Benzodiazepine medications- drugs like Xanax and Valium- are pretty common. These prescription drugs are used to treat conditions like anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, and other disorders that can disrupt people’s lives and mental health. Anxiety disorders are common among the population. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that 18 percent of all adults in the US suffer from some form of an anxiety disorder. Benzodiazepine medications are used to treat these issues in a lot of patients. However, these prescription drugs can be extremely dangerous if abused or used long-term.

How Benzodiazepine Medications Treat Anxiety

Anxiety disorders can be very distressing and can even prevent people from functioning normally if they are left untreated. Types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, social phobia/anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.) These different conditions vary in their symptoms. But, some common signs of having some form of anxiety disorder include:

  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Panic attacks
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Sweating profusely
  • Twitching or nervous tics
  • Fear and worry that can be debilitating
  • Nausea
  • Poor concentration
  • Hyperventilating
  • Racing thoughts
  • Muscle tension
  • Flashbacks
  • Hypervigilance
  • The compulsive need to do rituals to alleviate irrational fears

Certainly, living with any of these symptoms on a regular basis can be miserable and can interfere with someone’s ability to live a normal life. Benzodiazepine medications are used to treat these disorders because they work to produce a neurotransmitter that causes relaxation and sedation. In response, this counteracts the symptoms of anxiety, providing relief and even ending panic attacks. So, what’s the danger?

The Serious Side Effects of Benzodiazepine Medications

Even though benzodiazepine medications can be effective in treating anxiety disorders, they can be extremely dangerous. In fact, it’s generally agreed upon that these drugs should only be prescribed for short periods of time to treat acute anxiety attacks and symptoms. So, for many years, they were widely prescribed for long periods of time to treat even the mildest symptoms. However, research has shown that these drugs can actually increase anxiety over time. Furthermore, they can also cause a host of side effects, become addictive, and even cause fatal withdrawal symptoms for some users. These are some of the side effects of benzodiazepine medications:

  • DizzinessThe Risks and Dangers of Benzodiazepine Medications
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue, drowsiness, or sleeping too much
  • Blurred vision
  • Agitation, depression, or uncharacteristic mood swings
  • Weakness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Sedation
  • Changes in breathing patterns or heart rate
  • Potentially fatal overdose
  • Increases in anxiety over a long period of time
  • Poor memory or concentration
  • Tolerance, physical and psychological dependence, and addiction

Most noteworthy, the most serious consequence of taking benzodiazepine medications besides the risk of overdose is the risk of developing an addiction to these drugs.

Dealing with Benzodiazepine Addiction

Benzodiazepine addiction is one of the most dangerous drug habits a person can have. That’s because, other than alcohol, benzodiazepines are the only drug that can cause fatal withdrawal symptoms. So, without proper medical care and a supervised detox, people withdrawing from benzodiazepines can have seizures- some of which are deadly. Likewise, other withdrawal symptoms from this class of drugs include:

  • Sleep problems and insomniaThe Risks and Dangers of Benzodiazepine Medications
  • Anxiety, irritability, and depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Muscle pain and headaches
  • Restlessness, inability to sit still
  • Blurry vision
  • Chest pain
  • Tremors and shakes
  • Suicidal feelings
  • Diarrhea and gastrointestinal problems
  • Dizziness
  • High blood pressure
  • Fluctuations in body temperature
  • Hallucinations
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Seizures and convulsions (which can be fatal)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Paranoia
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tingling, numbness
  • Trouble speaking
  • Psychosis

Because benzodiazepine withdrawal is so dangerous, it is never recommended that patients reduce their dose, stop taking their medications or attempt to detox themselves from these drugs. Additionally, without supervision and medical care, detoxing from benzodiazepines can kill.

Benzodiazepine Detox at Diablo Valley

To conclude, detox from benzodiazepine medications should be done carefully. For instance, in a medical detox facility, nurses and doctors assess patients and determine the best course of action. This may involve slowly weaning a patient off of the drugs or prescribing anticonvulsants to prevent or control seizures, such as drugs like phenobarbital. Also, the psychological effects of withdrawal must be addressed. For someone who has been taking benzodiazepine medications for a long time, the mental dependence on them can become severe.

Finally, without therapeutic support and help with managing anxiety (through behavioral therapy or non-habit-forming drugs), a patient may return to using benzodiazepines after detox is complete. So, it is absolutely essential to treat not just the addiction to the medication, but underlying causes that contribute to use of these drugs, like anxiety disorders. At Diablo Valley Drug and Alcohol Services, we offer safe detox for benzodiazepines as well as therapeutic support to help patients treat their anxiety in a safe manner. In addition, for help with a benzodiazepine dependence, call today at 925-289-1430.

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