What is Anxiety?
Individuals with anxiety are typically controlled by their fear responses. The symptoms of anxiety disorders greatly vary depending on the specific type of anxiety disorder the individual is struggling with. When individuals are faced with overwhelming anxiety, it’s extremely tempting to turn to drugs. Some people find relief through prescribed drugs by physicians; other individuals turn to illicit substances to help them manage their anxiety. Either way, using substances to help manage one’s anxiety, especially when those substances are abused, can lead to anxiety medication addiction.
Anti-anxiety medication is part of the benzodiazepines class of psychoactive drugs. Benzodiazepines, also known as “benzos,” work in the central nervous system and are used to treat a range of conditions, including anxiety, panic disorders, and insomnia. Generally viewed as safe and effective for short-term use, all benzodiazepines can cause some level of physical dependence, even when they are taken according to the physician’s instructions.
Benzodiazepines are effective medications intended for short-term use. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, anti-anxiety medications lose their therapeutic effects after 4 to 6 months of constant use.
In a few cases, benzodiazepines are the most effective solution. Thus, if you have already struggled with substance abuse or you are more at risk of becoming addicted, treating anxiety with other medications isn’t best.
Benzodiazepines are similar to tranquilizers. They are intended to treat severe anxiety rather quickly bringing relief to an individual in 30 minutes. Anti-anxiety medication slows down an individual’s nervous system which fights anxiety.
If you take a high dose of anti-anxiety medication, it can make you feel sleepy and tired. Many individuals find that when they take Ativan or Xanax they begin to feel uncoordinated or cloudy. This feeling has the ability to linger into the following day affecting school or work.
What are Benzodiazepines?
“Benzodiazepines are labeled Schedule IV drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning they are highly regulated by the US government.” The majority of benzodiazepines come in tablet or pill form for oral consumption. Brands such as Valium can be administered as an odorless, clear liquid intravenously.
Benzodiazepines are legal only when they are prescribed. This is because they can be addictive and dangerous, even despite their federal regulation and medical validity.
There is even a black market that exists for benzos. Benzodiazepines are known as the following on the streets:
- French Fries
Benzodiazepines Effects and Abuse
Benzodiazepines are known to bind with special neurons in the brain called GABA receptors. This process relieves severe mental stress and slows overactive brain function.
Any use of benzodiazepines constitutes abuse when utilized outside of a doctor’s recommendation. There are some benzodiazepine users that crush and snort the pills or tablets to magnify the strength. When this occurs, the likelihood of an overdose is increased along with the likelihood of experiencing a coma or seizures. Benzodiazepine overdose can slow one’s breathing and heart rate until they stop completely, resulting in death.
Addiction to Benzodiazepines
Due to their great potency, benzodiazepines have the ability to alter the brain’s neurochemistry. As time goes on, the drugs are able to build up in the user’s body. During this time, benzo users are able to develop physical and mental dependencies on the drugs.
The prevalence of benzodiazepines as oft-prescribed and popular anti-anxiety medications means that individuals from every lifestyle and demographic can be exposed to them. This also means that anyone of any lifestyle can develop an anxiety medication addiction.
Addiction is possible to be formed even under prescribed doses and a physician’s care. Due to benzodiazepines being easily accessible via prescription, users along with their loved ones are often unaware of the high potential they have for abuse and addiction.
Signs and Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Addiction
The signs of a substance addiction that might very well be overlooked include the following:
- Dismissing important activities and people to focus on obtaining and abusing the drugs
- Developing a tolerance to the drugs’ sedative effects
- “Doctor shopping” to obtain multiple prescriptions
- Inability to stop using despite making attempts
- Mixing benzos with other drugs
- Engaging in risky behaviors
- Asking others for their pills
- Impaired coordination
Other Signs and Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Addiction Include:
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Blurred vision
- Poor judgment
- Mood changes
- Passing out
- Blacking out
Benzodiazepine and Other Drugs
In order to increase their high, some users will mix the benzos with over CNS Depressants. Alcohol is normally the chosen CNS Depressants that people combine with benzodiazepines. Users though might take benzodiazepines in conjunction with opiate drugs to escalate both highs. When benzodiazepines are mixed with other illicit and prescription drugs the odds of a fatal overdose are greatly increased.
