“It was alcohol that got me onto valium. By the time I started going to Durham University, aged 20, I had a drink problem. I had a bad episode there – a week-long bender with alcohol and mephedrone. The family doctor put me on this drug and it really helped, it felt really nice. It was just a short prescription, a strip of seven 2.5mg of diazepam. It took away the pain from that bender. It was a slight euphoric sensation, a very warm fuzzy feeling, rushing through my body, that everything was going to be OK. Any issues I had didn’t matter anymore. It was very pleasant.”
Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are a prescription drug. So if a doctor writes you a prescription, the drug won’t hurt you, right?
Benzos are abused worldwide, and even those doing everything right can end up dependent or addicted. Those with chronic mental health issues such as anxiety are most at risk to be prescribed these drugs. Therefore, they are most at risk to become dependent on them.
With an ever-growing number of prescriptions being written for benzodiazepines in the U.S., and an ever-growing percentage of people abusing the drug, now is the time to know about this dangerous drug. The use of this drug has even been called an epidemic in recent years. This reminds many of the opioid epidemic and its ever-growing death toll among celebrities and regular citizens alike.
Here, we want to give you all the benzodiazepine facts so that you can act wisely and determine quickly if you or a loved one is abusing or addicted to benzodiazepines. Below, we’ll cover:
Benzodiazepines are depressants that affect the central nervous system. They function by making it easier for GABA neurotransmitters to bind to receptors and release GABA into the body. The release of this neurotransmitters increases feelings of calm, sleepiness, or peacefulness.
Because of this, benzos are most often used to sedate or physically relax the user. Benzodiazepines are very addictive, both physically and psychologically. This is because of the pleasant feeling associated with use. They also decrease the need for the body to create those pleasant feelings on its own.
Benzos are usually prescribed to treat conditions such as:
Because Benzodiazepines are used to treat so many different disorders and issues, Benzo addiction is actually quite widespread. Recently, some doctors have begun to look for non-addictive treatment options for patients. This would help them avoid the possibility of forming a benzo addiction at all.
For a visual depiction of how benzodiazepines aid in GABA binding and release in the body, check out this video.
Benzos are usually taken orally, in the form of a pill, capsule, or tablet. However, they can also be taken intramuscularly, intravenously, or rectally. In cases of benzo abuse, the drug is also sometimes crushed and snorted.
In the U.S., benzos commonly prescribed include:
All of these forms of the drug are addictive and can be dangerous if abused.
Each of these types of benzos fall into one of three categories: ultra short acting, short acting, and long acting benzodiazepines.
Ultra short-acting benzos have a half-life of up to 4 hours, and therefore can be expelled from the body almost entirely in less than a day.
Short-acting benzos are considered mid-range or intermediate. The half-life of this type can range from less than a day to one week, so the drugs can be found in a user’s system for significantly longer after use.
Long-acting benzos have a half-life of a week or longer, and are present in the system for the longest time. This type of benzodiazepine is hardest to detox from.
However, the exact half-life of a drug depends on many factors unique to the user, rather than the drug compound itself.
So, if traces of benzos, especially long-acting benzos, can be found in the body long after use, where can you find them?
Well, benzos can be found in any of the many parts of the body often tested in traditional drug tests. This depends on what type of drug was used, how much, and for how long. To some extent, though, benzodiazepines can be detected in blood, sweat, urine, hair, and saliva. There are drug tests for each of these types of traces and deposits.
Every so often, benzodiazepines will make headlines - and for the worst reason. Benzos are often at least partially to blame for the death of well-known and well-loved celebrities who began taking the drug for anxiety or related reasons.
However, benzos have contributed to the deaths of the very people who relied on it to feel okay. These celebrities include:
It is because of the drug’s danger to the lives of so many that some people consider the rising rates of benzodiazepine use an epidemic, like the opioid epidemic that was a hot topic during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Benzos also made the news in late 2018, when Science Daily reported that 17% of all use of benzodiazepine was by the drug’s abusers. Meanwhile, numbers of prescriptions written for the drug were as high as ever.
Additionally, in September of 2018, Medscape reported that there may be some correlation between benzodiazepine use and Alzheimer’s Disease in elderly patients. This is particularly troubling, as elderly patients are prescribed the drug quite often.
Their report also mentions the pre-established connection between benzodiazepines and bad falls among older users, increasing their risk for bone breaks and fractures. These falls are likely due to the sometimes disorienting effects of the drug, as well as the loss of motor control sometimes reported as a symptom of use.
