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What are benzodiazepines, and how do they work?

Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants and prescribed to millions of Americans to treat a variety of conditions.  These drugs act on the central nervous system and affect specific receptors in the brain. The drugs attached to these receptors in the brain making them less sensitive to stimulation, essentially they create a calming effect.  Benzos are often prescribed to treat alcohol withdrawal, anxiety, act as a muscle relaxant, and are used to prevent seizures. There are many different brands of benzodiazepines on the market. There are differences between the drugs, and they differ in how quickly they start working and how long they continue to work.  Individuals who abuse benzodiazepines often know this and will find the type of drugs that meet their addiction needs.  

Valium is a widely-recognized brand and has a fast onset of action, and the user will feel the effects within 30 to 60 minutes.  Xanax and Ativan are intermediate-acting drugs and have a duration of action lasting 11 to 20 hours. Librium is a long-acting agent with a duration of action of one to three days, and others such as Halcion are short-acting agents with a duration of action of three to eight hours.  When these drugs are prescribed, they are all used interchangeably. Addicts who are abusing benzos do so in ways that speed up the effects such as chewing the drug or crushing it and snorting it, or even going as far as injecting the substance. There are many common side effects of benzodiazepine abuse and use.  The initial side effects include sedation, dizziness, weakness, and unsteadiness, which is why these drugs are dangerous to use while operating a vehicle.  

Other side effects include transient drowsiness, which is experienced during the first few days of treatment.  People who abuse benzos will experience a feeling of depression, loss of orientation, headaches, and sleep disturbances.  The abuse of these drugs also creates irritability, aggression, excitement, and memory impairment. All brands of benzodiazepines cause physical dependence creating painful withdrawal symptoms.  The withdrawal symptoms include a feeling of loss of self-worth, agitation, and insomnia. The long-term use of benzodiazepines causes a dependency so severe the withdrawal effects can include seizures, tremors, muscle cramping, vomiting, and sweating.  Benzo addiction is a problem throughout the nation, and millions of Americans are prescribed these drugs and become addicted to them.  

Most benzo addicts do not realize there is a problem, especially if his or her addiction started with a prescription for the drugs.  Most families who have a loved one addicted to benzos have to do an intervention to help them understand the importance of treatment.  The proper treatment approach is crucial for someone who is addicted to benzodiazepines. The treatment process will start with medical detox, and long-term inpatient care is always best for severe drug addiction.

Why is it dangerous to use benzodiazepines with alcohol?

Mixing drugs, whether they are legal drugs or illegal drugs, have numerous detrimental effects physically and psychologically.  A standard method of drug use involves the combination of alcohol and benzodiazepines. Alcohol is one of the most widely used substances in the United States, and alcohol is a central nervous system depressant.  However, small amounts of alcohol act as a stimulant, but as you continue to drink, you will feel the sedative effects. Alcohol has a significant impact on the central nervous system, and heavy alcohol use is associated with numerous adverse effects.  Millions of Americans are users of alcohol, which includes heavy drinking and binge drinking.   

Benzodiazepines make up a broader category of medications and are widely prescribed throughout the nation.  These drugs represent one of the most often prescribed drugs in the United States. Benzodiazepines are also a central nervous system depressant and can have strong sedative effects.  Some of the common brand names include Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, and Restoril. Prescription benzodiazepines are not meant for long-term use, but millions of Americans use these drugs for longer than required.  When benzos are abused; however, they are often not the primary drug of choice and are often abused in conjunction with other drugs. The most common drug used with benzos is alcohol, and most overdoses resulting in hospital room emergency visits are because of this combination.  

Addicts use benzos and alcohol together because it enhances the effects of one of the drugs.  Most drug users are under the impression that using prescription medications with other drugs is safe, such as using alcohol with prescriptions or illicit drugs.  Alcohol is readily available and sold throughout the United States and easily purchased by those of age. People who struggle with an alcohol abuse problem experience enhanced psychoactive effects from benzodiazepines.  When mixing two central nervous system depressants, the action results in the enhancement of the effects of both drugs. The effects of both drugs are increased significantly, compared to the use of either drug alone. There is a significant increase in overdose when two CNS depressants are mixed.  An overdose on either drug is severe and even life-threatening. Overdose can cause significant organ damage and brain damage due to a lack of oxygen as both drugs suppress breathing. 

When benzos and alcohol are used together, the amount of alcohol needed to cause an overdose is significantly reduced.  Alcohol is also metabolized faster in the body and metabolized first before the benzos, which means benzos remain in the body for longer.  The combination of these drugs also causes an increased reduction in cognition, decreased physical reactions, increased side effect-potential and an increased potential for unpredictable side effects.  The unforeseen side effects of using benzos and alcohol together are the most significant risk and one that leads to overdose resulting in death.

