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Benzodiazepines are often utilised in the fight against common mental health disorders. These disorders include panic attacks, anxiety, and insomnia.

It is estimated that UK GP’s dispense around 10 million benzodiazepines prescriptions each year. It’s thus not surprising to hear that Benzodiazepine addiction is on the increase.

By far the most common type of benzodiazepines prescribed in the United Kingdom is Diazepam, Alprazolam, and Lorazepam.

Benzodiazepines, commonly referred to as ‘benzos’, are a type of opioid-based drug that acts on the Central Nervous System, changes brain function, and treats a variety of conditions in the process.

There are serious side-effects of taking benzodiazepines, and this kind of strong medication can also be highly addictive when used. Benzodiazepine addiction is a serious health concern and is increasingly common in the UK.

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At Rehab 4 Addiction, we offer high-quality rehabilitation & detoxification services tailored to your individual needs.

To discover your road to recovery, call us today on 0800 140 4690.

What are benzodiazepines used for?

Benzodiazepines are prescribed by doctors to treat the following conditions:

  1. Anxiety: Doctors can prescribe benzodiazepines to help patients cope with severe anxiety. However, they should be taken for short-term relief only
  2. Panic disorders: benzodiazepines can also be prescribed to treat panic disorders in patients who don’t respond well to antidepressants
  3. Sleeping disorders: benzodiazepines are also commonly used to treat sleeping disorders like insomnia. Individuals with difficulty falling/staying asleep can take benzodiazepines to enjoy normal sleeping patterns. However, as in the case of anxiety, benzodiazepines should be a short-term solution to sleeping problems
  4. Alcohol withdrawal: benzodiazepines can also counter the withdrawal effects of alcohol addiction

Benzodiazepines are also used to treat seizures. They also work as muscle relaxants.

Why is benzodiazepine addiction so common in the UK?

It’s thought that as many as 1.5 million people in the UK suffer from an addiction to benzodiazepines. This would mean benzodiazepines addiction is second only to alcohol in terms of the sheer number of people who are addicted to it.

Given the epidemic portion of benzodiazepine addiction in the UK, you might reasonably ask why so many people are addicted to otherwise little-known drug.

The majority of people who become addicted to benzodiazepines began taking these drugs for medicinal purposes. GPs are instructed by NICE guidelines to only offer short-term courses of benzodiazepines due to the high risk of abuse.

Many of these people who start to take benzodiazepines for medicinal purposes are not even aware of this abuse potential.

When patients begin to take benzodiazepines, they will experience a reduction in mental health problems such as anxiety and panic attacks. They will be able to sleep better and generally feel happier.

These positive feelings associated with benzodiazepines is what makes these drugs so addictive. When their benzodiazepine prescription runs out, users will begin to experience cravings for benzodiazepines.

People addicted to benzodiazepines are known to then go on to buy these drugs illegally from unregulated sources.

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How do people become addicted to benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are addictive because they make you feel good when you take them. It’s this positive feeling that makes benzodiazepines so addictive.

When you take benzodiazepines, your ‘reward system’ within your brain is engaged. Specifically, a chemical known as dopamine is engaged. Other ‘feel-good’ chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine are also engaged.

Over time, benzodiazepine exposure weakens the brain’s ability to produce these pleasure-producing chemicals naturally.

Simply put, if you don’t continue to take benzodiazepines, you will experience depression and immense displeasure. That’s why people say benzodiazepine addicts must continue to take benzodiazepines merely to ‘cope with life’.

When you take benzodiazepines, you will not experience the same immense euphoria that’s associated with drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

Instead, the ‘high’ attained from taking benzodiazepines is much more subtle. You will begin to experience a feeling of calm within around an hour after you have consumed benzodiazepines.

What is the science behind benzodiazepine addiction?

Benzodiazepines, like alcohol, work by engaging the brains ‘down regulator’. This down regulator is known as GABA-A. GABA-A stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid.

GABA-A works by slowing down chemical messages transported across the brain. This is why GABA-A is often referred to as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. GABA-A is thus the brain’s main braking system.

GABA-A kicks in naturally when you experience anxiety from environmental cues. For instance, if you perceive danger, GABA-A stops you from overreacting to danger.

Overreacting could mean you are unable to navigate yourself out of dangerous situations, which could have fatal consequences.

In the ancestral environment, those who did not develop GABA-A were thus more likely to die and not pass their genes on to the next generation.

Benzodiazepines thus hi-jack this naturally occurring mechanism that allows you to level-off anxiety.

When you are under the influence of benzodiazepines, you will begin to slur your words and you may experience a blackout because this natural sedating mechanism is being engaged.

Who might be prescribed benzodiazepines?

Individuals who suffer from the above conditions can be given benzodiazepines. However, the medication should be used to treat severe cases of insomnia and anxiety that have a significant negative effect on a person’s day-to-day life.

