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What Are Benzodiazepines?
Nicknamed “mother’s little helper” in the 1960s, benzodiazepines (or “benzos”) are in a class of prescription medications called tranquilizers. Currently, they are one of the most popularly prescribed—and abused—medications in the United States.
Doctors may prescribe benzos for a number of conditions, including anxiety, insomnia, seizures, muscle tension and to relax someone before surgery or another medical procedure. They work by acting on the central nervous system to relax muscles, produce sedation and reduce anxiety.
Different types of benzodiazepines
Benzos can be ultra short-acting, short-acting or long-acting.
- Ultra-short-acting benzos include midazolam (Versed) and triazolam (Halcion).
- Short-acting versions include Alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam (Ativan).
- Long-acting benzos include chloriazepoxide (Librium) and diazepam (Valium).
What are benzos used for?
People who abuse benzos take them without a prescription or purely for their sedating effects. On the street, benzos have a number of names, including roofies, tranks, downers, goofballs, Mexican, roach, heavenly blues, valo, and stupefi.
Because they are so widely prescribed and available, benzos are commonly abused. People with a benzo addiction may take them on a regular basis, often in combination with alcohol or other medications. Benzos alone rarely lead to death or serious consequences, but the combination of benzos with alcohol or other drugs can lead to overdose or severe illness. Some research has also linked chronic benzo abuse with a higher risk for Alzheimer’s Disease.
It’s important to note that benzos can also be used as a “date rape” drug. Benzos impair a person’s ability to fight off sexual assault, and they are tasteless when added to alcoholic drinks.
Unfortunately, despite their many helpful uses when it comes to disorders such as anxiety, chronic use of benzodiazepines can lead to physical and psychological addiction. In fact, physical dependence on benzos can be stronger than many other drugs. Serious benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms, including seizures and convulsions, can also occur when a person stops taking benzos all of a sudden. Withdrawal symptoms usually set in three to four days after a person has stopped using.
Benzo Abuse Symptoms & Treatment
If you suspect your loved one may be abusing benzos, look for signs of drowsiness or dizziness. The more the person takes, the more pronounced these effects will be. Other symptoms may include unsteadiness while walking or moving around, blurred vision, poor coordination, loss of memory, irritability, hostility, reduced inhibition, poor judgment, and disturbing dreams. High doses may lead to extreme drowsiness and dizziness, slurred speech, severe confusion, difficulty breathing or coma.
Chronic benzodiazepine abuse can also produce nonspecific symptoms, including changes in appearance and behavior, difficulty with relationships, declining work performance and mood swings. Signs a child or adolescent may be abusing benzos include changes in mood or a sudden decrease in school performance. Over time, chronic benzo use can lead to symptoms that mimic some of the indications for using the drugs in the first place, including anxiety, insomnia, poor appetite, headaches, and weakness.
Treatment for benzodiazepine dependence consists of a gradual reduction of the drugs to prevent withdrawal symptoms and seizures. This is followed by a prolonged recovery period where the person tries to remain drug-free. Depending on the severity of the addiction, treatment for chronic benzo abuse may take place at home with the support of a doctor, on an outpatient basis or in an inpatient recovery center with a thorough drug detox program.
To get help for your loved one who may be using and abusing benzos, a first step is to call your doctor or local recovery center. If you think the person has overdosed or is experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, call 911 or head to the closest emergency room.