Valium, Xanax, Ativan, Librium, and Roofies—these are just some of the most common names for a class of psychoactive drugs known as benzodiazepines (BZD or BZs). These substances are commonly prescribed by doctors for their sedative properties. But unfortunately, because of abuse, BZD has a bad reputation for causing addiction.
Benzodiazepines are drugs that have a core chemical structure that involves the fusion of a benzene ring and a diazepine ring. These drugs enhance the effect of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, causing hypnotic effects. They are often used to treat insomnia, agitation, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal.
They can be used to relax the muscles, relieve anxiety, or induce sleep. However, higher doses of BZD may cause anterograde amnesia, and even dissociation.
Benzodiazepines are considered safe for short term use, especially when taken as prescribed. Still, BZD is commonly used recreationally. In fact, it has many other street names such as tranks, downers, roach, heavenly blues, and goofballs.
History of Benzodiazepine
The first of its kind, chlordiazepoxide (also known as Librium), was accidentally discovered in 1955 by Leo Sternbach. It wouldn’t be made available for public use until 1960.
By 1963, more BZD emerged, with Hoffman-La Roche marketing diazepam, which we know as Valium. By 1977, benzodiazepines were the most prescribed medications globally. It took 15 years before benzodiazepines were associated with their habit-forming properties. Abuse and dependence became a real problem.
Medical leaders, researchers, and legislators began to take action as more information rose about the benefits and adverse effects of BZD. Up until today, the law, the medical industry, and the general public all have different opinions regarding this class of drugs. We can say that this drug is still evolving as we learn more about how to use it properly, and what happens when these drugs are abused.
Why is Benzodiazepine Abused?
Despite its many helpful uses, BZD can still lead to physical and psychological dependence. Once a person develops dependence, they may encounter various withdrawal symptoms when intake is abruptly stopped.
For people who are only taking normal doses for short periods of time, there’s only a very small chance that they’ll encounter these problems.
The reason benzodiazepines are among the most commonly abused drugs is because they produce effects similar to alcohol intoxication. They are administered orally, but can also be taken intravenously or intranasally. BZD also has a widespread availability, making them easily accessible for those who wish to abuse them.
Death and serious illness rarely result from abusing BZD alone. However, the problem is that these drugs are often taken alongside other substances. Taken with either alcohol or other medications, their effects can be fatal.
Benzodiazepine also has a reputation for being used as a date rape drug. These substances can prevent a person from resisting sexual assault. When added to drinks, they may be hard to taste. Fortunately, in recent years, more and more convictions have been made against people who use these drugs to take advantage of other people.
Signs and Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Addiction
At regular doses, BZD is usually well tolerated. However, once abused, there are various effects that may occur. There are a couple of signs you can look out for if you think someone you love is abusing BZD. Changes in appearance and behavior may help you identify BZD abuse or addiction.
Chronic abuse may cause the following effects: anxiety, insomnia, headaches, anorexia, and weakness. Look out for these signs so you could stop the problem right now.
If someone takes in higher doses of BZD, they may experience more serious side effects such as blurred vision, slurred speech, lack of coordination, breathing difficulties, or even coma.
Side Effects of Benzodiazepine
Long term use of BZD, even medically, is controversial. There are concerns revolving its adverse effects on both the body and the mind. It is said to decrease in effectiveness in the long term. There is also the problem of developing physical dependence, as well as the withdrawal symptoms that follow.
The general consensus is that eliminating BZD from the system leads to improved physical health.
Keep in mind that using BZD with other substances can be fatal. If not, could still lead to various complications including memory loss, paranoia, seizures, and psychosis. Users have also been shown acting more violently, or engaging in criminal behavior.
Treatment for Benzo Addiction
If you or someone you love is suffering through BZD addiction or dependence, contact your doctor immediately. You can also research various treatment facilities and programs that can allow you to take the next best step.
For acute toxicity, the treatment usually depends on what drugs were taken and how much. The patient will be evaluated in a hospital emergency department. Depending on their situation, you will be informed of the next necessary procedure.
Chronic abuse is a bit trickier, but also involves medical examination. The patient’s drug history will be studied. It gets more complicated if the patient has been abusing more than one substance. Rehabilitation and detoxification are often necessary to help the patient recover.
During detoxification, the dosage taken is gradually lowered until the person can live free of the substance. Withdrawal symptoms will be managed during this time, Medication is often used here.
The hardest part in a person’s recovery is definitely the withdrawal symptoms. Drug dependence means that the body has learned to function with the presence of the substance. Removing the drug abruptly will make it hard for the body to adjust to its absence.
Withdrawal symptoms include: depression, shaking, appetite loss, muscle twitching, memory loss, nausea, muscle pains, noise and light sensitivity, dizziness, sore eyes, even hallucinations.
Helping the patient through this difficult situation will require support from loved ones and friends. They may also have support groups, wherein they can recover alongside other drug dependent individuals. This allows them to heal while in the presence of a community that’s supportive, caring, and non-judgmental. With proper care, medication, and support, they should get better in no time.