Chemical Dependency: Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs used to treat anxiety. Common benzodiazepines include Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, and Ativan. These drugs help to suppress overactive nerve cells, which may become excited due to anxiety or panic attacks. Benzodiazepines can also be prescribed for sleep disorders, muscle relaxation, or for pre-surgical sedation. This medication is prescribed by physicians and nurse practitioners but should only be considered following a complete medical and psychological history. If a person has a history of substance abuse, the attending physician should be notified.
Benzodiazepines are highly addictive and can cause physical dependence. Many addicts do not become addicted to benzodiazepines but rather are combined with other drugs to achieve an increase “high” effect. Individuals can take this medication for months or even years and not become dependent but the risk of dependency is elevated. Those who need to take a benzodiazepine for anxiety management should be carefully monitored by a physician or other medical professional.
An addiction to benzodiazepines occurs when an individual experiences tolerance, withdrawal, and drug-seeking behavior, similar to what one might experience with other drugs and alcohol. The American Psychiatric Association recognizes benzodiazepine addiction as a Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder. The characteristics of abuse are similar to those found in alcohol and other drug related disorders including needing to take more of the medication to achieve the same effect, drug-seeking behavior, and problems with social, occupational, and recreational activities.
Benzodiazepine addiction commonly occurs in those who also have a comorbid addiction to alcohol and other illicit drugs. Since benzodiazepines cause drowsiness and a state of relaxation, many alcohol and drug addicts use the medication for sleeping or to relieve symptoms of depression or anxiety. If an individual exhibits symptoms of a Sedative, Hypnotic, or Anxiolytic Use Disorder and has a corresponding alcohol or drug abuse problem, a professional trained in co-occurring disorders should be consulted. Often, the individual addicted to benzodiazepines may benefit from inpatient rehabilitation due to the withdrawal effects. Withdrawal can include seizures, confusion, insomnia, and hyperactivity.
This medication does provide symptom relief to those who truly can benefit from its use. Most people can take a benzodiazepine and not develop an addiction provided they take the medication exactly as prescribed by a medical professional.