How can you tell if someone is addicted to benzodiazepines?

Recognizing a benzodiazepine addiction is not easy because the prescription status of these drugs deflects the attention from the visible warning signs of abuse.  Benzos are prescribed to millions of Americans, and recognizing the signs of misuse is the crucial first step in getting someone help. An addiction to benzos happens quickly, and most misuse problems start with prescriptions.  Benzodiazepines are often not meant for long-term or regular use; however, these drugs are commonly misused. The long-term use of benzodiazepines causes dependency, tolerance, and addiction. Drug dependence develops when the body has a tolerance for the effects of the drugs.  The drug users are required to keep a certain amount of the drug in the body to avoid withdrawal symptoms. However, family and friends need to recognize the signs before the drug problem becomes worse.

Some of the physical signs of benzodiazepine addiction include sweating, drowsiness, shallow breathing, slurred speech, impaired coordination, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.  The immediate side effects of benzo abuse include mental confusion, anxiety, blurred vision, headaches, forgetfulness, irritability, and fatigue. Many of these symptoms become worse with long-term use and abuse of the drug.  Some of the long-term effects include impaired concentration and memory, drowsiness, increased reaction time, loss of coordination, and even amnesia. Most drug users abusing benzodiazepines have suffered from permanent cognitive defects, depression, anxiety, and a loss of coordination.  Drug-seeking behavior is the most significant indicator because someone who is addicted to prescription drugs actively seeks out new ways to fill the prescription.   

Recognizing the signs of benzodiazepine addiction is the first step when wanting to intervene early.  Once a prescription for the medication has expired, and the individual is still obsessed with getting the drug, this is a clear sign there is a problem.  Someone who is addicted to benzodiazepines may even swipe another person’s medications, or start to forge prescriptions. Within is the United States, it is easy to purchase benzodiazepines illegally, such as through street-level drug dealers or illegal online pharmacies.  An addiction to benzos involves talking more of the drug and using it over a longer duration of time. Addicts spend significant time getting and using the drug, and then recovering from extensive benzo use. Because of dependence on benzodiazepines, there are withdrawal symptoms, and the drug user requires more of the drug to meet the tolerance.  A benzo addict will exhibit impaired performance at home, work, and at school and will begin to neglect responsibilities in life. Detox and drug rehabilitation is the only way to help a benzo addict overcome his or her addiction.

Can you become addicted to benzodiazepines with a prescription from a prescribing doctor?

Yes, most benzodiazepine addictions start from a prescription that was misused or taken for longer than needed.  Benzodiazepines are a type of central nervous system depressant and produce a calming effect causing the drug user to feel more relaxed.  These drugs are highly addictive, and someone who uses them for longer than needed will become physically dependent on the drugs. Some of the symptoms of abuse include weakness, blurred vision, drowsiness, poor judgment, doctor shopping, asking friends or family for the drug, and mood changes.  Typically, benzos are prescribed for as-needed short-term use; however, millions of Americans are addicted to these drugs. Benzodiazepines are one of the most widely abused prescription drugs within the United States. Because of the natural process of developing a tolerance to the effects of the drug, drug users become addicted quickly.  When they stop using the drug they experience intense withdrawal symptoms. Benzo withdrawal has the potential to become dangerous or even life-threatening.  

Benzodiazepines are also made up of prescription tranquilizers, and there are many different brands of benzos prescribed for various reasons.  Benzodiazepines are prescribed for insomnia, seizures, muscle relaxation, anxiety, and as part of a treatment plan for alcohol use disorder during medical detox.  Some of the brand names include Ativan, Xanax, Librium, Klonopin, and Valium. Most doctors will not prescribe benzos to someone who is addicted to them. However, addicts do find ways to fool doctors and get more than one prescription for the drug.  Drug monitoring program in various states has made it hard to doctor shop. Yet, someone who is addicted to benzos will find a way to get the drug illegally. The abuse of benzodiazepines can lead to taking the drug in higher volume over a more extended period than first intended.  Drug users will spend considerable time getting the drug, using it, and recovering from its effects. When the drug is not in the system, or they are not using the drug, they will experience withdrawal pain.  

Gradually because of the tolerance to the effects of the drug, the drug user will need more to achieve the desired results.  When someone becomes addicted to drugs, they will withdraw from family and friends and other responsibilities. Drug users engage in risky behavior because of their addiction, and drastic shifts in mood are seen.  Most doctors recognize the signs of addiction and will not prescribe benzos to someone who is addicted. It is essential for the family to be aware of the danger, and keep these drugs out of reach. Other preventative measures include disposing of unused medication because when someone is addicted to benzos, they will typically get more drugs from family or friends.

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