Many physicians have what could be described as mixed feelings for benzodiazepines. On one hand, benzodiazepines (or benzos, as they’re often called) are an incredibly effective group of drugs for treating anxiety symptoms, insomnia, seizures, and even some types of drug withdrawals. On the other hand, they have a proven potential for misuse, are habit-forming, and have been implicated in a number of fatal overdoses.
As it is, however, the vast majority of benzodiazepine use is safe and these drugs are important for many people to be able to maintain a good quality of life.
Examples of widely-available benzodiazepine drugs include the following:
Chances are that you’re familiar with at least some of the names listed above. You might be prescribed these medications at some point in your life, if not for the regular control of a chronic condition like anxiety disorder or epileptic seizures, then possibly temporary use for stress symptoms or pre-surgery jitters.
Below are some other key facts about benzodiazepines that all laypersons should know. If you think you have an issue with these or other prescription medications, you can contact our team at Dallas Drug Treatment Centers to discuss your options.
A 2018 study found that as many as 1-in-8 Americans took benzodiazepine drugs in the past year, making benzos one of the most used medications in America. This number is likely to have gone up in recent years, due in part to the mental health crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Misuse is defined as the non-recommended use of a substance, most especially taking more than the prescribed dose or combining the substance with something that is contraindicated.
The same 2018 study also points to about 1-in-6 uses of benzodiazepine drugs being misuse. In people aged 18 to 25, the incidences of misuse were about 1-in-2 of all use cases, making benzodiazepine class drugs especially problematic in this cohort.
Because benzodiazepines are so commonplace, they are often combined, intentionally or unintentionally, with other widely available substances, including alcohol and opioid drugs.
Combining benzodiazepines with alcohol is extremely common among younger people. While either substance alone is generally considered safe to use in recommended quantities, combining both even in small doses can seriously impair coordination and potentially cause accidents when driving or operating dangerous equipment.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 30 percent of all opioid overdoses involve the use of benzodiazepines. The combination of opioid drugs like heroin or fentanyl with benzodiazepines causes a strong synergistic depressant effect that can slow down or stop breathing, effectively asphyxiating the affected individual. This means that even non-fatal overdoses can lead to serious lifelong consequences, due to the strain on the organs as well as the potential for serious brain damage.
According to the above 2018 study, around 30 fatal overdoses per day were caused by the misuse of benzodiazepine drugs. The vast majority of these were due to combining benzodiazepine drugs with opioids or alcohol. Relatively few overdoses on benzodiazepines alone were recorded at the time of the study.
While there are 2,000 chemical compounds classed as benzodiazepines, with 15 approved by the FDA, all of them act similarly on the human body, with the only effective differences being the speed of onset and duration. This means most benzodiazepine drugs could be substituted for each other, after accounting for the strength of specific dosages.
However, there are some instances where specific onset speeds and duration lengths may be desired. Clorazepate, for example, may be more likely to be prescribed for panic attacks or treating muscle spasms due to its fast onset and slow duration. On the other hand, something like Klonopin might be more useful for the relatively long-term control of generalized anxiety disorder, given its long duration of up to 3 days.
If you are being prescribed benzodiazepines for regular use, it is important that you do not stop taking them until you have consulted with your physician. This is because benzodiazepine withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable or even fatal for individuals that have become physically dependent on them. Your physician should be able to prescribe you alternative medications or progressively lower doses that will help you get off your current medication.
Even though there are risks associated with their use, benzodiazepines are far safer than the barbiturate class substances they have largely replaced.
Benzodiazepines were developed in the mid-1950s as a replacement for barbiturate-class sedative drugs. Barbiturates were widely used in the same applications that benzodiazepines are prescribed for today. However, while effective, these drugs were far more habit-forming and had toxicity thresholds that were more easily exceeded.
Today, barbiturates are very rarely used on humans and are more often seen in veterinary medicine, where they are often used as anesthetics.
Though they might be one of the most useful drugs known to modern medicine, like opioids, benzodiazepines have to be respected and used only as medically prescribed. If you think you or a close family member has an issue with their benzodiazepine medication, please consult your physician immediately. You can also call Dallas Drug Treatment Centers at +1(214) 935-2287 to find specialized treatment options in North Texas.