Discover Recovery's Blog

Discover Recovery's Blog

Benzodiazepines

Another highly addictive type of substance is benzodiazepines (also called “benzos”).  Benzos are a type of CNS depressant. Pills are the most common form, but injectable benzos also exist. They’re primarily prescribed for anxiety disorders and panic attacks. Some people use them to treat nausea, vomiting, seizures, and insomnia, too.  Benzos are also helpful during surgery.  They’re a standard ingredient in surgery preparation and general anesthesia. 

The Rising Popularity of Benzodiazepines

Benzos began to rise in popularity in the 1990s. They replaced barbiturates as the preferred treatment for anxiety and insomnia. This was because they had less side effects and worked better. But that doesn’t mean they have no side effects. Like most substances, benzos do have negative effects.  These include sedation, weakness, dizziness, unsteadiness, confusion, and memory loss.  On rare occasions, people can also suffer from aggression or blackouts. Due to these effects, police have been issuing more DUIs for benzo related impairment.

A few common benzodiazepines are Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Klonopin, and Librium. People usually get benzos with a legal prescription from a doctor.  Even without insurance, the pills aren’t too expensive to buy with cash. For example, in 2019, a month supply of a high dose of generic Xanax was under $20. However, some people do buy them illegally on the streets. This is usually because someone ran out of pills or can’t get a legal prescription.

Multiple Dangers

Like opioids and alcohol, benzos are addictive and cause physical dependence.  And like alcohol, benzo withdrawal can be fatal.  Stopping a benzodiazepine suddenly can cause effects like alcohol detox.  These include seizures, tremors, sweating, muscle cramping, vomiting, and more.  There’s also a tendency for people coming off of benzos to have severe anxiety and insomnia for a time, worse than before they started the medicine. Therefore, tapering off benzos safely is particularly important.

Since benzos already depress important body functions, combining them with other depressive substances is risky. Many people who die from drug overdoses test positive for benzos AND other “downers.”  Examples include alcohol, barbiturates, tranquilizers, or opiates (heroin).  In 2016, around 11,000 people died from benzodiazepine related deaths.

Another danger of benzos is a relatively new phenomenon. Benzos made in private, undercover labs are mixing their way into the street supply. These products aren’t regulated or inspected. To make matters, worse, these labs are experimenting with ways to create benzos that are stronger than current products. These stronger formulas will have more intense depressant effects and will only increase the benzo abuse problems in the US.

No Sign of Stopping

Sadly, this reality hasn’t stopped doctors from writing prescriptions.  Around 13.5 million people in the US have filled a prescription for a benzodiazepine.  And over 30 million American adults have reported using benzos at some point in their lives.  Of these, 5 million people admit they abused the medicines, too. Like the opioid epidemic, some people fear that these prescription benzo users will become addicted and turn to the illicit, unregulated street products. This is what drove the opioid overdose rate to historically high levels and the same could happen with benzos.

Overall, if you or someone you love is one of the many people struggling with benzo addiction, you can call us at Discover Recovery. We offer safe, comfortable, medically assisted detox services for people who are physically dependent on benzos. We also have a 30 – 90 day residential treatment program on the coast of the Pacific Northwest. This program provides support to people through the uncomfortable days after detox. Our holistic treatment model works to help people addicted to any substance, including benzodiazepines, heal and build a new life.

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Kaye Miceli
Kaye Miceli
Kaye is a guest writer for Discover Recovery. She's lives in the Chicago, IL area where she's been in recovery since 2016.

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