Last updated: 02/12/2019
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Benzodiazepines are a class of drug that depresses the central nervous system most commonly prescribed for treating insomnia and anxiety. They carry the risk of dependence on and abuse of, especially for those with a history of abuse.
The five most prescribed and the ones most common on the illicit market are:
Recent research reveals benzodiazepines cause addiction in a way similar to that of opioids, cannabinoids, and GHB. Researchers hope this will lead companies to design new benzodiazepines that counteract anxiety but are not addictive.
If you are currently using Ativan or another benzodiazepine and you worry that your use is no longer under your control, you have options.
Benzodiazepines act on the central nervous system, decrease anxiety levels, relax muscles and produce sedation.
They are commonly prescribed for:
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Seizure control
- Muscle relaxation
- Inducing amnesia for uncomfortable procedures
While over 2,000 different benzodiazepines have been created, roughly 15 are currently FDA-approved in America. Benzodiazepines all work in fundamentally the same way but they vary in:
- Rate of onset of action
- Duration of action
- Tendency to accumulate
They are generally classified by how long their effects last.
- Ultra-short acting: midazolam (Versed), triazolam (Halcion)
- Short-acting: alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan)
- Long-acting: chlordiazepoxide (Librium), diazepam (Valium)
- Abused to produce a euphoric effect
- Associated with multiple substance abuse
- Used in combination with methadone to heighten methadone’s euphoric effect
- Used by cocaine addicts to relieve the side effects of binges
- Used to enhance alcohol’s effect and control withdrawal states
- Taken in excess of the recommended dose
- Used to facilitate sexual assault
Whether they are used for medical or nonmedical purposes, all benzodiazepines come with side effects. For instance, Ativan is prescribed for the management of anxiety disorders or for the short-term relief of the symptoms of anxiety or anxiety associated with depressive symptoms. its side effects are:
- Memory impairment
- Unmasking of depression
- Suicidal ideation/attempt
- Visual disturbance (including blurred vision)
- Slurred speech
- Change in libido
- Decreased orgasm
- Respiratory depression
Use that goes against what the doctor has prescribed will affect the number of side effects a person experiences and the severity with which they are experienced.
In 1994, Addiction published “The Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome.” The findings are as follows.
Physical dependence on benzodiazepines is supplemented by a withdrawal syndrome which includes:
- Sleep disturbance
- Increased tension and anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Hand tremors
- Difficulty in concentration
- Dry wretching and nausea
- Some weight loss
- Muscular pain and stiffness
- Many other perceptual changes
For those taking a high dose, more serious developments like seizures and psychotic reactions have been reported.
Withdrawal from normal dosage benzodiazepine follows a symptomatic pattern.
- Within 1-4 days of discontinuation: rebound anxiety and insomnia
- 10-14 days: full-blown withdrawal syndrome
- Until treatment has started: return of anxiety symptoms
The article found: “Withdrawal phenomena appear to be more severe following withdrawal from high doses or short-acting benzodiazepines. Dependence on alcohol or other sedatives may increase the risk of benzodiazepine dependence, but it has proved difficult to demonstrate unequivocally differences in the relative abuse potential of individual benzodiazepines.” Therefore, you are as likely to become dependent upon Ativan as you are Halcion.
Benzodiazepines are genuinely helpful for those suffering, anxiety, insomnia, or alcohol withdrawal, but there is a point where they become dangerous. As soon as you begin using them to get high, you are in danger of addiction.