But the dangers of benzos aren’t newly-discovered. As early as 2009, Stevie Nicks was mentioning them in every interview as one of the few regrets of her life. And even then, she’d begun using them completely legally and under a doctor’s orders. In Nicks’s case, she’d been prescribed benzos to help in her recovery from a cocaine addiction.
For a history of benzo use in the U.S. by Vice, check out this piece from May of 2018.
Benzodiazepine abuse is a problem everywhere in the United States. It’s also a drug that often leads to other types of addictions. The statistics on benzodiazepines tell us that:
It’s clear that Benzodiazepines are frequently the drug of choice for many drug abusers. These drugs are very dangerous. If you’re abusing them, or you believe you might be addicted to them, Benzodiazepine addiction treatment is available.
Benzodiazepines can be harmful in many different ways. But simply using benzodiazepines isn’t a problem in and of itself. And even using benzodiazepines incorrectly doesn't mean you’re addicted.
Here, we describe what benzodiazepine abuse is, and what it means to be addicted to benzos. If you are a benzo abuser, it could be time to stop use before you become an addict. And if you’re an addict, it’s certainly time to get help before benzodiazepines can cause any more harm to you, your life, and those you love.
“A friend gave me a Xanax at a party when I was younger – he said it would be great. I saved it and I took it when I got home. I liked the way it made me feel, so I bought more the next week. I had social anxiety, which made me really uncomfortable. It stopped me going to school some days, and the Xanax made that go away.”
If you use benzodiazepines at all, you need to be aware of the right way to use them. Benzodiazepine abuse refers to any use of the drug outside of what a doctor prescribes. If you think of the words themselves, it makes sense - you are mis-using, or abusing, the drug.
Benzodiazepine abuse can take many forms. Some examples of benzo abuse include:
Benzo abuse can seem harmless at first, but almost always has farther-reaching consequences. What many people don’t realize is that Benzo abuse can quickly become a Benzo addiction, and this can happen without any warning at all.
Watch this video for more facts about benzo abuse across the U.S.
“At 26, after our first child, I had a hysterectomy and hit the menopause hard. I wasn't allowed hormone replacement therapy and I couldn’t sleep at night, so the doctors gave me three 10mg Nitrazepam a night. I had no idea at the time, but that was the start of 36 years on benzodiazepines, of really bad insomnia, terrible night sweats and high anxiety. I stopped taking them in 2012, but I’m extremely ill.”
A Benzodiazepine addiction is in place when the drug you’re taking becomes something you need to have to feel or function normally. Without benzos, you might not feel like yourself. Additionally, you’ll find it very difficult to stop using. Both your mind and your body are convinced that you must have benzodiazepines in your system to continue to function.
If you’re wondering if you’re addicted to Benzos, these Benzodiazepine addiction symptoms are quite typical:
However, the greatest indication that you’re addicted to benzos is that when you stop using them, you begin to crave them and go into withdrawals. The withdrawal symptoms of benzodiazepines are also intense, and include:
You certainly don’t have to exhibit all of these addiction signs or experience all of the withdrawal symptoms to have a Benzodiazepine addiction. If you do notice that you have one of more of these signs, getting professional help should be your next step. This way, you can stop using them safely and avoid an unpleasant and dangerous withdrawal process.
“I was working as a hospital nurse in the Midlands in the 2000s when I first started on them. I was stressed at the time because I was going through a custody battle involving a young son I loved. I turned to valium. It was easy access because I took them from the ward. I was taking 40 to 50mg a day – two blues in the morning and two at night. At the beginning I was using valium because it felt like I was wrapped in cotton wool, and also to detox from heroin, which I had been using on and off with crack for years. If I was a bit sick from heroin, I’d go to the valium. But soon valium became just another habit.”
~ Bob, age 52
The quote above is an incredible example of how easy it is to slip into benzodiazepine abuse or addiction. Even trained medical professionals can fall prey to the feelings created by benzo use. However, it’s also a great example of how easy it is to use benzos in conjunction with other drugs.
This co-occurring use of benzos with other drugs, whether legal or illegal, can be dangerous.
For example, benzodiazepines are often prescribed in conjunction with opioids such as Vicodin or Oxycontin. When they two types of drug are taken together, it can often enhance the high or pleasant feelings associated with the use of either one. This is dangerous because the user may feel as though they need to take more or less of one of the drugs in order to optimize the pleasant feelings. This kind of activity can quickly lead to a fatal overdose.
