Patients suffering from insomnia, anxiety and seizures may be given benzodiazepine to manage their conditions. Bearing common brand names like Valium and Xanax, benzodiazepines are tranquilizers which are also given to manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms and administered before an anesthetic prior to surgical operations. Doctors also prescribe it to induce amnesia for unpleasant procedures. Unfortunately, it is also prone to be abused when those who aren’t prescribed use it to experience its pleasurable effects.
Benzodiazepine works on the central nervous system where it sedates, relaxes the muscle and brings down a person’s levels of anxiety. In addition to the pleasurable effects it gives, the ready availability of benzodiazepines is also a contributory factor to its abuse potential. Moreover, benzodiazepines also carry a very low risk for toxicity when taken by itself. Even when a person overdoses on the drug, it rarely results in death, making it relatively “safe.”
However, benzodiazepine is rarely taken on its own. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) revealed that around 80 percent of benzodiazepine abuse is used with other drugs like opioids and even with alcohol. This is what amplifies the toxic effects of benzodiazepines. In fact, the AAFP states that as many as 41 percent of alcoholics have reported abuse of benzodiazepines at one point “to modulate intoxication or withdrawal effects.” When combined with alcohol, benzodiazepine can produce potentially fatal overdoses.
There are only about 15 benzodiazepine drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States even if there are already 2,000 different types of benzodiazepines that have been produced. Benzodiazepines like midazolam (Versed) and triazolam (Halcion) are classified as ultra-short acting while alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam (Ativan) are short-acting. The long-acting types of benzodiazepine drugs are chlordiazepoxide (Librium) and diazepam (Valium).
Benzodiazepine is actually well-tolerated when taken in normal doses and can provide the desired relief from conditions like panic attacks and insomnia. However, when used in high doses and especially when taken together with other drugs or alcohol, acute toxicity can result. If you or your loved ones are on benzodiazepine and you experience difficulty breathing, confusion, drowsiness, weakness, slurred speech and blurred vision, it’s important to go to the doctor or hospital emergency room because these are symptoms of overdose. If not properly dealt with, coma or even death can result.
Chronic abuse of benzodiazepine can be difficult to tell although it can mimic the symptoms that led the physician to prescribe the drug in the first place. These symptoms of abuse can include anxiety, anorexia, difficulty sleeping, weakness and headaches. Moreover, a person’s appearance and performance in school or work can also change for the worse with benzodiazepine abuse.
If you or someone you care about is exhibiting signs of benzodiazepine dependence, it’s important to seek help right away. Don’t attempt to take off the person from the drug abruptly as this can result to strokes, seizures, hallucinations and heart attacks. A medical doctor who specializes in addictions will ensure that the individual is safely weaned from the drug by tapering the benzodiazepine doses gradually.