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Benzodiazepine Abuse

What is a Benzodiazapine?

A benzodiazepine is a psychoactive sedative used in medicine to treat a variety of disorders, with the most common being anxiety, insomnia, muscle tension, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Generally approved for short-term use, benzodiazepines are used in severe cases of the above, mostly due to its addictive qualities.

The FDA has not approved benzodiazepines in long term use of any disorder, as its addictive potential is too high, and the withdrawal symptoms are too harsh. A list of common benzodiazepines are lorazepam, alprazolam, chlordiazepoxide, clonazepam, and diazepam. Benzodiazepines are classified as immediate-acting, short-acting, and long-acting. Short and immediate-acting benzodiazepines are often used in the treatment of seizures and insomnia, while the long-acting are reserved for anxiety disorders.

Benzodiazepine Dependency

Benzodiazepines have a high risk of causing a dependency to develop. Addiction is classified by both a psychological and physical dependency upon a drug. Although dependency may develop amongst prescribed users, addiction generally only develops amongst recreational users. The most common abusers of benzodiazepines are those who also abuse other drugs. Poly-substance abusers are in great danger while using benzodiazepines, as the depression of the nervous system may be fatal in combination with other drugs.

Benzodiazepines can cause many negative side effects, especially after prolonged use. The long term effects of benzodiazepines may be irreversible in some cases. Studies have showed users experience memory impairment, decreased cognitive function, and loss of sex drive for years after ceasing benzodiazepine abuse.

As a person develops a psychological dependency upon the euphoria and sedation created by benzodiazepines, tolerance builds, and a physical dependency takes shape. A physical dependency is the body's reaction to having a constant intake of benzodiazepines. The lack of benzodiazepines in the brain can cause serious withdrawal symptoms, and death if untreated.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal and Detox

Withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Pain
  • Nausea

More severe withdrawal symptoms may include:
  • Terror
  • Panic attacks
  • Respiratory depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Severe depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Convulsions and delirium tremens.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal is very similar in appearance to alcohol withdrawal. Both substances affect the GABA receptors. Like alcohol, benzodiazepine withdrawal may be fatal if not treated appropriately.

The first step towards a sober lifestyle is admitting yourself to a medical detox facility. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be life-threatening and psychologically and physically painful. At a detox facility, doctors may prescribe a longer acting benzodiazepine such as Librium or Valium in order to ease withdrawal symptoms. The doctors are trained to make the withdrawal process as painless as it can be.

Detox is a great way to rid your body of substances, but further treatment is generally required if the individual wishes to remain sober. Inpatient and outpatient treatment centers offer cognitive-behavioral therapy and possible twelve step involvement in order to point the recovering addict in the right direction. Transitional living houses have also proved to be helpful, as most addicts require continual progress in order to maintain their sobriety.




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