Benzodiazepines are a group of drugs known as minor tranquilizers or sedatives. Benzodiazepines work by enhancing the effects of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA. GABA is responsible for calming effects, feelings of well-being, and it facilitates sleep. Contrary to stimulant drugs like cocaine and meth, benzodiazepines are central nervous system (CNS) depressants. Benzodiazepines are legally available by prescription only, and widely range in their strengths and lengths of action. Commonly prescribed for their sedative qualities, benzodiazepines can be used to treat:
- Anxiety and panic disorder
- Preoperative anxiety
- Alcohol detoxification
Although there are a few dozen different kinds of benzodiazepines, a small handful are most commonly prescribed, and abused by individuals seeking the effects of the drugs. The most commonly used and abused benzodiazepines are:
- (Alprazolam) Commonly known on the street as Zannies, Zanbars, School bus, Z-bars, Handlebars, Footballs, and Bicycle Parts, Xanax is a short-acting and potent benzodiazepine. Xanax is available in 0.25 mg, 0.50 mg, 1 mg, and 2 mg tablets for the immediate release formulation. Xanax XR is also available in 0.50 mg, 1 mg, 2 mg, and 3 mg tablets for all day relief of panic disorder. Since Xanax is among the most potent of commonly prescribed benzodiazepines, it is one of the preferred drugs for those who abuse benzodiazepines. Even the XR formulations of Xanax are being abused more commonly, as they contain more of the active ingredient (alprazolam). When the pills are crushed and snorted, the drug gets to the brain faster, and the higher doses of Xanax can quickly lead to respiratory depression and failure, or even death.
- (Clonazepam) On the street, Klonopin can be referred to as Tranks, K-pins, Downers, and Benzos. It is a potent and fast-acting benzodiazepine, taking its peak effects in one to four hours after administration; however, it has an unusually long half-life, lasting for 18-50 hours. Like Xanax, Klonopin is frequently abused and taken in inappropriate manners, such as crushing and snorting the pills, or dissolving them and injecting them. Klonopin is available in 0.125 mg, 0.25 mg, 0.5 mg, 1 mg, and 2 mg pills. Unlike Xanax, Klonopin is approved for medical use in children in very low doses. Also available in wafers that dissolve when placed in the mouth, Klonopin is widely available and very easy to obtain through doctors, dealers, or friends.
- (Diazepam) Valium is a long-acting, low potency benzodiazepine. Valium is widely available, but not as commonly abused as Xanax and Klonopin because of its low potency. Non-medical use of benzodiazepines often starts with Valium because it is considered by recreational users to be less dangerous. Valium is also sometimes given to nervous patients prior to a dental procedure. Valium is available in 2 mg, 5 mg, or 10 mg tablets, which also can be crushed and snorted or dissolved and injected for abuse.
- (Chlordiazepoxide) Librium is most commonly used as assistance in alcohol detoxification to reduce tension and anxiety. Relatively weak, and taking longer to reach peak effects compared to other benzodiazepines, Librium was the very first of its class to be synthesized. Librium is available in 5 mg, 10 mg, and 25 mg capsules. While these capsules can be broken and swallowed, Librium abuse is uncommon because of the higher potency and faster actions of other benzodiazepines, all of which are more common and available than Librium.
- (Lorazepam) Ativan has one of the highest addictive potentials of all benzodiazepines because of how strongly it attaches to the GABA receptors in the brain. Ativan is a potent and short-acting benzodiazepine and is specifically indicated for short-term use, up to only 4 weeks. Ativan is available in 0.5 mg, 1 mg, and 2 mg strengths.
All of the aforementioned benzodiazepines are effective drugs when used for medical purposes, but they can also be very addictive. While each benzodiazepine has its own strength and length of action, they all have similar effects on users, which include:
- Blurred vision
- Lack of balance
- Slurred speech
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle weakness
Some more serious effects of benzodiazepines can include:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Muscle spasms
- Depression of breath
- Skin rash
Signs of Benzodiazepine Addiction
Because benzodiazepines are prescription drugs, they can be obtained both legally through prescription from a doctor, or illegally through friends, associates, and dealers. No matter how benzodiazepines are obtained, they are commonly abused, which can quickly lead to addiction. Some of the most common signs of benzodiazepine addiction are as follows:
- Taking more benzodiazepines than medically necessary
- Taking benzodiazepines in unintended methods of administration (i.e. crushing and snorting or dissolving and injecting)
- Using other depressant drugs, like alcohol, painkillers, and/or heroin to enhance the effects of benzodiazepines
- Obtaining benzodiazepines through overseas online pharmacies. This is particularly dangerous because many benzodiazepines obtained through these pharmacies contain Halidol (a potent antipsychotic that may have severely adverse effects in users)
- Stealing or taking benzodiazepines from others for whom they have been prescribed
- Doctor shopping to get multiple benzodiazepine prescriptions from several different doctors
- Frequently appearing intoxicated by benzodiazepines
- Becoming angry or irate when confronted about benzodiazepine use
- Falling unconscious after benzodiazepine use
- Suffering negative consequences resulting from benzodiazepine use (i.e. legal troubles, excessive accidents, slips & falls, etc., financial troubles that are unexplained
Another common occurrence with benzodiazepine abuse and addiction is paradoxical effects, which can include:
- Increased anxiety
- Lack of inhibition
- Lack of impulse control
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal and Detox
Even when used as directed, benzodiazepines create a physical dependence when they are taken for an extended period of time. Dependence is not the same as addiction, but the effects it produces when an individual attempts to withdraw from benzodiazepines are still painful, dangerous, and potentially deadly.
When attempting to detox from benzodiazepines, it is important to always seek medical consultation and supervision, as benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Sleep disturbance
- Increased anxiety
- Muscle tension and aches
- Panic attacks
- Perceptual changes
- Psychotic reactions
When an individual attempts benzodiazepine detox, it is imperative that medical professionals are involved in the process to maintain safety and achieve complete sobriety from these drugs. Most commonly in benzodiazepine detoxification, the safest process is a slow tapering down of the amount of the drug over time. Depending on the type of benzodiazepine that an individual has been taking, the general rule is to taper 10% per day, until the drugs are completely out of the system. Without a slow tapering off of benzodiazepines, the resulting effects can be severe seizures, which can lead to stroke and possible death.
Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment
Benzodiazepines are dangerous drugs when they are abused, and once addicted, individuals are at a high risk for overdose with increased tolerance and additional depressant drug use. Without detox and follow-up treatment, benzodiazepine addiction will continue, and families will continue to be devastated by the effects of addiction.
Addiction treatment aims to provide addicts with individual and personalized therapy and courses that develop empowerment, knowledge, skills, and tools that are necessary to avoid relapse and future drug use once detoxification has been completed. Regardless of how an individual becomes addicted to benzodiazepines, the reckless and compulsive use of these drugs is dangerous and will eventually claim the life of an addict if he or she does not get help.
If you, or someone you love, are addicted to benzodiazepines, please call us and speak with a trained counselor who will work with you to find the most effective benzodiazepine detoxification and addiction treatment that will be most conducive to the individual needs, preferences, and belief systems. Detox and addiction treatment do work to help individuals overcome benzodiazepine addiction, and we can help you to find the answers to the many questions about discovering the right choice for starting the path to sobriety and recovery from addiction. Please don’t wait for benzodiazepine addiction to get worse. Call now.