Let’s kick this discussion off with an eye-opener — 35% of people who take benzodiazepines (benzos) for more than 4 weeks will become dependent. Benzos are a class of depressants that includes some well-known names, such as Xanax®, Valium®, Klonopin®, and Ativan®.
While the opioid crisis continues to make headlines, substance use disorders involving benzos are equally as concerning and potentially dangerous. To give you an idea about the dangers of benzos, the team here at NorthShore Health assembled a few points we want to share with you.
A look at benzodiazepine addiction by the numbers
We’ve already drawn your attention to one alarming statistic in the opening paragraph, but there are more. 12.5% of adults in the United States use benzos and about 2% develop a use disorder.
When it comes to overdoses, more than 30% of opioid-related overdose deaths in 2020 also involved benzos. In 2020, more than 12,000 people lost their lives to benzos alone.
Despite these numbers, 66 million prescriptions for benzos are handed out each year in the US.
What benzos are used for
Benzos are largely prescribed for sleep issues, anxiety, and panic attack disorders. These drugs are anti-anxiety medications that work on your central nervous system to calm and relax you.
Why benzos are misused so frequently
For a person who’s prescribed benzos, they can slowly build up tolerance toward the drug and feel they need to take more to achieve the same sedative effect. This increased usage only exacerbates the problem, and dependence and addiction aren’t far behind.
Unfortunately, benzos are also used recreationally, often to enhance the effects of opioids or synthetic opioids.
Why benzos are addictive
Crossing over from misusing benzos to addiction is not a very large leap. First, your body can become dependent on benzos very easily, which leads to withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit.
These symptoms are very unpleasant and include:
- Body aches
- Muscle spasms
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Nausea and vomiting
As you can see, these symptoms are enough to send even strong-willed people back to using benzos for relief.
Second, the addiction component comes in because the benzos hijack the dopamine release system in your brain. When you take benzos, dopamine, which is a pleasure chemical, floods your brain. As a result, your brain starts to crave these surges in dopamine and you’re unable to resist using.
There is help for benzo use disorders
Just as we can successfully help patients to break free from opioids, alcohol, and other drugs, we have considerable experience with benzodiazepine use disorders.
Through medication-assisted treatments, we can help you detox from the Benzo and then we help you move forward with comprehensive recovery support.
If you have more questions about benzodiazepine use disorders or you’d like to get help for you or a loved one, we invite you to contact our office in Bothell, Washington, to set up a confidential consultation.