The Signs of Benzodiazepine Dependence
Benzodiazepine dependence is all too common in today’s fast-paced world, but it can be very difficult to spot. This holds true for the victims themselves and the people who care about them. In this post, you’ll gain a general understanding of this form of drug dependence and know what to watch out for if you’re concerned about yourself or someone you love.
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), roughly 40 million American adults are diagnosed with some form of anxiety disorder every year. This means that anxiety disorders are among the most common form of mental illness in the world. Physicians often prescribe drugs like Xanax, Valium, or Klonipin to treat the symptoms of anxiety. These medications are all members of the benzodiazepine (benzo) class. But while benzos are very effective at reducing the severity of these symptoms, they are also highly addictive.
So it should not be surprising to learn that physical, psychological, and emotional dependence on these sedative drugs is common among people who already suffer from severe depression and anxiety. People without these disorders often develop benzo dependence as well, usually those who use Xanax, Valium, etc. recreationally. Taken together, these factors make benzodiazepine dependence shockingly common in the United States and throughout the world.
Excessive use of this class of drugs is characterized by a desire to take more and more of their medication to ease the panic attacks and depressive episodes they experience. In the following sections, we’ll examine benzodiazepine dependence and discuss how you can spot it.
Types of Benzodiazepines
While there are more than 2,000 different kinds of benzodiazepines that have been produced, there are only around 15 brands that have been approved by the FDA for use in the United States. They can be categorized by how long they are effective:
- Ultra-short acting – these are effective for a period of 3-8 hours. Some examples include triazolam (Halcion) and midazolam (Versed)
- Short-acting – these are effective for a period of 11-20 hours. Some examples include alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam (Ativan)
- Long-acting – these are effective for more than 20 hours. Some examples include diazepam (Valium) and clonazepam (Klonipin)
Why is Benzodiazepine Dependence So Common?
There are many reasons that benzo dependence is so common in the United States. We’ve already mentioned that physicians prescribe them for patients suffering with anxiety and depression. However, this is only one part of the problem. In this section, we’ll discuss a few of the other reasons that so many become dependent on this form of sedative drug.
1. Widespread Availability
Virtually all pharmacies carry benzodiazepines, so it is easy to find one to refill a prescription. In fact, some people who suffer from benzodiazepine abuse are even known to go “doctor shopping” in order to get a high volume of the drugs. They will get prescriptions from different doctors and have these prescriptions filled out by different pharmacies.
It is also common for people with benzodiazepine dependence to procure the drug from friends, family, or other acquaintances who have a supply. Buying from street-level dealers is also an option if there is no other way to get the drugs.
2. Propensity To Be Combined with Alcohol or Other Drugs
Since benzodiazepines have a calming effect, it is not uncommon for people to mix them with other sedatives such as opioids or alcohol. Mixing these substances intensifies the effects of both, resulting in a more powerful relaxed state. However, an overdose can easily occur and lead to extreme sedation, slurred speech, loss of muscle control, or even death.
3. Vulnerability To Abuse
Typically, benzodiazepines are taken orally and do not require any kind of paraphernalia to consume. This ease of administration makes it more attractive to people who want to avoid calling attention to their drug dependence.
The widespread use of benzodiazepines has also made it vulnerable to being abused, namely as a “date rape drug”. Since these drugs often have no taste or scent, they can easily be added to drinks if they are in powder or liquid form. People who ingest benzodiazepines unintentionally become lethargic and slow to respond, making them unable to resist unwanted sexual advances.
5 Signs of Benzodiazepine Dependence
Recognizing the signs of benzodiazepine dependence can be difficult, particularly if the person is using ultra-short acting benzodiazepines. After the drugs have worn off and the physical symptoms have vanished, the person can act completely normal. In fact, there are times when benzodiazepine dependence is only discovered during an overdose, which might be too late.
So, if it is difficult to recognize the immediate physical signs of benzodiazepine dependence, what should you look for? Here are five signs that could help you recognize the disorder.
1. Withdrawal Symptoms
People who are benzodiazepine dependent can exhibit withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking the medication. Generally, those who have been dependent for six months or more are prone to experiencing withdrawal.
Some symptoms include hallucinations, seizures, and intense muscle cramps. In severe cases, loss of consciousness that deepen into a coma can occur. Usually, a medically supervised detox becomes necessary at this point.
2. Risk-Taking Behavior
Risky behavior to obtain the medication is common. As mentioned above, doctor shopping and purchasing drugs from street-level dealers are two common behaviors. People can even resort to desperate measures such as stealing or robbery if they have no other way to obtain the drug.
3. Symptoms of Overdose
People who have taken excessive amounts of sedative drugs demonstrate behavior such as:
- Slow breathing
- Decreased heartbeat
- Slurred speech
- Unresponsiveness to external stimuli
Overdose deaths are rare if someone is taking only benzodiazepines, the occurrence of the above symptoms is a sure sign of increasing dependence.
4. Continuously Increased Dosage
Just like any other drug addiction, people with benzodiazepine dependence will need ever-higher amounts of the medication over time to feel the effects. This is especially true if the medication is used in conjunction with other substances like alcohol or opioids. The amount can quickly increase past the safe prescribed amount.
5. Impaired Performance With Ordinary Tasks
People who abuse benzodiazepines often display impaired performance in both their personal and professional life. They become sullen, withdrawn, and unwilling to open up to other people, particularly if they are afraid of being judged for their condition.
How to Help
If you or someone you know is displaying any of these five symptoms, it is important to get help quickly. If left untreated, benzodiazepine dependence can be fatal. Finding the right treatment option is vital to stopping benzodiazepine abuse.
The first step is finding a licensed drug treatment councilor or physician who has experience treating patients who suffer from benzodiazepine dependence. They will recommend the right course of treatment, whether it is through medically-supervised detoxification, checking into a rehab center, or getting drug counseling services. Finding a reputable treatment center can be difficult, so you can check the National Institute on Drug Abuse for resources.