Benzodiazepines, often known colloquially as benzos, are becoming increasingly popular as an abused substance in the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that there were over 4 times as many fatal overdoses in 2015 from benzos than there were in the year 2000. At addiction treatment centers, the amount of clients admitted that abuse benzos has likewise increased. Because of this, there are now treatment centers specializing specifically in benzodiazepines detox and long-term recovery.
Like many drugs being abused these days, benzodiazepines are often prescribed by a doctor. The most commonly prescribed and abused benzos are Xanax®, Valium®, and Klonopin®, but there are dozens of other ones as well. They may be prescribed to treat a variety of symptoms, but are most often prescribed to treat mood disorders such as generalized anxiety and major depressive. Drugs like Rohypnol® have been used to aid in anesthesia before surgery.
As tranquilizers, benzos produce a sedated effect in both mind and body. This is helpful in treating anxiety, seizures, insomnia, and muscle spasms. This same effect makes these pills at extremely high risk for abuse. Unlike many other substances and prescriptions, a person can build tolerance and dependence within just a few week of taking the medication as prescribed. Some people seek out benzos, while others become addicted without any intention of doing so. Because of the potential for dependence to develop, many people become addicted quickly without realizing what is happening.
In addition to the inherent danger of taking benzodiazepines, people mix these pills with other substances like opioids, alcohol, or hallucinogens. Benzodiazepines act on the GABA receptors, the same part of the brain which alcohol effects. This makes the combination of benzos and alcohol potentially deadly. Taking benzos along with opioids can also be fatal, as the two depressants may cause the lungs to collapse and the heart to slow. People overdose while just taking benzos, but the risk increases greatly when combined with other substances.
Benzodiazepines are one of the few drugs that can directly cause a person to die while detoxing. Yes, it may feel like you’re dying while withdrawing from other substances, but benzos can actually kill you. Like alcohol (which also acts on the GABA receptors), going cold-turkey off benzos can cause severe psychological effects such as suicidal or homicidal ideation, psychosis, and hallucinations. It can also create seizures, muscular pain, nausea, and ultimately death. In addition to being physically dangerous, it is an incredibly psychologically and mentally unpleasant experience to go through.
The dangers of withdrawing from benzos mean that people should certainly seek professional help when putting down these drugs. When people try to detox on their own, they are putting their lives in danger. Furthermore, the symptoms of detox may feel so unbearable that the person returns to using after just a few days. With professional help from a detox facility, hospital, or doctor, symptoms can be managed and minimized. Benzo detox is never fun, but medical professionals can help decrease the difficulties and keep you safe.
Well, we should care because benzos are causing harm! Of course, it’d be irresponsible not to mention that benzodiazepines have helped many people across the world for years as well. They have proven therapeutic value when taken correctly. A large part of the problem is that people often take benzos long-term. Because of the huge risk of abuse and dependence, long-term benzodiazepine use can be quite dangerous. Although they may be helpful in crisis intervention, there are perhaps better alternatives to treat long-term anxiety or depression.
As opioids take center stage as the current epidemic, attention to other drugs falls. Of course, the opioid problem in the United States is very serious and killing way too many people. However, we also shouldn’t lose sight of the increase in abuse rates and overdose deaths from other drugs like these. There’s a problem here. It’s not as big as the opioid crisis, but it’s growing. Hopefully by bringing some awareness to it, we can address it and work with it before it grows too big!