Anxiety medication, otherwise known as benzodiazepines or benzos, are classified as Schedule IV controlled substances, and frequently prescribed and sold under the brand names Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, and Ativan. While these drugs are most commonly used to treat anxiety and panic disorder, they are sometimes used as sedatives or to treat seizures.
Benzodiazepines work by interacting with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitters in the brain that suppress the activity of other nerves. Since many experts conclude that excessive nerve activity is what produces anxiety and other psychological disorders, they also believe that GABA helps to manage anxiety.
While benzos work well as anxiety medication, they also have a high potential for addiction due to their effects on the brain’s reward system. Long-term use can result in both tolerance and dependence. Tolerance occurs because of the brain’s propensity to diminish the impact of some psychoactive substances after repeated exposure. Dependence occurs when the brain has become accustomed to the presence of a substance and can no longer function normally without it.
Facts About Anxiety Medication Addiction
Benzos are Highly Addictive
The use of a benzodiazepine causes a surge in dopamine levels, flooding the brain with this neurotransmitter that is related to feelings of well-being and reward. This rush of pleasure is gratifying and, to some, can prove overpowering.
Researchers have discovered that the addictive potential of benzos is similar to that of opioids, which are also drugs with powerful addictive properties. The chemical actions of these drugs produce feelings that some users wish to sustain, and the progression from use to misuse/abuse to addiction can occur rapidly.
Tolerance can develop after just a few months of use, although it is possible to become physically dependent on benzos much sooner, and it’s estimated that at least 44% of users eventually become dependent.
Quitting Benzo Use is Quite Challenging
Once the body has become dependent on anxiety medication, attempts to quit without a doctor’s help will result in severe withdrawal symptoms, such as the following:
- Muscular pain and stiffness
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Sleep disturbance.
- Increased tension and anxiety.
- Panic attacks.
- Heart palpitations.
For persons on high doses of benzos, withdrawal can lead to seizures and psychosis. However, those determined to quit should follow a tapering schedule recommended by a physician.
Using Can Result in Cognitive Impairment
As increasing numbers have been prescribed benzos long-term, doctors noticed a worrying trend – cognitive impairment. Specifically, patients forgot how to perform tasks and information they previously knew and should easily recall.
So scientists examined the connection between these impairments and benzo use and found a consistent link between doses of the anxiety medication and cognitive deficiencies. Also, it was found that study participants who were both older and younger than age 60 suffer the same impairments as a result of benzo use, thus throwing doubt on the alternative explanation that the deficiencies were a result of the natural aging process in the older demographic.
Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease is Increased
In recent years, the number of benzos prescribed for long-term use increased by 31.4%, and, disturbingly, so did diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease in those patients. One study investigated the long-term use of benzos of five or more years and found a significant relationship between how long a person took benzos and their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Indeed, for elderly patients who took benzos for longer than six months, their risk of Alzheimer’s was 84% higher. The researchers conducting the study suggested that long-term use of benzos, especially by the elderly, should be considered a legitimate public health concern.
Early Death is a Serious Possibility
When an individual considers undergoing a prescription benzo regimen, they must weigh many risks, such as addiction, dependence and withdrawal, cognitive impairment, and an elevated risk of Alzheimer’s. However, many often fail to recognize the fact that benzo use could kill them. When comparing all prescription medications, benzos are consistently associated with the highest number of early deaths.
Although this may sound like an overblown, fear-mongering statement, this fact is backed up by extensive clinical research. One such study examined the medical records of over 100,000 individuals, finding that benzo use was linked to a doubled increase in the risk of early death, by whatever means.
Treatment for Addiction to Anxiety Medication
Anxiety medications are drugs that can be helpful to those with anxiety and panic disorder but are also highly addictive. Those who wish to stop using benzos should undergo a tapering schedule devised by a physician who will slowly wean them off the drug over the course of weeks or months.
Following detox, patients are encouraged to participate in long-term addiction treatment, which includes behavioral therapy, counseling, and group support.
You can reclaim your life and the happiness you deserve, free from the use of drugs and alcohol!