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Benzodiazepine Use Disorders

Benzodiazepines are a prescription sedative class of drugs that have a calming effect. Physicians commonly prescribed these drugs to help patients with anxiety and panic disorders. However, they are highly addictive. Benzodiazepines include:

  • Xanax (Alparzolam) used to treat anxiety and panic disorders
  • Klonopin (Clonazepam) used for seize and panic disorders
  • Valium (Diazepam) used for anxiety, alcohol withdrawal, and muscle spasms
  • Ativan (Lorazepam) used for panic disorders
  • Ambien (Zolpidem) a hypnotic used to treat sleeping disorders

With the sedative effect of these drugs and their addiction-forming chemical properties, patients can become addicted to them over time. Common signs of benzodiazepine addiction are listed below:

  • The sedative is taken in a higher volume or over a longer time period than first intended.
  • The patient does not follow the doctors orders for taking the drugs.
  • The patient seeks multiple drug prescriptions from multiple physicians, borrows or takes the drug from friends, or obtains the drug illegally.
  • Considerable time is spent getting the drug, using it, and recovering from its effects.
  • When the drug is not in a person’s system, the person experiences withdrawal, which can include cravings for the drug.
  • Over time, more of the drug is needed to achieve the familiar desired effects (i.e. tolerance).
  • The person experiences impaired performance at home, work, or school due to the drug’s effects.
  • The person withdraws from friends, family, and obligations in order to use the drug.
  • The person does uncharacteristic things to be able to pay for the drug, such as borrowing money, stealing, draining bank accounts, or maxing out credit cards.

Benzodiazepine Dependence 

Just like diabetes, heart disease, and other progressive, chronic conditions, benzodiazepine dependence must be diagnosed and treated with both a short term and long-term treatment plan. IAC is ready to help you on your journey to treatment and recovery from BUD when you are ready to start.  Our outpatient treatment embraces the entire person and allows you to remain at home with your family and continue working while incorporating treatment into your daily life in the greater Memphis and Jackson TN areas.  

Treatment begins with a complete assessment of physical and mental health, as well as social situations that may be contributing to continued consumption.  The actual benzodiazepine treatment plan is developed collaboratively with the patient to be certain that the patient’s goals are defining short-term treatment (preventing further damage to the human body) and long-term recovery (allowing the individual to regain control over her/his life). Most often, the treatment of benzo addiction also involves a careful and slow taper of the drug, and sometimes substitution of one benzo for another to modulate symptoms. This process take time. 

Your team of medical professionals, therapists, and social workers are seasoned experts in the field of addiction medicine and will help you devise a plan for your durable recovery. 

  • Your physicians will work with you on your physical health, withdrawal symptoms, medication assisted therapy, and manage your overall plan of care.  
  • Your therapist will work with on behavioral treatments which may include motivational enhancement therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and contingency management, as well as family-based treatments. 
  • Your social worker will help identify social issues that interfere with your desire to change your life. These issues will be explored and a plan made to address each of them.  We especially focus of housing, workforce preparedness/job placement, family and legal issues, transportation, and benefits eligibility.
  • Your social worker will help identify and carefully select with you the appropriate peer support groups, 12-step programs, online chat rooms, and/or other approaches to help sustain a path to a durable recovery.

Risk if Left Untreated

If a patient is taking benzos and suddenly stops, then withdrawal starts about 1-4 days later, the symptoms reach a peak 2 weeks later and these symptoms can last for months (in some cases years).  The symptoms of withdrawal can include irritability, anxiety, panic attacks, sweating, difficulty concentrating, nausea and vomiting (including dry heaves), muscle pain, sleep disturbance, irritability, etc.  There have also been seizures and psychotic reactions in patients who have taken higher doses, especially of short-acting benzos.  It is important to note that it is not clear who will become dependent on benzos and how severe the withdrawal syndrome is in any particular patient.

There are well-recognized symptoms/signs of benzo overdose, but they are also nonspecific:  loss of coordination, drowsiness, altered mental status, nausea and vomiting, muscle weakness/pain, difficulty of cessation of breathing, pale skin, bluish lips/nailbeds, consistent with decreased oxygen content of the blood.  In severe instances, a drug may be used to reverse the effects of benzos, but this may trigger strong withdrawal symptoms.

It is important to note that taking benzos with other agents, especially opiates, significantly increases the possibility of a lethal overdose due to respiratory suppression. A little less than a third of opioid overdose deaths in 2010 involved some type of benzodiazepine.

The treatment of benzo addiction most often involves careful and slow taper of the drug, and sometimes substitution of one benzo for another to modulate symptoms.  This process takes time.  In addition, behavioral therapies including cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management and motivational interviewing are employed.

The Science behind Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines interact with a cell surface acceptor molecule present on inhibitory neurons in the central nervous system  (GABA-A receptor) and enhances their activity.  By increasing inhibitory input into the central nervous system, benzodiazepines overall inhibit neural activity in the brain. By analogy with the other psychoactive drugs, benzodiazepines modulate aspects of the circuitry of the brain by enhancing the activity of some neurons and decreasing the activity of others. The reason it is important to consider this information is it highlights the fact that addiction is a brain disease. The wiring diagram of the brain becomes altered, and it is not a simple or short-term prospect to fix things. 

It is important to note that taking benzos with other agents, especially opiates, significantly increases the possibility of a lethal overdose due to respiratory suppression. A little less than a third of opioid overdose deaths in 2010 involved some type of benzodiazepine.

We are here to assist patients seeking recovery in an outpatient setting. Located in Bartlett TN, we serve the entire Memphis and Jackson areas, including Bartlett, Cordova, Lakeland, Oakland, Eads, Arlington, Raleigh, Germantown, Collierville, Millington, Munford, Atoka, Jackson, Covington, Brownsville, Somerville, Bolivar, Selmer, Henderson, Lexington, Huntingdon, McKenzie, Medina, Trenton, Humboldt, Milan, Martin, Dyersburg, Newbern, Ripley, Camden, Paris, Union City, Southaven MS, Olive Branch MS, Hernando, MS, Corinth, MS, West Memphis AR, Marion AR and all surrounding areas.

Please note that the information mentioned above (and elsewhere on this website) is meant to provide general education, and is not intended, and should not be used, to make treatment decision for any particular person. All therapeutic decisions should be made only after consultation with the care team at IAC or other capable providers, that will take into account the patient’s specific circumstances.  Healthcare decisions made without such consultation can be harmful or even fatal.  Any use of information on this site constitutes your agreement to the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.