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Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are commonly referred to as benzos. They are a pharmaceutical drug classified as a hypnotic/sedative. Benzos are prescribed by doctors to treat muscle spasms, insomnia, and mild seizures. 

They can also be taken to relieve anxiety and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Physicians and dentists will sometimes give patients a benzodiazepine prior to certain treatments to help calm them. The sedative effect of benzos comes from the drug suppressing many brain functions.

Benzos suppress brain function supported by cell signaling. This is caused by enhancing the effects of GABA on neurons. GABA is the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid on neurons found in the brian.

DEA Drug Scheduling of Benzodiazepines

Benzos are classified as a Schedule IV substance. The U.S Drug Enforcement Agency states that benzodiazepines have a low abuse and dependence potential. Some common benzos are Xanax, Soma, Valium, and Ativan.

Because of the DEA classification buying benzos without a prescription is illegal. Someone found with benzos without proof of a prescription could be arrested and sent to jail for possessing them. Common street names for benzos are “candy”, “downers”, and “chill pills”.

What are the Different Kinds of Benzos?

Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Serax are benzodiazepines commonly prescribed for treating anxiety disorders. 

Benzos that are prescribed for chronic sleeping problems like insomnia are considered sedative-hypnotics. Dalmane, Prosom, Restoril, and Halcion are sedative-hypnotic benzos. 

Klonopin and Alprazolam are often prescribed for individuals with panic disorders and to prevent specific types of seizures. These benzodiazepines stimulate GABA  in different ways compared to Xanax and Valium. They are typically seen as more potent forms of benzos. 

Certain benzos are given to people going through alcohol detox. These can also be prescribed to help with insomnia, muscle spasms, and anxiety from neurological disorders. 

The Side Effects of Benzodiazepines

The most common side effects of benzodiazepines are sedation, muscle relaxation, and overall drowsiness. In addition to these benzos might also cause: 

  • Nausea
  • Disorientation
  • Memory problems
  • Slurred speech
  • Dry mouth 
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness

Some less common benzo side effects are:

  • Skin rash
  • Excessive saliva
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Tremors
  • Skin rashes

Common signs of a benzo overdose include:

  • Nystagmus (Uncontrolled eye movements)
  • Coma
  • Shock 
  • Amnesia
  • Hallucinations
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Very slow and shallow breathing

A benzo overdose is very dangerous and could possibly result in death. It requires emergency medical treatment with oxygen therapy and a possible stomach pump to help remove the benzos from the system. Flumazenil is sometimes given to a patient to help reverse the effects of an overdose. 

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How Dangerous is Mixing Benzos With Alcohol?

Mixing alcohol with benzodiazepines will increase the chance of an overdose significantly. GABA and other inhibitory neurotransmitters activity is intensified by alcohol. Because of this, the effects of benzos are heightened.

The mix of alcohol and benzos greatly enhances the amnesiac properties of benzos. This can result in the individual forgetting they took the prescribed dose of Xanax or Valium within minutes. Commonly resulting in taking more than the prescribed amount. Hospitals treat many benzo overdose victims who took to many pills because they had forgotten how many they originally took.

In the last 20 years deaths from benzo overdoses have drastically increased. Especially when combined with narcotics and alcohol. 

Why are Benzodiazepines So Addictive?

Benzodiazepines increase the levels of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain. It is part of the brain’s pleasure and happiness center.

Taking Xanax or Klonopin results in a surge of dopamine. This surge of dopamine is responsible for the deep sense of sedation and relaxation an individual experiences after taking benzos. Once this wears off the cravings for another surge of dopamine begin. This is often because the brain tries to replicate the experience.

Tolerance levels begin to build up after prolonged use to a higher dose than prescribed. Because of this a higher dose is required to feel the same high. This is where addiction begins. Strong cravings and withdrawal symptoms from stopping the use of benzos also results in feeding the addiction.

Rationalizing a Benzo Addiction

Rather than facing the fact that someone may be addicted to their prescription medications they will often try to rationalize it. This is commonly a psychological response to try to maintain stability. Denial of the problem is a very unhealthy coping mechanism. 

Some common examples of rationalizing a benzo addiction problem are:

  • I am not addicted! I can stop whenever I choose to stop.
  • It’s not like I’m taking something like heroin. The pills are prescribed to me.
  • I’m not breaking the law taking pills prescribed by my doctor. It’s completely legal.
  • My mental illness isn’t something I wanted! I need my prescriptions.
  • I need to take pills because I have chronic anxiety, can’t sleep, etc.

Benzo addiction causes serious chemical imbalances in the brain. This often results in delusional thinking and denying any problems exist. The need to deny the addiction can even continue through homelessness or incarceration. This level of addiction can only be treated at a medical facility. Detox and professional addiction counseling will be required to get off the prescription drugs.

Attempting to stop a benzo addition without the assistance of medical staff is life-threatening. Especially trying to quit with a sudden stop in taking benzos. This will result in a very high risk of seizures, shock, and coma. Simply self lowering the dose could potentially cause worsening symptoms of whatever the individual was originally trying to suppress. This can compel the individual to take even more benozs to make up for the change in emotional stability.