Benzodiazepines: Uses, Side Effects & Rehab for Benzo Addiction
What is Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment?
About one-third of individuals who take benzos for six months or more will experience health problems, including seizures, when they try to quit. Benzodiazepine addiction treatment (Ativan, Ambien, Klonopin, Xanax, Valium) begins with medical detox.
Once stabilized, individuals continue their recovery through inpatient or outpatient programs that offer cognitive therapies and counseling sessions. Many inpatient programs provide home-like amenities and comfortable environments, so people can heal in comfortable, calming environments.
Benzodiazepines are prescription medications, and they’ve been in use for more than 50 years. During that time, according to an analysis published in Addiction, researchers have been concerned about the link between these drugs and addiction.
These researchers have been so concerned, in fact, that they’ve written up more than 60,000 articles that use words like dependence and abuse in concert with benzodiazepines.
Despite the addiction dangers associated with these drugs, that knowledge hasn’t moved into mainstream consciousness. In fact, most people who take benzodiazepines to help with a medical condition. Thousands more use these drugs recreationally, and probably have no idea of how these drugs work and why they could lead to addiction.
Once users do develop an addiction, they may be well aware that these aren’t pills to play with. With help, they may be able to stop abusing these medications.
A full recovery is possible, with the help of therapy. Here’s what families need to know in order to spot a benzodiazepine problem and what steps to take to get help.
Learn About Specific Benzodiazepines & Related Drugs
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that benzos cause a minor shift in the chemical signals the brain uses to communicate a pleasurable event. When that shift takes hold, people feel a boost of sensation that is associated with reward, joy, and security. They may not be able to name the change, but the brain marks that change.
When it comes to addictions, benzodiazepines are dangerous because they cause persistent brain chemical changes.
In time, the altered brain cells may not function at an optimal level without access to benzodiazepines. Brain cells will call out for the drug, and that call will be hard to ignore. That’s when an addiction is in play. Any benzodiazepine can cause this reaction, but there are some drugs in this classification that are of particular concern.
Common Benzodiazepine List
The following is a list of common benzodiazepine medications:
- Xanax (alprazolam): This drug, used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, comes in a variety of different strengths. One formulation is of deep concern, as it’s made to release benzodiazepine effects over an extended period of time. Users who crush these pills can get all of the Xanax power at once. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) says, too, that Xanax works immediately, delivering big changes all at once. That makes Xanax more dangerous than other benzos on the market.
- Klonopin (clonazepam): Seizure disorders and panic disorders are often treated with Klonopin. Pills come in 1 mg or 2 mg strengths. Some are made to dissolve or disintegrate in the mouth. EMCDDA says Klonopin is an intermediate-acting benzo.
- Valium (diazepam): Anxiety disorders, muscle spasms, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms can all be treated with Valium. Valium is one of the oldest benzos on the market today. This drug, which has many generic formulations, comes in a number of different strengths, including some that release their power over an extended period of time. There is good news, as EMCDDA says Valium takes a long time to hit the body. That means this drug doesn’t provide an immediate high. It tends to come on slower, and it’s a little less rewarding as a result.
- Ativan (lorazepam): This drug is designed to assist people with panic disorders. It comes in pill formats, but it can also be sold in a liquid format that can be popped into veins with a needle. EMCDDA says this particular drug has a short-to-intermediate onset, which means it could deliver a big and rewarding drug rush to some users.
- Ambien (zolpidem): This hypnotic drug is made to assist people who can’t sleep through the night. The sedating impact of the drug allows people to fall asleep, while other ingredients help people to forget what happens while they’re asleep. This drug has a fast onset, but it isn’t always a target of abuse, as some people grow so sleepy on this drug that they can’t stay awake long enough to take another hit.
Who Abuses Benzos?
While benzodiazepines were originally developed in order to help people with real mental health or physical health concerns, people who abuse these drugs aren’t doing so in order to make their lives better. Instead, they’re driven to use these drugs because of chemical changes deep inside the brain.