Benzos are often also used in conjunction with alcohol. Alcohol is completely legal in the U.S. as long as the user is above 21 years of age, but drinking while taking benzodiazepines could be dangerous. Alcohol and benzos are both depressants, or downers. Taking the two together could depress the central nervous system so much that the user could experience:
Benzos can also be dangerous when taken with several different cold medications. One of the primary ingredients in many medicines used to treat the symptoms of the common cold is dextromethorphan. Benzodiazepines and dextromethorphan together can result in a lack of coordination, dizziness, or other discomfort.
Additionally, taking benzos when you have a cold can be dangerous. The use of benzodiazepines can decrease the effect of the immune system.
These drug interactions with benzos range from unpleasant to deadly. That’s why it’s important to consult a doctor before taking other substances with benzodiazepines, even if you have a prescription for the benzos.
For a look at some of the dangers of mixing benzos with other substances, as well as a testimonial on how easy it is to become addicted to benzos, try this video.
Often, people tend to think of benzos as being safe because they’re prescribed by a doctor. However, this could not be further from the truth. If you take a look at some of the short term and long term effects of Benzodiazepines, it’s easy to see that long-term use can be dangerous and uncomfortable.
The effects of Benzos can include:
If an overdose has taken place, these normal effects of benzo use will be magnified. Overdosing on Benzodiazepines can happen under a few different circumstances.
The first is when you’ve made the decision on your own to increase your dosage of benzodiazepines, either in amount or frequency. You may have done so because you felt the drug had stopped helping as much as it had been or that it never helped quite enough. However, without guidance from a doctor, you’re leaving yourself open to all of the negative effects of an overdose. There’s a fine line between taking more benzos and taking too much benzos, and it can be deadly to cross it.
The second circumstance that often leads to an overdose on benzodiazepines is when someone decides to stop taking their Benzodiazepines on their own, without talking with a professional about their decision to do so. In this case, withdrawal symptoms are very likely to occur, and these symptoms are often severe enough to cause a relapse. However, if you then go back to using your previous dosage, your tolerance levels have probably changed. You could overdose much more easily than you could have when you knew your own tolerance.
Another way that some benzo users overdose is from clouded judgment caused by either the effects of benzo abuse or the effects of mixing benzos with other drugs. Someone who usually takes the same dosage of benzodiazepines each time could easily become confused and take more. This is a quick way to overdose.
A good indicator that you or someone else is overdosing on benzodiazepines is that the user is experiencing:
It’s unusual, but not unheard of, for a benzodiazepine overdose to end in death. However, the symptoms caused by such an overdose can be dangerous. It’s imperative that you find help quickly for someone abusing or addicted to benzos.
One of the biggest dangers of benzo abuse is the extent to which it is addictive. Even former users who have been clean for years claim to feel residual physical effects from extended use. Many argue that doctors should never prescribe such drugs for fear of addiction.
Consider watching this video for an example of the withdrawal symptoms of benzos. It is a testimonial on why it can be so difficult to kick the quickly-developed physical dependence they can cause. From this difficulty, you can likely see why many former users say that they would have preferred to never have it in the first place.
As with any addiction, treatment for benzodiazepine addiction must be taken seriously. It must also be specified to the needs and addiction history of each patient. Any treatment facility that treats every patient in the exact same way is probably not a treatment facility ready to provide high-quality and lasting care.
Treatment for benzodiazepine addiction should include both a detox program and a rehab program.
The first step to recovery is detoxing from benzodiazepines. This process involves removing all traces of the drug from your body.
Because of this, detox can be dangerous, uncomfortable, and difficult. Benzo use over time has caused your body to rely on the drug to function normally. Perhaps the GABA receptors no longer function even as much as they did before, and other body systems are thrown off as well.
The best way to detox is in a quality detox facility, surrounded 24/7 by trained medical professionals equipped to deal with and control the withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms occur as your body tries to cope without the presence of benzodiazepines.
The safest way to get off of benzos is to slowly take lower and lower doses, managed and scheduled by a doctor. Symptoms of withdrawal will still probably be present, but not as strongly as they would be if you were to attempt to quit cold turkey.
Doctors, nurses, and other professionals can also help ease withdrawal symptoms with medications or other techniques.
After addressing the physical side of addiction with detox, it’s time to address the psychological and social sides with a benzodiazepine rehab program. This program will help you learn to function without the drug. It will teach you healthy coping mechanisms and proper responses to stressors.
There are two common paths available for those wishing to undergo rehab: inpatient and outpatient.
