Benzodiazepine Abuse & Addiction

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a type of prescription medicines that work by depressing the central nervous system. They can treat anxiety and seizures primarily because the work to calm the excessive nerve activity in the brain that leads to these conditions. They also enhance the effects of GABA in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for how the brain nerves send messages to one another.

Essentially benzodiazepines can reduce brain activity, so if you suffer from panic disorder as an example, it can help calm down those messages that contribute to this issue and leave you feeling calmer.

In addition to anxiety and panic disorders, benzos are used to treat seizures, muscle spasms, sleep problems, and the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. They may also be used to sedate patients during surgery. They’re helpful to address different types of anxiety including generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder.

Some of the most common and recognizable names of benzos include Xanax and Valium, and this class of drugs is one of the most prescribed in the U.S. In the past, there have been more than 2,000 different types of benzodiazepines produced, but currently, only around 15 are approved for use by the FDA. Some of the short-acting benzos include Ativan and Xanax, while longer-acting benzos include Librium and Valium.

Benzodiazepine Addiction

Understanding Benzodiazepine Addiction and Benzodiazepine Abuse

While benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed, widely used and do have some therapeutic benefits, people often wonder are they addictive? The short answer is yes.

Benzodiazepines are commonly abused and there are two primary reasons they are. The first is the effects they can have, including the feeling of deep relaxation and sedation they can create. They are also very widely available in Colorado and around the country, and that extensive availability increases the likelihood of abuse.

There are a few different situations where benzos might be abused. The first can be chronic abuse where someone depends on them to feel normal after taking them for a certain period of time. There’s also situations where people aren’t necessarily taking them chronically, but they may take a large amount at one time, or they may pair them with other substances like alcohol or opioids, and this can lead to overdose or death.

Some of the signs of benzodiazepine addiction or someone that has taken high doses of these drugs can include drowsiness, confusion, dizziness, blurred vision, speech problems, coordination problems, or even breathing problems or coma.

Signs of a long-term problem with benzos are similar to what’s seen with other drug abuse problems. For example, people may start to lose interest in relationships, their career or school. They may withdraw and spend much of their time focusing on getting more of the drug. Many of the signs of benzo abuse are lifestyle and behavioral in nature.

Why Are Benzodiazepines Addictive?

For people in Colorado including Denver, Palmer Lake, Colorado Springs and Denver, benzo abuse is a significant problem. This isn’t just the case in Colorado, but it is true around the country, so why is it that this class of drugs is so addictive?

The reason benzos are addictive is similar to why opioids are addictive, and as many people in Colorado already know, opioids have created an addiction epidemic.

When someone takes benzos, it causes a surge in the levels of dopamine in their brain, and a lot of the activity of benzos on the brain is related to the activation of GABA receptors. The stimulation of the brain’s reward mechanisms is what creates the addiction cycle in the brain of users, and it all comes back to spikes in dopamine. Along with being similar to the effects of opioids, the effects of benzodiazepines are also similar to what happens when someone takes cannabinoids or GHB.

Any addictive drug, including benzos, cause long-term changes in the reward system of your brain.

Benzodiazepine Addiction Statistics

Researchers, medical professionals, and lawmakers have been looking at benzodiazepine addiction statistics in Colorado including Denver, Colorado Springs, and Boulder, as well as statewide. It’s also something being looked at nationwide as the problem grows.

A few important benzodiazepine addictions statistics relevant not just to Colorado but the country include:

  • Benzodiazepine prescriptions rose by around 12.5 percent between 2002 and 2009
  • Alprazolam prescriptions (Xanax) in 2011 totaled 49 million
  • In Colorado, benzo-related deaths have gone up sharply, with the National Institute of Drug Abuse Colorado reporting death rates have doubled from 2003 to 2012
  • Benzos are most dangerous when they’re mixed with other substances including prescription painkillers and alcohol
  • Many people who are prescribed benzos don’t realize they have the potential for abuse and addiction
  • According to the U.S. FDA, using doses of Xanax that total 4 mg per day for longer than 12 weeks increases the chances of developing a physical dependence, which means you’ll need more of the drug to get the same desired effects

So, to sum up, what are benzodiazepines? They are a class of drugs that are very commonly prescribed for symptoms of anxiety and panic disorders, and they act to calm the nerve activity of the brain. Some of the most regularly prescribed and also abused benzos include Valium and Xanax, and they are addictive because of the ways they affect the chemistry of the brain.

In Colorado including the cities of Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs and statewide, benzo abuse and addiction is a tremendous problem, and there has been a spike in overdose deaths related to these drugs in the last few years. This is particularly true when people combine benzos with other substances like alcohol or prescription pain medicines.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.