What are Benzodiazepines and what are they used for?
Anxiety and insomnia are the main reasons, but not the only reasons, why someone would be prescribed Benzodiazepines. They are used as a quick acting antidepressant and can be used intermittently by patients to lessen the effects of anxiety or panic attacks and depression on a case by case and day by day basis. Benzodiazepines are usually safe if taken at the prescribed dose and even overdosing rarely ends in death If used habitually or outside the parameters of the prescription, the medication can become addictive especially for those who have already had problems with addictive behaviors in the past.
Familiar drugs such as alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan) all fall under the Benzodiazepines category. The drugs have proven their effectiveness in clinical trials when it comes to helping people who actually need the drugs, but in cases where the individual is abusing the drug along with other addictive substances, the consequence could be severe or even fatal.
Side Effects of taking Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines are rarely lethal unless combined with another substance. Often, if a fatal overdose has occurred with Benzodiazepines it is because the user mixed the drug with alcohol or opiates. Benzodiazepines have been associated with memory impairment and can induce anterograde amnesia. Patients have reported that when using Benzodiazepines they sometimes experience “black outs” or have pieces of memory in which they cannot put in the correct order. When taking a Benzodiazepine it is important to keep in mind that psychomotor retardation may also be experienced. Psychomotor retardation causes the user to respond less quickly than they would have otherwise. Tasks which include heavy lifting, coordination or the use of any motor skill should be approached with caution shortly after taking Benzodiazepines. Poor motor coordination, muscle weakness and mental confusion are a few examples of the immediate affects the drug can have on a user.
Are You Addicted?
A psychological or physiologic need for the drug may occur depending on the frequency and amount of drug that was previously being consumed. Prescribed amounts shouldn’t cause an addiction but taking more than the prescribed dose to produce a more intense high is a signal that the drug has become harmful to the user. The psychological effects of being on a mood-altering drug for an extended period of time can be more difficult to overcome than the physiological aspects of recovery. An over reliance on the drug and a loss of self-confidence are common psychological symptoms that long term users of Benzodiazepines will have to face. Physiological withdrawal symptoms will emerge when the drug is no longer being introduced into the users system.
Dealing with Withdrawal
If the drug is not being abused, mild anxiety is the worst withdrawal symptom that most patients experience. With an addiction, autonomic instability (i.e., increased heart rate and blood pressure level, tremulousness, diaphoresis), insomnia and sensory hypersensitivity are common. The rare but extreme withdrawal symptoms include seizures and delirium tremens, and almost always happen because of a result of abrupt and thorough withdrawal of the drug from use along with other substances.
Most specialists agree that the addiction to Benzodiazepine is mainly contained in individuals with previous drug or alcohol abuse to whom it was prescribed, and almost always in conjuncture with other, more serious medications. There are treatment options available for anyone who feels they need the drug to function on a day to day basis. For effective treatment of the addiction, doctors need to determine what type of anxiety disorder is present in the affected patient. Since Benzodiazepines act as an instant antidepressant and an alternative to the “quick fix” would be to start the user on a low dose of a less addictive type of antidepressant. Once a suitable alternative is found that helps the user feel less anxious and less like they need the addictive substance to feel normal in their every day life. As with any addiction, a good support team is crucial. In times of withdrawal patients with a support system succeeded more frequently than those who tried to quit their addictions on their own. Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous offer a 12 step program to anyone who is attempting to combat a drug addiction. The support given and received can make all the difference in an individual who is attempting recovery.