Home » prescription drugs » Benzodiazepine addiction: Side effects, risk & rehab

Benzodiazepines, also known as “benzos,” are among the most commonly prescribed drugs. The benzodiazepine family of anti-anxiety medication helps millions of men and women suffering. This can include everything from anxiety to seizures to insomnia. The family includes familiar brand names like Ativan, Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin. But as the number of benzodiazepine prescriptions continues to grow at a staggering rate, so too do the cases of benzo abuse, addiction, and overdose deaths.

What is benzodiazepine

Benzodiazepines are regular drugs with a narcotic effect. Compared to other narcotics, benzodiazepines fall into the category of ‘mild’ narcotic. They can relieve a variety of psychiatric symptoms and are therefore often prescribed in psychiatry. Well-known benzodiazepines are diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Temesta), clonazepam (Rivotril) and alprazolam (Xanax).

What does it do?

Benzodiazepines inhibit the functioning of the central nervous system. This reduces the perception of fear in people. But they also have a narcotic effect and can be used against convulsions (epileptic attacks). They also have a muscle relaxant effect and are effective sleep aids. Because of their effect on the brain, these drugs can be highly addictive. There are benzodiazepines that are more or less addictive. The faster you build up a level, the more addictive benzodiazepines are. In general, it is important that these drugs are only prescribed for short periods and under proper supervision.

In normal or customary doses (i.e. short, low-dose and preferably not taken daily), benzodiazepines are effective in relieving anxiety, tension and insomnia.

Signs of benzodiazepine abuse

When benzodiazepines are taken in high doses for prolonged periods of time, changes in appearance and behaviour can occur that have a great impact on people’s social lives. The changes are particularly noticeable at work and in relationships with others. Furthermore, the original symptoms almost always return after the onset of tolerance to benzodiazepines. A new problem then arises: you have acquired an additional benzo-addiction.

Benzodiazepines are only rarely a user’s ‘favourite’ drug. In about 80% of benzodiazepine addictions, there are other drugs that the person is addicted to or dependent on. In most cases, there is also opiate use (e.g. heroin).

Health risks

Because benzodiazepines are known to be drugs, many people underestimate the health risks that long-term or excessive use of these drugs can bring. Long-term use of these drugs increases the risk of dementia, damage to the brain and increases the risk of certain types of cancer. The most common risks, however, are traffic accidents due to reduced alertness and, in the elderly, the occurrence of femur and hip fractures.

Addiction to benzodiazepines is more common in people who are given this drug to treat anxiety, mood and/or sleep disorders. This is because at first, users of this drug often experience the ‘healing’ effect of this drug, which significantly increases the possibility of developing dependence. At a certain point, after about five weeks, the effect diminishes and users start striving for the same effect/feeling by increasing their dosage. This eventually causes the brain to become dependent. Withdrawal symptoms develop and the constant administration of this drug becomes necessary to counteract these.

Withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepine abuse

The withdrawal symptoms of a therapy-based dose are often feelings of anxiety in the beginning, because people are often afraid that the symptoms will return when the medication is discontinued.

In the case of addiction, the withdrawal symptoms can be summarised as physical symptoms, sleeplessness and hypersensitivity of the senses. In case of severe dependence, there can also be serious consequences of suddenly stopping the intake of the drug such as epilepsy, delirium, comatose state and even death.

Treatment of benzodiazepine addiction

Breaking an addiction to benzodiazepines can be a difficult process. The treatment goes through several phases. First of all, there is working towards complete abstinence, through a personal and carefully tailored detoxification programme. As soon as complete abstinence has been achieved, psychological treatment can be started. This is often done together with experiencing the withdrawal symptoms in the form of group therapy and individual treatment, in which the focus is on preventing a relapse in the use of these substances.

Hacienda Paradiso offers treatment for a benzodiazepine addiction. We are the world’s very first eco-rehab. Situated in Malaga, Spain, Hacienda Paradiso works with clients to end the cycle of addiction and behavioural problems in a completely eco-friendly atmosphere.

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