Given the medication’s high chances of causing addiction, benzodiazepines should be prescribed sparingly. They are normally prescribed for situations that can be tackled by a single dosage and not for continuous treatment.

There are many scenarios that don’t warrant the use of benzodiazepines. Sleeping pills can help with typical sleeping problems such as sleeplessness because of anxiety or grief linked to bereavement.

Benzodiazepines shouldn’t be taken repeatedly i.e. daily or longer than 4 weeks.

However, some doctors prescribe low doses spreading over long periods. Such prescriptions are recommended for some people and rarely result in addiction problems.

If you experience adverse side effects after taking benzodiazepines, develop dependence or suffer from withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking benzodiazepines, seek professional help immediately.

Types of benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines come in many different names. The most common include:

1. Xanax (or alprazolam): This benzodiazepine is the most popularly prescribed of all benzodiazepines in the U.S. Xanax is FDA approved for treating anxiety and panic disorders

2. Chlordiazepoxide (or Librium): This benzodiazepine is used to treat/manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms

3. Tranxene (or Clorazepate): This benzodiazepine is used to treat severe anxiety and insomnia. Tranxene is a hypnotic sedative

4. Valium (or Diazepam): Valium is a hypnotic, sedative, anxiety-reducing, and anticonvulsant drug. It has a rapid reaction effective for treating insomnia, panic attacks, restless leg syndrome, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal. Diazepam can treat benzodiazepine addiction because of the drug’s low potency

5. Oxazepam: This benzodiazepine is used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms

6. Dalmane (or Flurazepam): Dalmane is an anxiety-reducing sedative used to treat insomnia

7. Temazepam (or restoril): Restoril is prescribed for short-term insomnia treatment

8. Trilam: Trilam or Halicion, Hypam, Triazolam or Apo-Triazo is used for treating severe insomnia

9. Estazolam: This benzodiazepine is used to treat anxiety and insomnia in the short-term

Who should not take benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a strong drug that can have serious health risks for certain groups.

Benzodiazepines should not be taken by the following people:

Patients should inform doctors if they have any pre-existing medical condition and the treatment they are taking currently.

Doctors should prescribe benzodiazepines with full knowledge of any health condition patients may have as well as the medicine the patients are taking.

This information is critical for avoiding severe reactions/complications. Benzodiazepines shouldn’t be taken by individuals with severe kidney or liver disease as well as individuals with sleep apnoea (breathing difficulty during sleep) and severe lung disease

Benzodiazepines should not be taken by children. However, they can be prescribed to treat rare cases of insomnia linked to sleepwalking or fear when another medication (diazepam) is used.

Benzodiazepines can also be used to treat rare acute anxiety.

Benzodiazepines-related teen addiction cases are high. Benzodiazepines shouldn't be taken for recreational purposes, given the severe side effects associated with addiction.

Older people shouldn’t get regular doses given to adults. If an elderly individual is given benzodiazepines, they should receive a lower dose compared to the standard dosage given to adults.

Also, individuals with muscle weakness, chest problems, lung problems, personality disorder, liver problems, kidney problems, or porphyria, should take benzodiazepines with caution.

The same applies to individuals with a history of drug or alcohol abuse.

Can benzodiazepines be taken with other medication?

As discussed above, patients must notify their doctor if they are taking any medication currently. Benzodiazepines can react with some drugs and cause serious side effects.

However, benzodiazepines are used alongside psychiatric medication with no undesirable side effects. Some doctors will prescribe benzodiazepines and antidepressants or benzodiazepines and antipsychotics.

When prescribed alongside antidepressants, benzodiazepines work faster. However, they shouldn’t be taken over a prolonged time as this increases the chances of benzodiazepine addiction.

When prescribed alongside antipsychotics to treat schizophrenia among other similar conditions, they help to quickly calm down overly-excited or very agitated patients.

However, they should also be used for short-term purposes only.

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Dangers of benzodiazepine addiction

In the UK, doctors issue over 12 million benzodiazepine prescriptions. The most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines in the UK are Valium and Diazepam, given to individuals suffering from insomnia, anxiety, and other severe psychological disorders.

In most, if not all cases, patients are notified that the benzodiazepines are for short-term uses only such as two to four weeks for purposes of coping with underlying conditions.

However, most patients have no idea how addictive these benzodiazepines can be when abused. In fact, very few people know benzodiazepines are illegal if they aren’t prescribed.

The UK is home to over 1.5 million benzodiazepine addicts most of them being teen addiction cases. This makes benzodiazepines only second to alcohol addiction in the UK.

What’s more shocking is over 50% of individuals using benzodiazepines in the UK get drugs without prescriptions. Most of these individuals get benzodiazepines from street dealers, friends, family members, or online, yet the addiction has been linked to brain damage.

Although rare, benzodiazepines can impair a person’s memory and intellectual capacity permanently.

Co-occurring disorders linked to benzodiazepine addiction

Benzodiazepine addiction can occur alongside many mental health problems such as bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder.

