Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that slow the central nervous system to produce a sense of calm and well-being. Often used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, benzodiazepines include drugs like Xanax, Klonopin, Valium and Librium. Benzos work by increasing levels of the brain chemical GABA, which inhibits nerve transmissions in the brain to produce feelings of relaxation. Benzos also increase the activity of the dopamine system, which leads to feelings of happiness and euphoria.
When used as directed for the short-term, benzodiazepines are safe and effective. But when they’re taken for non-medical purposes or in higher doses than prescribed, benzos can cause addiction and dependence.
Addiction is characterized by the inability to stop using a drug even though it’s causing problems in your life. A variety of issues underlie most addictions and require therapy to work through and resolve.
Dependence is different from addiction and is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that set in when you stop using a drug.
How Dependence Develops
When you abuse benzodiazepines, your brain changes the way it functions in order to compensate for the presence of the drug. For example, since benzos increase dopamine and GABA activity, the brain will reduce the activity of these neurotransmitters in an attempt to normalize brain function.
This leads to tolerance, which means that you need increasingly larger doses to get the desired effects. But as you increase your benzo intake, the brain continues to change its function to compensate.
At some point, brain function may shift so that the brain now operates more comfortably when benzos are present than when they’re not. Then, when you stop using the drug, normal brain function rebounds, causing withdrawal symptoms. Benzo withdrawal is uncomfortable, and it can be dangerous.
According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland, dependence most often develops in those who have used benzodiazepines for six months or more.
Treating Benzo Dependence
Medical detox helps individuals end a dependence. During detox, the drug is withheld so that traces can leave the body and brain function can begin to return to normal. Medical detox is supervised by medical and mental health professionals who administer medications to reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms.
However, due to the potentially dangerous side effects of benzo withdrawal and the fact that no medications have been approved by the FDA to treat them, withdrawing from benzodiazepines should be a matter of decreasing the dosage over time to prevent the onset of dangerous symptoms.
If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction in Long Beach, don’t hesitate to seek help. Rehab and detox facilities like Roots Through Recovery have programs that can help you combat addiction as well as any co-occurring conditions. Roots Through Recovery facility in Long Beach is easily accessible via South Bay, Catalina Island, and Orange County. Visit 3939 Atlantic Ave, Suite 102 Long Beach, CA 90807 or call (866) 766-8776.
Read part two of this five-part series, , or download the entire series as a fully illustrated eBook, Benzodiazepines: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You.