Benzodiazepine Abuse (Misuse)

What is Benzodiazepine Abuse?

There are a lot of drugs out there.

Addiction: Benzodiazepine Abuse and the Growing Epidemic

The ones you have to look out for are the ones that are highly addictive, such as benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines include Xanax, Diazepam, Klonopin, Valium and more.

People who suffer from issues like depression, anxiety, and insomnia usually need a medication that will relax and level them out so they won’t be on edge all the time. That requires drugs that affect the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, increase levels of inhibitory brain signaling, and depress the central nervous system. This leaves you sedated and relaxed.

What happens when you develop a tolerance for the drug and one pill is no longer enough?

Addiction to benzodiazepines begins when your tolerance is so high you have to chase it with a cocktail, or pop six a day instead of two. Because of the active result of the drug it is highly addictive and easy to get hooked on. The euphoric feeling doesn’t alarm the user so sometimes they don’t even think they have a problem. Partner that with the fact that these drugs are readily available and heavily prescribed and you have a full blown epidemic on your hands.

All addictions are basically the same; it’s over access to something that’s meant to be had in small doses. Food, drugs, shopping; whatever the addiction, it’s important to learn the causes, signs, history, and treatments. Know your own personal boundaries and limits and don’t try to do the doctor’s job. Trust their word and don’t violate the trust they have in you to follow their instructions. It’s easy to over indulge when the pills are readily available. You have to learn to pace yourself and not let your illness dominate and blindly determine your actions.

Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Abuse

It’s important to become familiar with the signs and symptoms of abuse. A person taking a benzodiazepine will usually look sleepy, dazed, and may move slowly since they’re sometimes confused when they’re over indulging. Drowsiness and slurred speech are also signs of misuse that can easily be spotted by a friend or loved one. But other signs aren’t seen so easily on the outside. If somebody’s increased their dosage against the doctor’s orders, they may experience double vision, poor memory, or weakness in the muscles. Behavior and temperament change and you become irritable and mean. If you find yourself crying more, zoning out, not eating, can’t drive, can’t focus or concentrate, then you may have a problem.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be afraid to question your own behavior. Ask yourself if you’re staying on the prescription plan, following the doctor’s order’s, taking the medicine only when needed, or popping pills at your leisure? Has your behavior changed, are you separating from loved ones, is your performance consistent at work, is your appetite normal.

Benzodiazepines can be tricky because they result in such a calm feeling it’s hard to pinpoint when you’re feeling too good. If you start forgetting things and having mood swings, take a step back and evaluate what you’re doing. It’s the opposite of cocaine or crack where signals of abuse are fast-moving, loud, or erratic behavior. Someone hooked on this drug will be quiet and calm, with eyes glazed over and eyelids low.

Don’t ignore your own symptoms or the symptoms of a loved one. A person can’t see when they’re over the edge and you may have to intervene and help them see the truth. Point out the inconsistencies in their behavior, kindly ask them how many pills they take per day, call and check on them when you haven’t heard from them in a while. You never know what pushed them over but you can always healthily and effectively bring them back from the edge if you work with them to get better.

Symptoms of Withdrawal

Getting off any drug is hard. It takes a toll on your mental and physical health. But the cost of abusing drugs is higher. The withdrawal symptoms are well worth the pain since your condition can become very serious. You may experience hallucinations, intense anxiety, intense depression, high blood pressure, insomnia, and seizures. The very symptoms you’re trying to treat will possibly magnify for weeks or months after you’ve stopped the abusive behavior.

Consider checking into a facility to detox. You never know depending on a case by case basis what will happen if a person tries to stop using cold turkey. A facility will be better prepared if there are other health issues present, or if other drugs or alcohol are involved, and be able to offer 24-hour care when a person is going through withdrawal. Vomiting, mood swings, insomnia, and crippling temporary depression are all serious side effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal that may need a health care provider.

A person may be very angry when they’re in withdrawal because they previously needed the drug to keep them calm at all times. They will be experiencing raw nerves and the senses will be on high. A person may not want to see or feel anything so when they do start to feel again it will be sensory overload. There can also be the opposite effect of weight gain if a person uses food as a vice to deal with their depression. Once the drug is gone, the food will replace it causing you to gain weight and eat unhealthily.