People who deal with this issue tend to fall into one of two groups: those with prescriptions and those without prescriptions. According to an analysis in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry , addiction is rarely a consequence of proper use of these drugs. When people have prescriptions and they follow doctors’ orders to the letter, they typically don’t emerge from the experience with addictions.
However, there are people who don’t follow doctors’ orders. They might take doses too close together, or they might take doses that are much too large. They might take pills when they’re no longer needed, or they might hoard pills in order to take them on a “bad day.” This may be a small group of users, researchers say, but the impact of their habits can be huge.
The other users are recreational users. They don’t have prescriptions from doctors or specific orders to follow. They get the drugs when and where they can, and they abuse the drugs for euphoric or relaxation purposes. These users might also take in benzodiazepines in order to boost or soften the drug-using experience.
Analysis of statistics from New York from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration suggests that non-medical benzo users are between ages 18-25. That group of people has the highest level of recreational use, and that level seems to go up each and every year.
These young adults might get benzos through theft, or they might buy them directly from dealers. Either is a viable method.
Convincing a Loved One to Attend Rehab
Addictions work at the subconscious level. People with an obsession with benzos aren’t making the choice to seek out and abuse these drugs. Their damaged brain cells prompt them to get and take more benzos. But the conscious mind is still at work in people like this. By reaching out to that conscious mind, families may be able to influence deep change.
An intervention helps families to outline the symptoms of benzo addiction they’ve seen in the person they love. Interventions also let these families enumerate the benefits of drug rehab. At the end of a conversation like this, a person with an addiction won’t be able to deny the problem or its solution. A person with an addiction will know just what must be done in order to make the situation better.
Interventions for benzos typically follow this format:
- The person with the addiction is invited to a meeting with family members and friends.
- Every person in the meeting brings a prepared speech that discusses changes seen, memories of the drug-free past, and hopes for the future.
- Everyone reads their letters while the person with the addiction listens.
- As soon as the person with the addiction agrees to get treatment, the meeting ends.
An interventionist is a mental health professional that can assist with these conversations. The interventionist may help the family to draw up letters, and the person might stay involved during the conversation. When the talk is over, that interventionist may also drive or transport the addicted person to a treatment facility.
What an Inpatient Center Has to Offer
The chemical changes benzos can cause can also trigger life-threatening complications when people attempt to get sober. An analysis in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology suggests that about a third of people who take benzos for longer than six months can experience insomnia, muscle spasms, tension, and/or hypersensitivity. Without treatment, these symptoms can escalate into full-body seizures.
Inpatient programs can provide monitoring during medical detox. That means symptoms can be spotted and addressed before they have a chance to grow, spread, and escalate. This around-the-clock care is hard for families to provide, but it’s a standard of treatment in an inpatient center.
Inpatient programs can also provide trained, qualified staff to run counseling and coaching sessions. That’s the work that can help people learn to spot their benzo use triggers, and when that work is done, they’ll be able to return to their communities with the skills they’ll need in order to stay sober for good.
Inpatient programs don’t have to be clinical and impersonal. Many provide home-like amenities and comfortable surroundings, so people can heal in environments that both soothe and protect. For some people, it’s an ideal place in which to get better.
- California: Laguna Treatment Hospital
- Florida: Recovery First Treatment Center
- Florida: River Oaks Treatment Center
- Las Vegas: Desert Hope Treatment Center
- Locations Nationwide: Resolutions Recovery Residences
- Massachusetts: Adcare Treatment Hospital
- Mississippi: Oxford Treatment Center
- New Jersey: Sunrise House Treatment Center
- Rhode Island: Adcare – Outpatient
- Rhode Island: Adcare – Inpatient
- Texas: Greenhouse Treatment Center
Handling an Addiction
Benzo addictions don’t simply disappear. Symptoms tend to grow more and more severe, as long as they’re not addressed in a comprehensive manner. That’s why it’s vital for families to take action when they see benzo abuse unfolding in someone they love. The information families provide, and the solutions they outline, could make all the difference to a person in need. With help, that person could find a sobriety that sticks.
Other Classes of Prescription Drugs