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The Addictive Effects of Benzodiazepines

The Addictive Effects of Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are powerful drugs that create both physical and psychological addictions

Countless people have relieved psychological symptoms by using benzodiazepines, a relatively new medication. Casually known as benzos, these drugs sedate the brain by enhancing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). In moderate doses, this drug can cause the following effects:

  • Sleep induction
  • Anxiety relief
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Anticonvulsant effects

Benzodiazepines were first developed in the 1950s. The first such drug, chlordiazepoxide (brand name Librium), was first sold in 1960, and it was followed in 1963 by the development of Valium, one of the most popular and potentially dangerous medications of the last 50 years. Over the following decades, various drug companies slightly modified the formulation of benzos, which enhanced different effects or worked at different levels of intensity. The following benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed today:

  • Clonazepam
  • Diazepam
  • Chlordiazepoxide
  • Oxazepam
  • Lorazepam
  • Midazolam

In higher doses, these drug can cause amnesia, intense disassociation (out-of-body sensations), unconsciousness or even death. However, generally speaking, careful administration of these drugs can treat anxiety-related psychological disorders and sleeplessness. Unfortunately, long-term or high level drug use presents a high risk for dependence, tolerance and overdose.

Many people abuse benzos, especially people who abuse multiple substances. Many people seek out the dissociative effects or they use the drug to manage withdrawal symptoms that are common results of substance abuse and addiction. Some of these people become dependent upon the drugs after they use them once under a legitimate prescription. Unfortunately, when they attempt to stop using the drug, they experience a resurgence of anxiety and panic.

Physical Addiction to Benzodiazepines

Whether caused by a traumatic event, a genetic predisposition or recreational drug abuse, psychological disorders are usually related to the amount of natural chemicals in the brain and how effectively the brain uses those chemicals. Ideally, the drug balances out proper brain function long enough for people to manage their distress through counseling and behavioral changes. However, in many cases, the brain becomes physically dependent upon the drug to function properly. To complicate the issue, most users develop a tolerance to benzos very rapidly, which means that, while the drug may work on a psychological level, the intoxicating high will fade from the first time someone uses a drug. In response, people who seek a high will take larger or more frequent doses as their tolerance grows. Many of them eventually combine benzos with alcohol or other drugs to intensify the intoxicating effects. As the brain adapts to higher and higher doses of these substances, the body stops producing its own natural neurotransmitters. Thus, if a user stops taking the drug, then she will experience a range of potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. The following physical withdrawal symptoms are commonly connected to benzodiazepine addiction:

  • The return of whichever symptoms the drug was being used to treat
  • Pain throughout the muscles, joints and bones
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other flu-like symptoms
  • Insomnia
  • Intense headache
  • Seizures
  • Coma

It is dangerous to detox alone, as these withdrawal symptoms can be deadly. Medically supervised detox allows doctors to use specific medications to reduce the withdrawal symptoms until the body readjusts its natural chemical balance. This process can take anywhere from three days to two weeks.

Psychological Addiction to Benzodiazepines

The psychological effects of benzodiazepine addiction are even more powerful than the physical symptoms. A region in the prefrontal cortex of the brain is responsible for the following psychological functions:

  • Waking and sleeping
  • Motivation and delaying gratification
  • Impulse control
  • Sexual function
  • Appetite and eating
  • Mood regulation
  • Memory function

Anxiety problems directly impact this same part of the brain, but benzodiazepines relieve the symptoms of those disorders, which relieves and comforts users. The brain recognizes that relief and how the drug helped, so it will use the following tools to encourage drug abuse:

  • Obsession
  • Justification
  • Selective memory (only thinking of the relief, not the consequences)
  • Feelings of powerlessness against the drug
  • Shifting blame
  • Procrastination

Many people do not realize that this part of the brain can direct behavior more powerfully than conscious thought or will can, so it is incredibly difficult to stay off of benzos, even when someone wants to. The main psychological symptoms may pass in a matter of weeks, but the neural pathways that reinforce drug use will remain for months or even years. Ergo, a critical part of recovery is to learn what triggers your cravings and to learn how to cope with them.

Treating Benzo Addiction

It is extremely difficult, often impossible, to quit using benzodiazepines without specialized help. In addition to managing the detox process, qualified rehab programs comprehensively address all aspects of their clients’ health. They develop unique and fully integrated treatment regimens for each patient to deal with the addiction and the underlying disorder that fuels it. Through counseling, education and skill-development, millions of people have found lasting freedom from benzodiazepine dependence.

Call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline right now for immediate, confidential advice. Our admissions coordinators can help you with everything from insurance issues and logistical support to connecting you with the best treatment programs for your specific needs. Benzo addiction is serious business, but we can help, so call now for instant, professional support.

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