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How Benzodiazepine Use Has Changed

March 02, 2019
benzodiazepine use

America’s drug epidemic and its wide-ranging effects have made nationwide headlines, with the current presidential administration having declared opioid misuse a public health crisis. As a result, most people are well-informed about the dangers of overusing opioid medicines, and doctors and their patients alike are more wary about prescribing and taking those drugs.

The spotlight on opioid use and abuse is not misplaced. Prescription opioids are still responsible for 130 overdose deaths per day and billions of dollars spent treating the problem each year. However, opioids are not the only prescription drugs that are contributing to our national epidemic of addiction.

Are Benzodiazepines the Next Wave of the Drug Crisis?

Benzodiazepines, commonly known as benzos for short, are a category of drugs prescribed to treat mental health issues like anxiety and insomnia. The well-known brand names Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Klonopin all fall under the category of benzodiazepines.

Though most people have heard of benzos, fewer people realize they are quietly emerging as one of the most significant prescription drug problems in the country. More than 30 percent of opioid-related overdoses also involve benzodiazepine use. Additionally, while opioid prescriptions have been steadily declining for the past several years, benzodiazepine prescriptions have continued to rise. However, despite statistics like these, many people continue to view benzos as less problematic than opioids.

Why have benzos been an afterthought compared to opioids, though? And does the public conversation around these drugs need to change?

How Dangerous Can Benzos Be?

Because benzos are so highly effective at addressing problems like anxiety, depression and sleeping problems, many doctors willingly prescribe them to their patients. For example, the number of adults with prescriptions for benzos increased by 67 percent between 1996 and 2013. However, even when people take these drugs exactly according to their doctors’ prescription, they can still quickly develop a dependence on these medications.

Like opioids and cannabinoids, benzodiazepines flood the user’s body with dopamines — feel-good neurotransmitters that cause a surge of pleasurable feelings. As benzos accumulate in the body, they change the structure and function of specific receptors in the brain that make them more susceptible to surges from other neurotransmitters, thus intensifying the rush even further. Patients can quickly develop a tolerance, making them require larger and larger doses to experience the same effects.

Just as bad, if not worse, is how difficult it is for people to stop using benzos once their bodies have developed a dependence on the drug. Even those who have used low doses of benzos over a short period can experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit using, including:

  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pains and stiffness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Inability to sleep
  • Mood changes
  • Increased anxiety and panic attacks
  • Heart palpitations
  • Muscle tremors

Benzodiazepine Use and Public Health

When taking all the factors related to benzo use and misuse into account, it’s easy to see why we should consider the role benzodiazepines play in our nationwide drug epidemic. The same strategies we have successfully used to curtail prescription opioid use can apply equally well to benzodiazepines, so considering their addictive nature as part of the conversation about America’s prescription drug crisis can help save lives.

If someone you care about is misusing prescription medications and needs help seeking treatment, contact us today. Our team of professional, certified intervention specialists is here to help your loved one break the cycle of their addiction and commit to a fresh start in life.

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