Inpatient rehab is set up so that patients live and stay within the facility until the end of their treatment. They stay within the facility or campus for some time as they attend therapy and social activities, eat, sleep, and otherwise recovery from their addiction.
In general, inpatient treatment is seen as the most effective method of recovery. This means that of all those who complete a treatment program, those who completed an inpatient program are least likely to relapse in the future.
However, inpatient treatment isn’t for everyone. Consider the pros and cons of inpatient treatment for benzodiazepine addiction:
Outpatient rehab, however, is rehab attended consistently and repeatedly over time, but separate from life itself. Outpatient rehab also often involves both individual and group therapy, but worked into a unique daily schedule around pre-existing responsibilities and calendars.
The independence of such programs is appealing to many, but not best for everyone. It is important to once again consider the pros and cons of outpatient treatment for benzodiazepine addiction:
“I was doing a high pressured academic masters degree. I was in the library a lot, isolated. I graduated, but the intensity left me crippled with anxiety. I was sick every morning and after I ate. The family doctor was a private one and he put me on 20mg of Diazepam, 1.5mg of Clonazepam and a sedative to help me sleep.”
No one sets out to become addicted to benzodiazepines, but the disease of addiction can hit hard and fast. We understand, and we want to help.
If you’ve been reading this information and thinking that these signs sound a lot like something you or someone you love is experiencing, it’s likely time to get help.
But perhaps you’re not yet sure if you’re addicted. If that’s the case, try our addiction quiz or family member addiction quiz. You’re also welcome to sign up for a free addiction assessment over the phone.
Regardless of how long you’ve been using these dangerous drugs inappropriately, your Benzodiazepine use is a very serious problem. If you’re a Benzo addict, it’s important for you to find the right kind of professional help. Perhaps you can find it at Northpoint Washington, our addiction treatment center in Edmonds, Washington or one of our other locations - Northpoint Idaho, Northpoint Evergreen Bellevue, or Ashwood Recovery Boise.
At Northpoint Recovery, we are able to assist you with the symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal, which are typical when stopping these drugs. We’ll monitor your progress as you go through the withdrawal stage and provide you with the assistance you need to stop using them safely.
But we can provide more services than simply detox, or removing the drug from your body.
We have a rehab center focused on teaching you to live without the drug, helping you learn coping skills for the many troubles and trials of life, and aiding you in regaining your life from the jaws of addiction.
We want to give the best care possible. To this end, we maintain a 2 to 1 staff to patient ratio at all times. We provide opportunities for activities that help in a holistic recovery. These include yoga, hiking, and aerobic exercises. We also provide both individual and group therapy in a variety of creative styles, including education and art.
While our Washington location doesn't open until April of 2019. however, our other locations are ready and waiting with staff hoping to help you be a better and healthier you.
But don’t take our word for it - hear what former patients at each of our locations had to say about their experience:
“Ashwood is beyond amazing! I went to one other outpatient treatment in the Boise area and everything and everyone there was lackluster. Ashwood makes sure to teach about the addiction model, helps you build a good peer support system and have counselors that genuinely care about you. The alumni activities are lit. The staff is lit. And I'm lit on recovery.” - Christian James Tovar on Facebook
Northpoint Recovery Idaho
“Initially, I was extremely anxious and scared to go to a rehab facility but Northpoint Recovery was the most unreal experience and I don’t regret going at all. The care I received saved my life. The food was amazing and I came out weighing 20 lbs more. The schedule is very structured and consistent, I really liked that I was never just sitting around bored, you are constantly busy and my favorite part was being able to workout and do yoga along with treatment. I would highly recommend Northpoint to anyone that is considering treatment. I can honestly say I would not be here if it wasn’t for them and their amazing staff and program!” - Jonah Carleton on Facebook
The Evergreen at Northpoint
“Today I celebrate 11 months of sobriety and I give all the credit to the staff of Northpoint Recovery. I struggled with addiction issues with both alcohol and cocaine for the better part of 25 years. I tried many times to quit on my own and went through programs offered through the Veterans Administration however nothing kept be clean and sober until I made the call to NPR and through there 28 day inpatient program and the professional care that I received both while an in-patient and after care I am proud to say that I am a happier, healthier person. If you truly want a better life for you and your loved ones you owe it to yourself to walk through the doors of NPR and into a brand new you.” - Kevin D. Fletcher on Facebook
You can also find more testimonials from former patients here.
If you would like to learn more about how Northpoint Recovery can assist you as you recover from your Benzo addiction, please contact us right away. Recovery may not be easy, but it will be worth it.