Although benzodiazepines are used to treat conditions like anxiety disorder, addiction risks can result in dual diagnosis – the presence of addiction alongside a mental health problem. Dual diagnosis increases the risk of benzodiazepine abuse drastically.

Treating co-occurring disorders requires a professional approach characterised by group support and psychotherapy. Such treatment is present in private rehab facilities offering highly specialised addiction treatment.

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Benzodiazepine addiction and pregnancy complications

Benzodiazepine addicts must seek treatment before attempting to get pregnant. Benzodiazepines shouldn’t be taken during pregnancy given the risk posed to the developing baby.

The risks include urinary tract abnormalities, stomach abnormalities, autism, cleft palate, heart abnormalities, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia.

If Benzodiazepines are taken when a pregnancy has progressed or is about to end, they can cause floppy muscles, low body temperature, drowsiness, and withdrawal symptoms such as abnormal sleeping patterns, shaking, diarrhea and vomiting.

When benzodiazepines are taken while breastfeeding, they can build up in a baby’s body, causing severe effects.

Benzodiazepine overdose

Overdosing on benzodiazepines can be lethal, resulting in effects such as clammy skin, bluish lips, excessive sedation, low blood pressure, coma, slow breathing, sluggish reflexes, and death in worst cases.

If you or a loved one has overdosed on benzodiazepines, seek emergency medical services immediately.

What are the withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepine withdrawal could be fatal as the drug is physically addictive. Addiction is classified as physically addictive when physical withdrawal symptoms arise during detox.

If a benzodiazepine withdrawal is correctly managed, the risk of suffering from a fatal seizure or stroke is entirely removed.

Acute benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms begin to calm within 10-14 days into your detox. However, withdrawal symptoms may persist, albeit at non-fatal levels, for months following your decision to stop taking benzodiazepines.
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Physically acute benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Palpitations
  • Headache
  • Tinnitus
  • Weight loss
  • Panic attacks
  • Flu like symptoms
  • Nausea

Withdrawal symptoms are common among individuals who have been using benzodiazepines for 4 to 6 weeks. If such individuals stop taking benzodiazepines suddenly, they may experience weakness, stiffness, flu-like symptoms, visual problems, and stomach problems.

Common psychological effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal include:

  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Nightmares
  • Memory/concentration problems
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations

Do I need to go to rehab to fight my benzodiazepine addiction?

In short, the answer is yes. Inpatient treatment is the best option due to the severity of benzodiazepine overdose and the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Attempting to beat benzodiazepine addiction by reducing the dosage is difficult. Anticonvulsant and anti-anxiety medication can help make the process more bearable, which is administered within all of our rehab facilities by registered medical experts.

What is the treatment process?

The first phase of Benzodiazepines addiction treatment is detoxification. This means eliminating all traces of opioids from the body.

When one becomes dependent on Benzodiazepines, the body's tolerance for also increases. This means a greater dose is needed and a larger quantity to satisfy your craving and addiction.

Long-term Benzodiazepine abuse means that it's probable that your only chance of recovery is undergoing a treatment option - namely, a tapered detox.

Tapering the amount of Benzodiazepine you consume slowly allows the body to withdraw from the drug, and can be a way to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Due to the intensity of the drug and its heroin-like qualities, the detoxification process can be unpleasant. This is not the time to be put off or delay seeking treatment, as Benzodiazepine addiction can, and does, result in fatalities.

The team of experts at our rehab facilities will accommodate your physical needs during the detox process, and we also offer treatment that focuses on mental problems like brain damage caused by prolonged Benzodiazepine abuse.

The best addiction rehabs offer cognitive behavioural therapy to deal with Benzodiazepines addiction.

Rehabilitation works in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most important component of rehabilitation is the therapies you will benefit from.

These therapies include:

  • Relapse prevention strategies
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Group support and counselling
  • Contingency management
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • 12-step work

Therapy in the rehabilitation stage is effective since it addresses the negative effects of Benzodiazepines abuse while retraining the brain to avoid destructive habits going forward.

CBT should be complemented by group therapy where Benzodiazepine addicts work through their difficulties together.

There is evidence linking a combined approach to increased chances of recovery from all kinds of addiction, let alone addiction to Benzodiazepines.

While regular rehabs can offer treatment, outpatient rehab treatment may not be recommendable for the kind of specialised care needed for Benzodiazepine addicts.

Private residential rehab treatment is a better bet for all cases due to the aftercare provided - you aren't alone when you exit our facility once you have made a full recovery.

At Rehab4Addiction, we offer a year of free aftercare for all of our patients, which includes round the clock help and advice, motivational resources to fall back on, as well as a community and support that will stay with you as you continue on your road to a Benzodiazepine-free life.

Start Your Recovery

We offer rehabilitation & detoxification services tailored to your individual needs.

To discover your road to recovery, call us today on 0800 140 4690