“One study reported that nearly 95% of hospital admissions for benzodiazepine overdose included the abuse of at least one other substance.” According to the CDC, 38,329 drug overdose deaths occurred in the US in 2010. Almost 60% were caused by prescription drugs.
Doctors write out more than 50 million prescriptions annually for benzodiazepines according to the AAFP. According to the American Psychiatric Associates, about 11 to 15% of Americans have benzodiazepines in their medicine cabinet.
Benzodiazepines Might Worsen Depression
Another concern with benzodiazepines is that they have the ability to make depression worse. Due to the fact that benzodiazepines can cause individuals to be emotionally numb, depressed individuals might not be able to deal with their emotions or feelings in a healthy way. As a result, depression can worsen and eventually lead to suicidal feelings and thoughts. On their own accord, benzodiazepines don’t cause depression.
They can however exacerbate an individual’s pre-existing condition and overall complicate the entire anti-anxiety medication addiction-related situation.
Signs of a Benzodiazepine Dependency
When anti-anxiety medication addiction is related and is taken on a regular basis, physical tolerance can quickly form within a few weeks or months. In order for an individual undergoing an anti-anxiety medication addiction-related situation, he or she will aim to attain the same results they once reached before. Therefore they will begin consuming more of the drug.
For those who are not familiar with benzodiazepines and their prescribed treatment application, the list below may help you identify them:
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
- Clorazepate (Tranxene)
- Estazolam (ProSom)
- Triazolam (Halcion)
- Temazepam (Restoril)
- Flurazepam (Dalmane)
- Quazepam (Doral)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Diazepam (Valium)
Like most medications, the sedative effects of benzodiazepines are temporary and relatively short-lived, meaning that the person taking these medications will need more and more of it with time to accomplish desired effects. While people often start taking these psychoactive drugs to manage anxiety, it is not uncommon for them to begin turning to their medication for even the smallest concerns. Sometimes as a preventative measure, before a problem occurs. That is often when the vicious cycle of addiction starts.
Although addiction and dependence are not the same things, both conditions can be difficult to recognize and stop before serious issues develop. For this reason, it’s vital for individuals who have been prescribed these medications to be informed about their side effects, dependence, and addiction risk factors before they start taking them
The two key indicators of dependence are withdrawal and tolerance.
All benzodiazepines can cause some level of physical dependence, even when they are taken according to physician instructions. Withdrawal occurs when the body has acclimated to a certain amount of a substance, adjusting neurotransmitter production accordingly. In other words, withdrawal is when the human body reacts in a negative way due to a person with a substance addiction minimizing food intake and not eating.
The first signs of benzo withdrawal are:
- Heart palpitations
- An inability to concentrate
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased anxiety
- Muscle stiffness
- Visual hallucinations
- Rapid heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Potentially death, depending on the severity of the dependency.
The trademark of developing a chemical dependency (and the beginning of addiction) to any drug is the establishment of tolerance. In these instances, the individual will require more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect over time. This happens because the body has become used to the benzodiazepines, and, through a process of neuroadaptations, has altered its chemistry to compensate.
Other strong signs that an individual is abusing anti-anxiety medications include:
- taking anti-anxiety medications against a physician’s instructions
- taking anti-anxiety medications without a physician’s prescription
- exhibition of drug-seeking behaviors such as doctor-shopping (visiting multiple clinicians to obtain more medication)
Loved ones may notice behavioral symptoms such as:
- Sluggish movement
- Memory problems
- Personality changes may be indicative of withdrawal symptoms.
Help for Benzodiazepine Addiction
If you or a loved one is concerned about the use of benzodiazepines, call Florida Center for Recovery (FCR). With almost two decades of experience providing addiction treatment and mental health services through our inpatient rehab programs, FCR is one of the best addiction treatment providers in Florida.
Here at Florida Center for Recovery, we understand how paralyzing anxiety disorders can be. That’s why we provide inpatient and co-occurring addiction treatment for prescription drugs, along with a variety of therapy programs.
Dr. Balta is the Medical Director at FCR for more than 10 years. Dr. Balta is Board Certified in Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, Certified Psychoanalyst. As well, as having Psychiatric Training at The Albert Einstein School of Medicine Psychiatric Residency Program In New York City and Psychoanalytic Training at The William Alanson White Institute in New York City. While working in New York City, gained funding Grants for the treatment of Substance Abuse Disorders from SAMHSA , HRSA and the City of New York.