In the fall of 2020, the Food and Drug Administration updated labeling requirements for all benzodiazepines (benzos). Among their reasons for the update, they listed benzodiazepine dependence. Some people are shocked by this, but doctors write about 66 million prescriptions for benzos each year. Benzos can help people who are in treatment, especially when they struggle with anxiety or stress. Like any medication, they can produce positive results when used properly. However, benzos adverse effects can be troublesome for those who live with substance use disorder (SUD). Furthermore, if the FDA takes the matter so seriously, it would benefit us to do the same. In this article, you will learn:
- What are benzodiazepines?
- Why do doctors prescribe benzodiazepines?
- What are the risks of benzodiazepine use?
- How can you define benzodiazepine dependence?
- How can someone struggling with benzodiazepine dependence get help?
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines work by increasing the production of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA slows down the brain’s processes, so we feel calm and relaxed. It helps us sleep better and protects our brains. In addition, increases in GABA seem to alleviate seizures and high blood pressure.
In 1955, chemist Leo Sternbach synthesized the first benzodiazepine. Sternbach’s employer, Hoffman-La Roche AG, marketed the drug as Librium. Next, diazepam entered the market in 1963. The drug got a new name which was Valium. Surely enough, Valium remained a popular prescription. It got to its peak in 1978 with over 2 billion tablets sold.
Alprazolam, more commonly known as Xanax, became widely available in 1981. In the following decades, Xanax found its way into mainstream music culture. Even the rapper Lil Xan draws his moniker from it. As of this writing, Lil Xan’s music video for his track “Betrayed” has just shy of 285 million views.
What Are Benzodiazepines Prescribed For?
Benzos encourage the brain to produce GABA. Consequently, they help to slow things down. Once benzos became widely available, physicians prescribed them as tranquilizers and sedatives. Due to these effects, doctors used them to help treat anxiety disorders. Doctors also prescribe them to help combat insomnia and seizures. Doctors may also prescribe benzos for off-label effects. For example, some off-label effects include things like sleep disorders, tic disorders and bipolar disorder. Additionally, a person suffering from alcohol withdrawal syndrome may benefit from benzos.
What Risks Are Associated With Benzodiazepine Dependence?
As with any prescription, the use of benzos comes with risks. Some of these include:
- Side effects
- Concurrent overdose
- Benzodiazepine dependence
- Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome
Benzodiazepines Adverse Effects
Those consuming benzos, even with a prescription, must exercise caution. Because of their sedative nature, benzos can slow things down too much. Benzos can make you drowsy, confused, and dizzy. They can impair your motor skills, or even lead to depression. On the more serious end, benzos can erode memory. They can cause extreme fatigue, delirium, and agitation. Some more severe physical symptoms include tremors, shortness of breath, and gastrointestinal issues. Benzos can also cause psychological symptoms like hallucinations and delusions.
As with any other drug, you can overdose on benzos. But benzos can also cause overdose when taken concurrently with other medications. For example, benzos and opiates can make a fatal combination. Aware of the severity of this problem, the FDA issued a warning about it. Benzos and alcohol likewise don’t mix. Dr. Laura Berman spoke publicly after her son Sammy overdosed on Xanax laced with fentanyl. Drinking alcohol while on a benzo prescription increases the onset of benzodiazepine side effects.
Benzos make up the most commonly used prescription drugs used in suicides by poisoning. Elderly people have slower metabolisms and thus greater sensitivity to the effects of benzos. As a population, they present a higher risk for benzo toxicity. Symptoms of benzodiazepine toxicity encompass things like:
- Respiratory issues
- Cardiac arrest
- Aspirating on one’s vomit
- Breakdown of muscle tissue
Dependence means that a person cannot stop using a drug without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Please consider benzodiazepine dependence as another risk. Quitting benzos cold turkey usually leads to very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. To alleviate these symptoms, many people will continue taking benzos. Sometimes, they do this even though they don’t need the prescription. When ceasing a benzo prescription, the tapering method appears to work best. Physicians apply a general rule of thumb of eight to twelve weeks of tapering. Those whose prescription periods have lasted longer will need longer taper periods. Some taper periods may take many months or even a year.
Sometimes, a person experiences physical and mental withdrawal symptoms as they stop taking a drug. Even though benzos can help with alcohol withdrawal, they have their own complicated withdrawal symptoms. Due to the symptoms, researchers created a specific term for it: benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. For instance, some symptoms include:
- Hand tremors
- Increased anxiety
- Nausea and vomiting
- Heart palpitations
- Muscular pain
Sometimes, these symptoms can last for about 10-14 days. However, they can last longer. 12 Rules For Life author Dr. Jordan Peterson spent over a year in recovery from his bout with benzodiazepine withdrawal. His recovery journey took him as far away as Russia.
Let Harmony Healing Center Help!
Are you or someone you love struggling with benzodiazepine dependence? If so, we’re here to help. After you contact us, we will talk to you about your options. Don’t wait any longer. Don’t forget that, hope is real and recovery is possible. Contact us today.