Benzodiazepine Addiction

Research-based Brain Science

Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment

Even though benzodiazepines can help relieve certain anxiety disorders, becoming addicted to these kinds of drugs can be more dangerous to the patient than the disorder itself.

As anxiety disorders in the United States continue to rise, the use of benzodiazepines, a type of medication prescribed to help calm and reduce anxiety, has also continued to rise. Generally, doctors prescribe benzodiazepines for short-term use. But when benzodiazepines are used for longer periods of time, they start to interfere with the brain’s reward system and delicate chemical balance, which can lead to addiction.

Using benzodiazepines recreationally or taking them more frequently or in larger doses than your doctors intended can cause:

  • Mental confusion
  • Memory issues
  • Slurred speech
  • Depression
  • Tremors

Luckily, an addiction to benzodiazepines can be treated. Here’s what you need to know about benzodiazepines, how they can lead to addiction, and how an addiction to these drugs can be treated.

Benzodiazepines, known recreationally as “benzos,” are psychoactive medications doctors prescribe to people living with severe anxiety and insomnia. Psychoactive drugs are chemical substances that can alter your perception, mood, and behavior. Even though there are more than a dozen different kind of benzodiazepines with different purposes, the most popular medical uses for benzodiazepines include:

  • Insomnia
  • Epilepsy
  • Severe anxiety
  • Panic disorders
  • Muscle relaxation

Benzodiazepines fall into 1 of 2 categories. They can be:

  • Hypnotic, which are shorter-acting benzodiazepines. Usually, doctors prescribe these drugs to treat sleeping problems such as insomnia. Short-acting benzodiazepines, like Ativan and Xanax, don’t stay in the body long. In fact, sometimes these benzodiazepines are only present in the body for a few hours.
  • Anxiolytics are longer-acting benzodiazepines. Typically, medical professionals prescribe these drugs for anxiety-related conditions. Long-lasting benzodiazepines such as Valium and Librium tend to stay in the body for several hours.

Even though benzodiazepines are usually prescribed by doctors, they are also used recreationally. When they are used illegally, benzodiazepines may be referred to as “nerve pills,” “tranks,” “downers,” “V’s,” and “Z bars.”

Some of the commonly abused benzodiazepines include:

  • Xanax
  • Valium
  • Klonopin
  • Ativan
  • Librium
  • Halcion
  • Restoril

Addiction happens when people misuse benzodiazepines. This might look like buying benzos illegally, consuming the medication in large amounts, or taking the drug for an extended amount of time. The reasons for misuse can vary from person to person, but addiction to benzodiazepines begins in the brain.

Benzodiazepines affect a group of cells in the brain called inhibitory neurons. These cells make sure that the brain doesn’t produce an excessive amount of dopamine. When individuals over-consume benzodiazepines, these cells stop working as well, which allows the brain to produce more dopamine than it needs. This spike in dopamine makes us feel extremely happy and excited. Dopamine also helps determine our habits and routines. As the brain becomes accustomed to the high levels of dopamine, the brain gets tricked into thinking that it needs dopamine in order to function properly.

When this happens, people abusing benzodiazepines:

  • Feel worse when they don’t have the drug in their system
  • Take more of the drug to “feel better”
  • Tend to feel like they need more of the drug to feel any of its calming effects

Unfortunately, this increases their risk of addiction.

Benzodiazepines also affect the extended amygdala, the part of the brain that experiences stress, anxiety, and discomfort. The more benzodiazepines individuals consume, the more sensitive this part of the brain becomes. This is what causes the withdrawal symptoms that compel people to want to take more benzodiazepines.

When individuals continue to take benzodiazepines, the substance starts to interfere with the prefrontal cortex, the brain region responsible for planning, decision making, self-control, and discipline. As the extended amygdala becomes increasingly sensitive, individuals start to experience even more stress and discomfort when they’re not taking benzodiazepines.

Unfortunately, a weakened prefrontal cortex makes people less likely to control their impulses, opening the door to addiction.

Signs and Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Abuse

Recognizing the signs of benzodiazepine addiction can be confusing. Luckily, there are a few indicators that can be used to pinpoint benzodiazepine misuse and abuse.

Some physical symptoms that can occur with benzodiazepine abuse include:

Prolonged benzodiazepine abuse can cause psychological symptoms such as:

  • Amnesia
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Vivid or disturbing dreams

Individuals struggling with benzo addiction might also behave differently. They might:

  • Isolate themselves from friends and family members
  • Lie to get more “prescriptions” or steal medication from friends or family members
  • Miss work or school to consume more benzodiazepines
  • Spend a lot of time and money on obtaining more benzodiazepines

Luckily, recognizing these signs and symptoms can help individuals get the treatment they need.

Enrolling in a professional treatment program like the ones we offer at StoneRidge Centers is the best way to treat benzodiazepine addiction. Doing so allows medical professionals and clinical therapists to determine the severity of an individual’s addiction. Professional behavioral health experts can also look for and identify any co-occurring disorders that may need to be treated. Once you’ve enrolled in a professional rehabilitation program and medical professionals have determined your specific recovery needs, overcoming a benzo addiction typically includes:

  • Detoxification, which clears the body of any harmful and addictive substances
  • Inpatient or outpatient treatment based on individuals’ specific needs
  • Behavioral therapy which can help people identify and change harmful thoughts, overcome distressing emotions, and heal from trauma
  • Individual and group counseling
  • Peer support groups which help support individuals emotionally and socially
  • Aftercare support to help individuals transition back into day-to-day life

At StoneRidge, we take a different approach to recovery. Since addiction originates in the brain, we focus on restoring the brain back to an optimal level of health. By doing so, we can help you:

  • Overcome addiction challenges
  • Learn new, healthier coping strategies
  • Improve your mental and emotional health
  • Regain control of your life

Let us help you get there. Contact us today if you’re ready to overcome addiction and live a thriving, less distressing sober life.

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