Benzodiazepine Abuse Causes

Any medication that contains a benzodiazepine is not intended for long-term use. Long-term use is what causes addiction. The body becomes resistant to the drug and the user then requires an increase in dosage to get the desired effect. In other cases, the very depression that the medication is prescribed to treat can become the cause of addiction as well. When one five milligram pill is no longer enough twice a day, patients may take more and more until they’re floating through day to day. The relaxed euphoric feeling becomes harder and harder to achieve.

Times when stress levels are high will trigger drug use before anything else. Tragic and life-changing events can also be a trigger for drug use. Meditate, accompany the medication with therapy, and remove the stressors from your life. Stress can kill you by affecting your physical health like your heart and blood pressure. But it also takes a strain on your mental health. Not being able to handle stress is one of the main reasons people turn to these drugs. They need them to relax their mind and cope.

To combat that issue, focus on reducing stress, eating right, incorporating exercise into your life and balancing all of that with the medication. In a case where patients become addicted or overdose, there’s always an anchor drug that’s partnered with the benzodiazepine. Drugs of any kind are not meant to be mixed together or combined. When alcohol or any other type of drug is mixed with benzodiazepines, the results are detrimental. It almost always leads to full blown dependency and other issues.

Don’t mix medications with each other or alcohol. The practice isn’t safe and one pill most likely cancels out the effect of the next pill as opposed to enhancing it.

Treatments for Benzodiazepine Abuse

In order to treat addiction, you may go through a detoxification process and have to be slowly weaned off the drug to keep the body from possibly having a seizure. Since it’s not meant for long-term use anyway, you can cut back doses day by day until you’re completely off the drugs or you’re back to the regular dose.

Some severe cases of depression, anxiety, or panic disorders may require the use of the drugs to manage and balance their moods and mania. Seek professional help if you feel you are addicted, and accept the help of friends and loved ones when they tell you they see the signs.

Benzodiazepine Abuse Prevention

The best way to prevent benzodiazepine misuse or abuse of any prescribed medication is to stick to the instructions on the prescription. Do not change your dosage without the doctor’s permission. Avoid alcohol or any other inhibiting drugs while you are taking benzodiazepine. And don’t take other people’s medicine. Another action people can take is to request a lower dosage from the doctor and learn to recognize your symptoms and triggers so you won’t need to pop a pill. You can also seek alternative methods to treat your symptoms, like exercise, yoga, and other forms of therapy, and cut back on the drugs completely if possible. Use the medication as a last resort and in the worst case scenarios.

The power is in your hands. If you are proactive, take your meds like your supposed to, attend therapy, doctor’s visits, exercise, change your diet and adjust your lifestyle so that drug abuse won’t be an issue. If you are in a situation where the pain is so bad you feel as if you have to take some type of the drug, then you should definitely take action to relieve the pain. The key is to not be distracted by the pain to the point you don’t focus on getting better. It’s easy to look for that easy fix of a pill instead of working in other ways to feel better. Reading a book and taking a walk can calm the nerves just as easy as a pill sometimes.

High-stress lifestyles and highly demanding jobs push some people to the limit. Money, relationships, traumatic events, or just a chemical imbalance can all trigger bad feelings and behaviors. Depression and anxiety affect millions of people worldwide and there’s no shame or stigma in receiving treatment or taking medication. Just make sure you follow prescription instructions, go see the doctor if the medication’s not working, go see the doctor if it’s too strong and make sure to follow up with the doctor during treatment to check your progress. Don’t self-diagnose if you can see a doctor.

Also, ensure you take advantage of the resources offered within the community and by your provider. These are long-term diseases that need long-term maintenance. Benzodiazepines are meant to be a temporary fix to a problem while you establish a long-term management plan. Seek alternative methods to treat your depression or anxiety symptoms so you won’t become dependent on any drug. You’ll have options and create a healthy environment so you can live a long, happy life. Pills aren’t the be all and end all, but if you need one take it, and if you don’t then leave it alone. You’ll be surprised how happy and relieved you’ll be when the day comes that you don’t need the pills anymore.

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Last Reviewed:
September 25, 2017
Last Updated:
November 15, 2017
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