Benzodiazepines are a class of drug that can treat a wide variety of physical and mental health issues. It’s one of the most common prescription medications in the United States, and right now there are more than 15 different kinds of benzo medications on the market, all approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, this is far from a good thing. Benzodiazepines, more commonly called benzos, are medical tranquilizers with highly addictive properties and potential for abuse.
Benzos as Medicine
Benzos, when appropriately used, can be a beneficial means of treating a variety of conditions, both mental and physical. Unfortunately, the strength of benzos as medicine is what makes it so addictive. This drug does what it’s supposed to— is just does it a little too well. Benzos have calming, muscle-relaxant properties that can be used to treat a wide range of medical conditions, including:
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Anxiety disorders
- Panic disorder
What the general public might not know about benzos, however, is that they were not designed to be a long-term treatment solution for these or any other medical conditions. Instead, they are meant to treat short-term, acute symptoms. Extended use or misuse can result in tolerance and, eventually, dependence— otherwise known as addiction.
Benzos, Neurotransmitters, and the Brain
Benzos are medical tranquilizers, which means that they directly impact the functions of the central nervous system. As a depressant, benzos can reduce heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and even respiration by intercepting communications between the brain and the rest of the body.
The brain sends signals to the rest of the body through a complex chemical messaging system called neurotransmission. The chemicals, called neurotransmitters, send nerve impulses to nerve endings, glands, and muscles. In other words, neurotransmitters are produced as a response to sensations like pain. Benzos work by regulating or restricting neurotransmitter production, which slows brain activity and generates a sedative, relaxing effect.
Benzo Medical Use vs. Benzo Misuse
For the most part, benzos work and leave the system quickly, which is why they are often prescribed as short-term treatments for immediate or severe symptoms of mental or physical overstimulation. When they are frequently used, the brain and body adjust. This is what creates tolerance.
There should be no harm in using benzos exactly as directed, for a short period with a taper. In fact, benzos are typically used in conjunction with long-term medications. They also provide sedation for patients before major surgeries. However, when individuals use benzos more and more frequently, they eventually won’t be able to achieve the same desired effects without increasing their dosage. This can lead to addiction.
Little-Known Facts about Benzos and Benzo Addiction
Developing an Addiction to Benzos is Incredibly Easy
Many people are under the false impression that benzos can’t be addictive because they’re a popular form of medicine. However, what they fail to consider is that benzos have more influence on the brain’s neurotransmission than just ‘shutting off’ sensations of pain or discomfort. In fact, research has shown that taking a benzo medication for pain relief practically douses the brain in dopamine, which is the “reward” neurotransmitter. Additionally, continued or long-term exposure to benzos might alter the structure and function of specific neurotransmitter receptors in the brain, making them more susceptible to intense spikes in the brain’s dopamine levels. This is the same sensation that many people who struggle with addiction strive for through drug and alcohol abuse.
Benzo Addiction Can Develop in a Short Amount of Time
The addictive nature of benzos is very similar to those of marijuana, opioids (both legal and illicit), and gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid (GHB). Unfortunately, about 44% of benzo users develop physical dependence after prescription misuse starts. The average amount of time it takes to develop a tolerance to benzo medications is six months. Still, it is possible to build a tolerance to benzos before that.
Benzo Abuse Can Cause Cognitive Impairment
As the number of benzo addiction cases began to increase, medical professionals noticed a strange and very worrying coincidence: patients who abused benzo prescriptions long periods of time— perhaps even for years— began to experience mild cognitive impairment, including memory loss.
Since then, medical science has examined this connection in depth, drawing an irrefutable link between benzo misuse and cognitive damage. One study yielded especially shocking results. In this study, participants of two significantly different age groups— one older than 60 and the other younger than 60— exhibited the same degrees of cognitive impairment as a result of long-term benzo use.
Benzo Abuse and Addiction Have Statistical Ties to Early Death
Benzos have the highest number of young prescription user deaths of any medicine on the market today. In one study, more than 100,000 medical records of deceased individuals were examined, and researchers found that benzos were linked to the highest number of early deaths (i.e., deaths at an age below the national average lifespan). The study concluded that, statistically, the chances of dying earlier in life nearly double with the prescription and continued use of a benzodiazepine.
Quitting Benzos Cold Turkey Can be Fatal
The cold turkey method of stopping substance abuse is almost never recommended, but it is especially ill-advised for benzos. Withdrawing and detoxing from this drug should always be done under medical supervision. Otherwise, the symptoms could be deadly. A list of withdrawal symptoms and more information about benzos detox can be found here.
The Treatment Center Offers Residential Care and Benzo Detox
Benzos have been a major component of the medical industry for more than 50 years, and the abuse of benzo prescriptions may very well have been a problem for just as long. With most of the country’s focus on the opioid epidemic, benzo addiction may have been forgotten, leaving many to continue struggling. But you don’t have to face addiction alone. At The Treatment Center’s Residential Care facility, our team of qualified medical and treatment professionals is equipped to help our patients detox and recover from a wide variety of substances, including benzos. If you are struggling with a benzo addiction, please call us at (888) 991-4395. All calls are confidential.