Why Are Benzodiazepines So Addictive?


Anxiety Disorders top the list of mental health issues in this country. It’s estimated that over 40 million people, or one in five, suffer from this condition. Panic and anxiety can be severe enough to make you feel you’re having a heart attack, so many people end up in the emergency room. 

If you go to the doctor for such a condition, they will offer you a cocktail of medications to get it under control. They will use things like hydroxyzine, antidepressants, and benzodiazepine drugs. They often use a combination to get things under control, but the problem is that your body becomes accustomed to these drugs. Most benzodiazepines are habit-forming. 

What are Benzodiazepines? 

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that significantly impact the central nervous system. Their main benefit is that they alter specific receptors in the brain, called GABA-A. The medication binds with these receptors and calms the nerves. 

This causes you to have a calming effect as your brain isn’t stimulated by anxiety, panic attacks, or other ailments. These medications have replaced the old-school hypnotics and barbiturates which doctors commonly used for their sedative effect. 

Frequently Prescribed Benzos

Though more than 15 medications fall into this class, there are only four commonly prescribed by doctors today. Here are the most popular benzos and their generic equivalent:

  • Klonopin – Clonazepam
  • Xanax – Alprazolam
  • Ativan – Lorazepam
  • Valium – Diazepam

While many doctors have become leery of prescribing such medications due to their habit-forming nature, there are still many that offer these as a course of treatment. The risk of overdose is more significant as you build a tolerance to these drugs, and benzodiazepine addiction is real. 

As you take this drug, your body becomes immune to its effects, and you will need more to produce the same feelings of calm. It’s estimated that it only takes 30 days to form a dependency, so it’s a risk to take these medications long-term. 

Medical Uses for Benzodiazepines

The most common reason for prescribing benzos is for anxiety disorders, but there are many other uses. They are used for seizures, sleep disorders, muscle spasms, and alcohol withdrawal. Some doctors may use them for off-label conditions not listed. 

Benzodiazepines and the Brain

How does a benzodiazepine affect your brain? When you take the medication, it causes the neurotransmitter dopamine to surge within. A change occurs in the cells that produce dopamine, making them more malleable. 

Some people note a euphoric feeling, specifically with drugs like valium or Xanax. These feelings become so dangerous to some individuals, specifically those who have addiction issues or are predisposed genetically to them. These drugs destroy the inhibitory neurons that downplay the neurons firing abilities, which occurs in the ventral tegmental area. 

Limiting these cells causes a flood of dopamine. These surges might be temporary, but the feeling is enough to cause you to crave more. The cells become more susceptible, and your body will desire these feelings of pleasure the drug created, and this is how tolerance and abuse of this medication become commonplace. 

Signs of Benzodiazepine Abuse

While you may enjoy the calming feeling benzos bring, their addictive nature isn’t to be downplayed. Here are some signs of the abuse of this medication, which include both physical and psychological aspects. 

  • General weakness
  • Blurred or distorted vision
  • Lethargy
  • Poor judgment 
  • Shopping for doctors
  • Asking others for pills or turning to the black market
  • Can’t cut back
  • Moody
  • Taking them with other drugs or alcohol 

Benzodiazepine Addiction & Symptoms

How do you know if you’re addicted to benzodiazepines? When you can’t go one day without this medication, it’s a sign of trouble. If you’ve become addicted to the drug, you will immediately experience withdrawal symptoms after missing even one dose. You may find you can’t leave home without them, or they become a crutch for you to lean on. 

Toxicity and Side Effects

Benzodiazepines are generally well tolerated by most people. The short-term side effects are usually as follows:

  • Sedation
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle weakness or a loss of coordination
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue

Taking the prescribed amount usually doesn’t cause an issue with toxicity. However, since the body craves more, taking over the specified amount can cause severe side effects, including seizures, coma, or even death. This is especially true when mixed with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol.

Detox and Treatment Options

The process of withdrawing from Benzos is not an easy one. In 2020 alone, more than 16 percent of the deaths of people addicted to other harmful drugs also included an addiction to benzodiazepines. This prescription sedative may be helpful for anxiety or insomnia, but the habit-forming nature cannot be denied. 

Thankfully, treatment programs specifically focus on this type of addiction. Going off these meds cold turnkey can cause some pretty severe withdrawal effects. The more you take, the harder it is to detox. However, using a facility can be beneficial help in the process. 

Getting Help for Your Addiction

Are you ready to get started and kick this Benzo addiction for good? We can help you in your journey. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions and lead you in the right direction. You don’t have to live with this addiction anymore.

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