In the shadow of the opioid crisis, there are increasing concerns about benzos (benzodiazepines), common drugs that are often prescribed to treat anxiety, seizures and insomnia but can have adverse effects when misused.
The Mountainside Treatment Center, which has a location in Wilton, has issued a report warning about benzos that include popular brand name sedatives, such as Xanax, Ativan and Klonopin. The report gives four reasons why benzos are a growing cause for concern:
Benzos alter the mind
Though many Americans use benzos to improve their sleep patterns and relieve anxiety, over time these drugs can have a damaging impact on mental state, prompting changes in mood as well as cognitive decline.
A 2017 journal study found that long-term benzo users suffered from memory loss, lack of concentration, and difficulty processing new information. Other psychological symptoms of benzo use include aggressive behavior, irritability, and disturbing dreams, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Benzos are addictive
Benzodiazepines are generally prescribed for short-term use. If people take these medications frequently or continue to use them for longer than recommended, they face an increased risk of addiction.
Users can build a tolerance to these drugs after just three to four weeks, meaning they have to take higher doses to experience the medication’s original effects.
The New England Journal of Medicine discovered that nearly 50 percent of people who use benzos longer than one month become dependent on them.
Dangerous withdrawal symptoms
Abruptly discontinuing benzo use can result in withdrawal symptoms that range from uncomfortable to life-threatening. Harmful side effects may include panic attacks, anxiety, depression, and seizures.
“Benzodiazepine detox can be especially challenging to navigate because some withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety and seizures, may have been the reason users began self-medicating initially,” said Carolee Paruta, regional director of outpatient services at Mountainside. “This leaves benzodiazepine users in a cycle that can be difficult to break.”
Benzos are deadly when combined with opioids. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, benzos factor into more than 30% of opioid overdoses. Because opioids and benzos are both sedatives that can suppress breathing, mixing these drugs can have lethal consequences.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the combination of benzos and opioids claimed the lives of over 11,500 individuals in 2017.
Because anti-anxiety medications are generally prescribed by a doctor, many people underestimate their dangers.
Those who are worried about their use should share their concerns with a doctor, who may be able to recommend other alternatives. People suffering from benzodiazepine addiction are encouraged to slowly taper off of these drugs in a clinical setting.