Benzodiazepines (benzos for short) are a class of medications that act as depressants. They are known to induce sleep, relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, and prevent seizures. Benzodiazepines are prescription medications that are intended for short-term relief of symptoms. Xanax and its generic form, alprazolam, is one of the most prescribed psychiatric drugs in the United States. Other benzodiazepines include Klonopin (clonazepam), Valium (diazepam), Restoril (temazepam), Librium (chlordiazepoxide), Halcion (triazolam), Dalmane flurazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam). These drugs all work by slowing down the brain’s nerve activity and the rest of the central nervous system. In turn, diffusing stress and its physical and emotional side effects.
Side effects – some of the potential short-term side effects of using benzodiazepines can include:
- Mental confusion
- Short-term memory loss
- Lack of motor control
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Slow breathing
- Muscle weakness
- Slurred speech
In general, when used as directed under close guidance from a doctor, benzodiazepines are indeed relatively safe for short amounts of time. Benzodiazepines are, however, not meant to be taken for longer than a weeks or a few months at most.
Paired with becoming psychology and physically dependent on benzodiazepines, these drugs also may interfere with cognition and memory when used regularly for an extended amount of time. Benzodiazepines are believed to particularly interfere with visuospatial abilities, the speed at which the brain processes information, and verbal learning abilities, as reported by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Visuospatial refers to the way an individual sees, processes, reproduces, and understands where objects are in relation to other objects. Processing speed describes the way that simple tasks can be completed automatically after learning them, and verbal learning skills are linked to speech and language use. Thankfully, many of the alteration to the different regions of the brain caused by benzodiazepines may be reversed after stopping the drugs for an extended period of time.
Can You Overdose on Benzos?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) presents drug overdoses as the number one killer of people in the United States. Not surprisingly, the most severe form of physical harm caused by a benzodiazepine occurs when a person taking them overdoses. The CDC alleges nearly 7,000 deaths in 2013 by benzodiazepine overdose. Because benzodiazepines work as tranquilizers and sedatives that lie in the drug class of central nervous system depressants, they lower heart rate, core body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing. Usually in the case of an overdose, these vital life functions get too low. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) there were unfortunately 357,836 visits to emergency facilities for a negative reaction to the abuse, of a benzodiazepine medication in 2011. This means that benzodiazepines were related to almost 30 percent of all emergency visits involving the abuse of pharmaceutical drugs.
Adding other drugs or alcohol when using benzodiazepines presents the risk for overdose or additional negative reactions as well. A study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence reported between 62 and 72 percent of people who were treated for drug overdose also took part in the abuse of other drugs at the same time. This is known as poly-drug abuse. Benzodiazepines are sometimes mixed with opioids and/or alcohol. This mixing can be very dangerous and even fatal. The DAWN report further estimated that benzodiazepine abuse caused close to 1 million emergency room visits between the years 2005 and 2011, either when abused alone or in addition to opioid painkillers or alcohol.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal and Treatment
Withdrawal from benzodiazepines should be done slowly through a medical detox program. This is the safest way to purge the drugs from the brain and body while decreasing and managing withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. Medical and mental health professionals are trained to develop a tapering schedule to lessen the benzodiazepine dosage over time in addition to tending to both the physical and psychological aspects of drug dependency. Benzo addictions will not just disappear. Symptoms often will grow more and more severe, as long as the drugs are taken and a comprehensive plan is formed. That’s why it’s imperative for families to take action when they see the signs and symptoms of benzo abuse in their loved one.. The information families provide along with the support they provide, could make all the difference to someone in need.