What are benzodiazepines?
A benzodiazepine (or benzo) is a drug prescribed by doctors primarily as a tranquilizer to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Benzos may also used to treat other conditions, including insomnia, seizures, depression, and for general anesthesia before surgery.
The common names for anti-anxiety prescription drugs like these include:
These kinds of drugs are also known as "downers", a colloquial term for depressants, which are substances that lead to decreased mental or physical activity.
How do you know if you're addicted to a benzodiazepine?
It's important to understand that those who take drugs like Valium and Xanax exactly as prescribed, can become addicted without realizing it. Over 3 million people in the U.S. use tranquilizer prescription drugs like Valium and Xanax medically, and even more abuse them.
Physical signs of abuse include:
- Drowsiness and lethargy
- Amnesia and/or other memory problems
- Nausea, dizziness, and muscle weakness
- Dilated eyes, and double vision or blurred vision
- Lowered libido (loss of interest in sex)
Heavy users may show even more severe physical symptoms, such as hallucinations, aggression, seizures, loss of bladder control, tremors, and suicidal thoughts.
One way to know whether you're addicted to prescription drugs like these is if you've built up a tolerance to them, meaning it requires more of the substance to get a similar effect to first use. Addicts will often also undergo withdrawal when they stop taking the drug. For example, some people will experience seizures and convulsions if they were a heavy user of a benzodiazepine and aren't properly tapered off the drug with medical detox.
When someone develops a prescription drug addiction, they tend to become obsessive about getting access to the substance. The National Institutes of Health reports that other signs of this kind of drug addiction include frequently switching doctors or healthcare providers, falsifying prescriptions, and/or using multiple pharmacies.
The NIH also warns against the common misconception that prescription medicines are safer than illegal drugs like heroin or cocaine. In fact, when prescription medications like benzodiazepines are abused and not taken as prescribed, they can pose serious and potentially deadly health risks, including drug overdose.
What are the risks of benzodiazepine addiction?
Benzodiazepines can cause amnesia, making it hard for people to remember details in important conversations, or tasks they need to accomplish. They sometimes develop cognitive issues that make it hard for them to form words (or remember the correct ones). They often appear tired and sluggish, lacking the drive and energy necessary to function in everyday life.
It's common for this kind of addiction to affect nearly every part of a person's life. Those addicted may have problems at school or work, since they often miss it because they don't feel well. If they stop having access to the drug for whatever reason, they may also want to skip school or work because they're experiencing withdrawal symptoms. The addiction can put a severe strain on the person's relationships, causing marital problems and difficulties with friends and family. Many addicts have financial problems, often due to spending more and more money on the substance.
Benzos impair one's ability to reason correctly and also reduce inhibitions, so someone abusing the drug can suffer loss of judgment. S/he could then choose to mix a prescription drug (like Valium) with alcohol or another drug, which could result in coma or even death. Combining drugs is very dangerous, since effects can compound on each other. For example, alcohol and benzodiazepines both slow breathing; if taken together, they can slow down a person's breathing to the point where they die.
When users don't have access to their preferred drug (like Xanax or Valium), they'll often start taking other drugs, reinforcing the addiction cycle. Bottom line: Someone who is addicted to one of these drugs will find that their life starts to revolve around getting, having, and using the drug.
It's important to remember that for an addict, consuming drugs is compulsive. It's not something in their control (even if it started out as within their control). No one is "bad" or "wrong" for being addicted; they need help. And not getting it can be life-threatening.
What is rehab?
Rehab, short for rehabilitation, is about support and recovery from addiction. Drug rehab and treatment centers keep records confidential, and offer both inpatient and outpatient services. When it comes to recovery, depending on the severity of the addiction, an inpatient drug rehab center may be the best option.
The first step at an inpatient drug rehab center is often medical detox, which can last anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks. Heavy users are particularly in need of professional medical help while ridding their body of the substance or substances on which they've become dependent, since they've built up a tolerance and are likely to experience withdrawal.
Without structured support, detox symptoms can be agonizing and sometimes deadly. Inpatient drug rehab treatment centers are well equipped to help manage symptoms and keep people safe and comfortable as they detox and go through withdrawal.
After detox, you begin therapy. Depending on the rehab facility and program, you may have a combination of individual and group therapy. In individual therapy, you meet with a licensed mental health professional who can guide you through the steps necessary to better understand your situation and how to recover. This, alongside peer-based group therapy, is viewed as one of the best treatment options for drug addiction.
Group therapy allows people to share their struggles with one another in a safe environment, and to connect with those who've been through similar situations. Many report group therapy as an enlightening and uplifting experience. It allows for the opportunity for healing and growth in a truly non-judgmental setting.
A brighter future
Drug addiction doesn't go away on its own, and being an addict can be exhausting. For many of those affected, life becomes a battle, a desperate search for safety and comfort while simultaneously feeling anxious or out of control. The cycle of addiction can trigger depressive episodes, anxiety and sometimes even suicidal thoughts. Drug addiction almost always harms not only one's physical health, but one's career, close relationships, and future.
At its core, drug rehab is a chance to turn your life around. If you or someone you love needs help, know that you're not alone. Millions have been through the same struggle and come out the other side. With the right support and care, you are fully capable of leading a healthy, happy, and meaningful life.
The sooner you or a loved one can get help, the better.