Benzodiazepines, commonly referred to as benzos, are often prescribed by physicians to help relieve insomnia, anxiety disorders, and seizures.
This type of medication is also used to promote muscle relaxation and as an aid to alcohol withdrawal.
When benzos are prescribed for legitimate medical conditions and used for a short period of time, they are generally effective and safe. However, when they are taken on a long-term basis or without a prescription, an individual can develop a tolerance to the drug. Unfortunately, tolerance is often followed by dependence and abuse.
What Are Benzos?
Generally known on the street as “downers”, benzos are tranquilizers. They are also called anxiolytics or sedatives. In the United States, these types of drugs are among the most commonly prescribed medications. Familiar names include Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam).
Additional common names of Benzos include:
- Halcion (triazolam)
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
- Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
- Restoril (temazepam)
- Tranxene (clorazepate)
Although there are more than 200 types of benzodiazepines, only 15 are FDA approved for use in the United States.
How do Benzos Work?
Benzos are psychoactive drugs that act upon the body’s central nervous system (CNS). They trigger the brain to release a tranquilizing chemical that causes mild to severe depression of the nerves in the brain and creates a feeling of drowsiness. It is possible for patients to become addicted to benzos even if they are taking them in the doses prescribed.
Benzodiazepine Abuse: Signs and Symptoms
When individuals abuse benzos, the signs and symptoms vary from person to person. The reason the medication was prescribed, dosage, and length of time the individual has been taking the drug are all contributing factors. Genetic propensity towards addiction also plays a role.
The signs and symptoms of benzos abuse can be divided into four categories: cognitive, behavioral, physical, and psychological.
Cognitive Signs of Abuse
One possible cognitive symptom of benzos abuse is anterograde amnesia. According to an article in Human Memory, this type of amnesia “is the loss of the ability to create new memories, leading to a partial or complete inability to recall the recent past, even though long-term memories from before the event which caused the amnesia remain intact. Sufferers may therefore repeat comments or questions several times, for example, or fail to recognize people they met just minutes before.”
Additional cognitive signs of benzos abuse include:
- Difficulties with perception
- Feeling an increased sense of confusion
- Slowed thinking
- Difficulty paying attention
- Impaired memory
People over 65 who have ongoing use of benzodiazepines have an increased risk of dementia, according to a study published by the BMJ.
Behavioral Signs of Abuse
Sometimes individuals abusing benzos go doctor shopping. This means they go to multiple doctors to get multiple refills for benzos. They also may borrow or steal pills or money from friends or family members. Episodes of erratic or unusual behavior may become more frequent.
Other changes in behavior that could indicate signs of benzos abuse include:
- Forging prescriptions
- Poor judgment
- Decreased inhibitions, including inappropriate sexual behavior
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Taking larger doses of medication for longer periods of time
- Doing poorly at work or school
Physical Signs of Abuse
An individual suffering from benzos abuse may experience blurred or other vision problems, difficulties with motor coordination, or a slowed reaction time. They may tremble, be unsteady on their feet, or have slurred speech.
Other physical signs of benzos abuse include:
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Uncontrollable, rapid eye movement (nystagmus)
- Stomach cramps, nausea, or vomiting
- Muscle weakness, body aches, or unexplained pain
- Vertigo or dizziness
Psychological Signs of Abuse
Benzos abuse has many psychological signs and symptoms. Individuals may experience general feelings of agitation or increased anxiety. They may show hostility, irritability, or aggression.
Psychological symptoms also include:
- Mood swings or inconsistent moods
The Effects of Benzos Abuse
In addition to the signs and symptoms of benzos abuse already mentioned, the effects of prolonged use of the drug by older individuals have been associated with a higher risk of falling. According to an article in the American Family Physician, using benzodiazepines increases a senior’s risk of hip fracture by at least 50%.
Possible additional effects of benzos abuse include the following:
- Higher risk of motor vehicle accidents
- Ataxia (the loss of full control of bodily movements)
- Accidental overdose
- Self-harm or suicidal thoughts and behaviors
- Brain damage
Some people addicted to benzos take the risk of combining them with opioids or alcohol. These combinations can lead to difficulty breathing, coma, or death.
Getting Help for a Benzos Addiction
A national study published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) showed that admissions for benzodiazepine abuse treatment tripled from 1998 to 2008, which was the most recent year with available statistics. As the drug epidemic continues to increase, so do the number of people addicted to benzos.
If you or a loved one are suffering with an addiction to benzodiazepines, the staff at Canyon Vista Recovery Center in Mesa, Arizona can help. Call today to learn how we provide residents with the tools they need to become sober and live a healthy, drug free life.