Benzodiazepines are often utilised in the fight against common mental health disorders. These disorders include panic attacks, anxiety, and insomnia. It is estimated UK GPs 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 types of Benzodiazepines prescribed in the United Kingdom is Diazepam, Alprazolam and Lorazepam.
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.
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-amino butyric 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 black out because this natural sedating mechanism is being engaged.
What are the signs of benzodiazepine addiction?
If you suspect your loved one may suffer from a benzodiazepine addiction, there exist some common signs that may serve to confirm your suspicion. Benzodiazepine are essentially tranquilizers. This means when a person is under the influence of benzodiazepine, he or she will appear to be detached from life. Users will stop engaging in activities they hitherto placed much importance upon. These activities typically include hobbies, interests, and pursuits.
People addicted to benzodiazepines may stop losing interest in life in general. Their life goals literally fall by the wayside. Family and professional life is known to particularly suffer when an addiction to benzodiazepines arise.
What are the short term symptoms of benzodiazepine use?
The short term and immediate symptoms of benzodiazepine use include:
- Impaired coordination
- Slurred speech
- Breathing difficulties
What are the medium to long-term symptoms of benzodiazepine use?
Medium to long term symptoms of benzodiazepine use include:
- General fatigue
- A pre-occupation with benzodiazepine (known as ‘benzodiazepine neurosis’)
Although benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety, when you stop taking benzodiazepines, you will begin to experience a condition known as rebound anxiety. Rebound anxiety caused by benzodiazepine withdrawal is typically much more intensive than the anxiety benzodiazepines were initially prescribed to treat. Rebound anxiety often manifests itself in agoraphobia and panic attacks.
Medium-to-long term benzodiazepines use also causes memory loss. In some instances, users will develop amnesia. Users may experience blackouts, and users are often unable to remember what they did when under the influence of benzodiazepines. Also, because benzodiazepines weaken the brain’s key ‘feel good’ chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine, benzodiazepine users are also more likely to experience depression.
What are benzodiazepine’s withdrawal symptoms?
A benzodiazepine withdrawal is potential lethal because benzodiazepines are physically addictive. An 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.
Acute benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Panic attacks
- Flu like symptoms
A more definitive list of benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms is maintained at www.benzo.org.
Rather tragically, many people addicted to benzodiazepines are not even aware that they are experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking benzodiazepines. This is sadly one reason why so many people fail when trying to come off benzodiazepines. Many others class withdrawal symptoms as rebound anxiety, and they simply continue to take benzodiazepines in order to avoid experiencing anxiety.
How does benzodiazepine treatment work?
Undergoing benzodiazepine withdrawal is potentially fatal due to the risk of suffering from a seizure/convulsion. This means it’s essential to undergo a medically assisted benzodiazepine detox programme. When you undergo a medically assisted benzodiazepine detox, your dose of benzodiazepines is slowly tapered down at a safe rate.
Tapering allows the brain to readjust at a safe and manageable rate. A tapering regime will usually run over a four week period. Some people may require a longer term tapering programme. You may also be prescribed with anticonvulsant medications to assist you through the detox process.
Whilst undergoing a medically assisted detox is vital, it’s also important for you to receive therapy. Therapy aims to treat the mental causes of benzodiazepine addiction. Specifically, therapy helps you to identify and overcome addiction triggers linked to benzodiazepine abuse. You will also benefit from attending highly educational workshops that inform you about the science of benzodiazepine addiction.
Getting help for benzodiazepine addiction
To learn about benzodiazepine addiction treatment, contact Rehab 4 Addiction today on 0800 140 4690. Alternatively, contact us through this website and a member of our team will return your call shortly.
Types of drug addiction
Click on one of the links below to learn more about addiction to a number of specific drugs:
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