When thinking of or discussing addiction our minds jump to the obvious substances such as alcohol, heroin and cocaine but there are many others such as opioids and benzodiazepines which are equally prevalent and dangerous. This article will focus on benzodiazepines, its uses and the dangers of withdrawal from them.
Also commonly called “benzos” or “downers”, are man-made medications that cause mild to severe depression of the nerves within the brain and sedation. Types of benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax, Xanax XR), clobazam (Onfi), clonazepam (Klonopin), clorazepate (Tranxene), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), diazepam (Valium, Diastat Acudial, Diastat) and lorazepam (Ativan). These are prescribed to treat anxiety, nervousness, panic disorders, muscle spasms, seizures, sleeplessness, alcohol withdrawal, status epilepticus (A life-threatening disorder of the brain) even premenstrual syndrome. They are also used for sedation during surgery and treating various types of anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder (when antidepressants aren’t effective) and panic disorder (also when antidepressants aren’t effective)1.
While these drugs may be very effective for the treatment of the aforementioned conditions they are habit forming and highly addictive, even when taken as a doctor or health care professional has prescribed them. People who have a history of drug or alcohol abuse are more likely to develop an addiction to these drugs. When taking benzos over a long period of time users develop a tolerance for them which means that they will need higher doses of the drug to treat their health condition or disease, or to get high1.
Abuse of benzos leads to disturbing or vivid dreams, irritability, hostility and amnesia, while signs of addiction include problems sleeping, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, uncontrollable leg movements as well as bone and muscle pain. Overdosing on benzodiazepines can lead to coma and death1.
Dependency on Benzodiazepines
When someone has become dependent on benzodiazepines, it is crucial that they do not suddenly stop therapy cold turkey (cold turkey meaning stopping all use of the drug completely) 2. While it might seem logical to immediately stop using a drug causing physical damage, symptoms like anxiety and panic can become excruciatingly painful when users try stopping cold turkey. Additionally, when levels of the medication become too low in the bloodstream, withdrawal seizures (such as grand mal seizures – grand mal seizures cause a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions) are a very real possibility3. Additional symptoms also include moderate to severe depression, extreme anxiety, sensory hypersensitivity, poor memory, heart palpitations, sweating and muscle twitching.
“A grand mal seizure may occur in as many as 20 to 30% of individuals undergoing untreated withdrawal from benzos.”4
As mentioned cold turkey is NEVER recommended and a slow-taper detox should be considered. Tapering off of a benzos generally involves a doctor prescribing increasingly smaller amounts of the drug over time or prescribing a different benzodiazepine that is less potent which allows a person to detox slowly and avoid the severe withdrawal symptoms3. Apart from reducing the discomfort of withdrawal, a medically supervised detox helps people stay safe and healthy while they get clean as well as reducing the chance of relapsing into addiction4.
Detox is Not Enough
Unfortunately, detox on its own is rarely enough to build long-lasting sobriety and trying to do it alone virtually impossible. That’s why addicts should consider an inpatient rehab that offers benzos detox. Inpatient rehab provides a distraction and temptation-free environment in which to recover. Counselling and support groups are also a very important part of recovery as is continuing with therapy and support after rehab to prevent a relapse.
While all addictions are difficult to overcome there are always experienced and dedicated people who are there to help. Should you, or someone close to you, need help to treat an addiction please do not hesitate to turn to us at Houghton House.