year period.
HowTo Detox From Benzodiazepine
Here we will learn why detox for benzodiazepine is necessary and important, and why it needs to be done under careful medical supervision.
We have seen the severity of side effects from extended or excessive usage, and so here we will explore a brief overview of the detox process that purges the drugs from the body. The actual processes vary across medical facilities but in general, the initial step is to stabilize the body, because the benzos have slowed down certain brain functions that deal with stress and anxiety.
The withdrawal effects caused by suddenly stopping the use of benzos can be severe, and you should ever try this without close medical supervision, as they can include:
- sleep disturbance
- increased tension and anxiety
- panic attacks
- hand tremor
- muscle aches
The medical professional will ‘taper’ off the dosage and switching the benzo to a longer-acting type, and using other medications to deal with depression and cravings, the withdrawal with being managed over a period of days, weeks r even months.
A facility may also use psychological support to deal with mental illness that so often is a trigger for benzo abuse (50 percent of those suffering from a severe mental illness and 33 percent of those suffering from any mental illness abuse substances, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness ).
Whilst Benzodiazepine is a useful aid to deal with a variety of mental health issues, it can never be a long-term substitute for psychological and social support for those in need. Always make sure that you have complete information from any medical practitioner before agreeing to their use, and if in doubt get a second opinion as to their absolute necessity.