Benzodiazepines, commonly called ‘benzos’ are in a class of drugs called minor tranquilizers. The first benzodiazepine developed was Librium, which was developed in 1955. It was followed in 1963 by Valium. It didn’t take long for people to become dependent on this new class of drugs. Encouraged by some doctors who didn’t fully realize the potential dangers, lots of people who had never had trouble with addiction before, found themselves addicted to benzos. The phenomenon was even immortalized in the song “Mother’s Little Helper” by The Rolling Stones in 1966. (1)
How Do Benzos Work?
Benzodiazepines work by acting upon the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA reduces brain activity, producing a calming effect on the brain. (2) While they accomplish this effectively, long-term use of benzo can be problematic and they have a high potential for abuse. Long-term and/or excessive use of benzos has been shown to produce negative effects including:
- Anterograde Amnesia, affecting long-term memory.
- Disinhibition, leading to uncharacteristic and high-risk behaviors.
- Delirium, impaired cognition, and confusion, especially in older patients.
Sadly, it would take years before medical science caught up to what some unfortunate patients already knew. Benzodiazepines are very addictive and easy to become dependent upon. Worse, they are one of only a few classes of drugs which can induce deadly withdrawal symptoms, including seizures. The others being alcohol and barbiturates, which are in more limited use today. The popularity of tranquilizers like benzo seemed to peak in the late 1970s to early 1980s. As America became more health-conscious, it was less socially acceptable to drink to excess or pop ‘nerve pills’ in certain circles.
Consequences of Long-Term Benzo Use
Today we are living a massive resurgence in the popularity of benzodiazepines. In 2007 over 112 million prescriptions for benzos were written. (2) No one is quite sure exactly when or why it began. A larger proportion of the population is being diagnosed with anxiety than in the past and many people seeking honest relief from the condition choose a pill as the answer. Short-term use of benzodiazepines when prescribed by a physician, for example following trauma, seems to have a much lower risk profile. The problems begin when someone uses benzodiazepines regularly, habitually. Especially if they are being abused.
The changes created in the brain by benzos aren’t fully understood yet. What we do know is that long-term use has long-term consequences. We also know that detoxing off benzos can be extremely dangerous unless it is done under a doctor’s supervision in a clinical environment. The withdrawal effects can be not uncomfortable, but catastrophic without proper medical detox. Fortunately, the field of drug and alcohol treatment is in the midst of a renaissance of sorts. Medical science is bringing new treatments to bear on the problem of addiction every year. Addiction professionals are better equipped than ever before to not only help you detox from benzos but to guide you in the length of the recovery process that can follow.
Recovery from Benzo Addiction
Millions of people who were dependent on benzos have managed to come out on the other side and remain free of this difficult addiction. One of the most helpful therapeutic tools has been more effective non-narcotic treatments for anxiety. Some are in the form of new medications that are not addictive. Others range from the modern, like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR therapy to the ancient, like meditation.
Regardless of your situation, if you or someone you care about is dependent on benzodiazepines, there is help available. Call us today at (844) 746-8836 and we’ll be happy to walk you through the options for care.