Benzodiazepines are a group of medications, which are often referred to as tranquilizers. These are prescription-only drugs that are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, muscle tension and alcohol withdrawal, as well as controlling seizures, which is all possible owing to their action on your brain and spinal cord. Although thousands have been developed, only a small number of benzodiazepines have been approved by the FDA and they are grouped according to the duration of their effects. For instance, midazolam and triazolam are known as ultra-short acting benzodiazepines, while alprazolam and lorazepram are short-acting, and diazepam is long-acting.
While benzodiazepines are only legitimately available on prescription, they are often abused owing to the effects they have on your body and their ease of availability. Abusing benzodiazepines is particularly dangerous if you do so alongside other medications or alcohol, but even when taken alone it is possible to develop a midazolam, diazepam or lorazepam addiction, or indeed to any other of these anxiolytic drugs. Developing an addiction increases your risk of serious harm, so it is no surprise that abuse of benzodiazepines often leads to the need for treatment in the emergency department. Even though it is possible to reverse their effects, seeking help with your reliance on these addictive medications is essential if you are to safeguard your future health and well-being, and avoid the destruction that addiction can bring to your life.
Effects of Benzodiazepines
Even when taking tranquilizers as prescribed by your doctor, you are vulnerable to their unwanted effects. As discussed by the University of Maryland, while low to moderate doses of benzodiazepines can reduce anxiety and tension, they can also result in the following unwanted symptoms:
- Feeling particularly tired
- Reduced control over your movements, including involuntary muscle movements
- Reduced breathing rate
- Digestive symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea
- The sensation of vertigo
- Altered speech such as stuttering or slurring
- Changes to your vision
- Impaired mental function, which may lead to problems with memory and confusion
- Low mood
If higher doses are needed to control your condition or you abuse benzodiazepines, you may experience additional symptoms following their use. This includes feelings of euphoria, which is why tranquilizers are taken to experience, for instance, a triazolam or clonazepam high. However, even though you may experience a boost to your mood with high doses, at the same time mood swings are also likely. Some users even become hostile and behave erratically. You may simply find though that with increased doses of benzodiazepines you feel extremely drowsy and your slowed reflexes can make it difficult for you to act.
Besides these short-term symptoms of benzodiazepine abuse, if you take long-acting tranquilizers repeatedly over a period of time, the drug can accumulate in your fat stores and lead to over-sedation, which can take days to become apparent. Signs of benzodiazepine over-sedation include feeling confused and disoriented, difficulty with mental functions, slurred speech, weak muscles and poor co-ordination. The risk of developing these over-sedation symptoms is greater with Librium or Valium addiction, as both are long-acting drugs.
As the University of Texas reports, previous research has shown that diazepam is the most frequently abused tranquilizer, though abuse of alprazolam and lorazepam are also significant. Abuse of benzodiazepines isn’t just limited to adults though, as research shows that close to 3% of 8th graders, 5% of 10th graders and 7% of 12th graders take these drugs recreationally. Teens often choose to abuse these medications as they see them as a safer option as they are prescription drugs and they have easy access to them at home or can easily obtain them from the internet. However, while you may not wonder is lorazepam addictive, the addictive nature of this and other tranquilizers should not be underestimated.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that benzodiazepines trigger addiction in a very similar way to cannabis, opiates and club drugs. Drug addiction occurs due to the rapid rise in dopamine in the brain’s reward circuits, which encourages users to seek out more drugs to repeat the experience. Tranquilizers promote this surge in dopamine by reducing the effects of inhibitory interneurons, which are found in an area of the brain known as the VTA. Usually inhibitory interneurons control dopamine levels by reducing the rate at which the nerve cells that release dopamine fire. When benzodiazepines limit the power these specialist neurons have over those that release dopamine, levels of dopamine soar. In the short-term this encourages repeat drug taking, but changes in specific receptors (AMPA) in the brain promote even more pleasurable feelings with repeated exposure to benzodiazepines and the symptoms of addiction itself.
Symptoms of addiction extend beyond the effects that high doses of tranquilizers have on you, as changes in your behavior encourage further drug taking. These changes may include losing interest in your studies, work or hobbies, spending less time with family and friends, spending an increasing amount of time thinking about your habit and continuing to abuse tranquilizers even when they have a negative impact on your life. Before you know it, Xanax, Valium or Activan addiction has taken hold of you.
As your body becomes dependent on the effects of benzodiazepines, withdrawing from these drugs places your body in a state of shock, which leads to a range of dangerous symptoms. It is therefore advisable that you never detox from benzodiazepines abruptly and detoxing from tranquilizers is done under medical supervision to allow the medication you take to be gradually reduced. By undergoing supervised benzodiazepine withdrawal, you can minimize the risk of the following Valium or Activan withdrawal symptoms:
- Rapid pulse and raised blood pressure
- Excessive sweating
- Digestive upset, including diarrhea and poor appetite
- Insomnia and restlessness
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Hallucinations and agitation
- Reduced consciousness
If allowed to develop without intervention, these Activan withdrawal symptoms may in the most serious cases lead to death. However, this is entirely preventable by joining a benzodiazepine detox program. Typically, during the withdrawal process your doctor will substitute a long-acting tranquilizer for a short-acting tranquilizer, as simply cutting the dose of an existing drug can still lead to significant symptoms. You will be closely monitored throughout detoxification so that signs of deterioration in your cardiovascular system, nervous system or mental health are identified promptly. It may also be necessary to introduce a medication to manage any symptoms that do develop to ensure your comfort and safety. The benzodiazepine dose you take will be tapered down to take into account your individual circumstances and once the drug is completely out of your system you can start a program of rehabilitation. With specialist talking therapies, such as CBT, you can learn to change your thoughts and behaviors to help you leave your drug addiction behind you.
As prevention is better than cure though, avoiding prescription drug abuse in the first place is advisable. Helping others to avoid addiction is just as important, so if a loved one asks “Is Activan addictive?” you can advise them of the dangers of benzodiazepines and discuss any concerns they may have about their drug use.
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