About Benzodiazepine

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Quick Facts

  • Classification: Schedule 4 Drug
  • Forms: Capsules, Tablets, Injectable Solutions
  • Method of Consumption: Swallowed or Sometimes Injected
  • Long-Term Effects: Psychological dependence, and Eventual Dependence Issues
  • Short-Term Effects: Tranquility, Feelings of Relief, Sleepiness and Sometimes Confusion and Slurred Speech

The Beginnings of Benzodiazepines

With the introduction of Librium in the 1960s, the class of drug known as benzodiazepines have become the most widely prescribed form of medication with an estimated 15-20% of the American population using them for a variety of problems including anxiety, panic attacks and at times for surgical procedures and to treat people suffering seizures. Benzos tend to be less dangerous than the class of drug known as barbiturates which has widely been replaced by benzoz known as Valium or Ativan. Another popular use of the drug is to relieve the symptoms of illegal drug use, particularly ecstasy and amphetamines but it is also used by heroin addicts who are attempting to quit or can’t get their hands on heroin itself. The drug is far from perfect, as it can lead to addiction quite quickly and in some cases leads to aggression.

Dealing with Being Anxious and Panic

The way benzos tend to work is primarily based on the ancient principle our earliest ancestors used to survive known as the “fight or flight” response. While we rarely need to rely on this response today, the body at times tells us the best option is to run or fight. When quick feelings of fear occur in an intense manner it’s known as a panic attack. If the symptoms present are not acute but constant, it is known as anxiety. Enter the drugs themselves that can deal with the worst of the symptoms and will facilitate the transition from medication to helpful counseling in order to deal with the underlying stress, anxiety and panic attacks.

Some Benzo Science For You

Certain commands in the brain produce the fear response. After receiving those commands the nerve impulses pass through the sympathetic nervous system which connects to the peripheral nervous system which then connects the brain to the rest of the body. Usually this system is kept in check by an acid known as gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) which the body produces from food. Benzos attach themselves to receptors close to GABA receptors. Once in place they intensify the relationship between GABA molecules and GABA receptors which magnifies the presence of GABA sites, and eventually results in the calming of the fear response in the brain.

The Tolerance and Dependency of Benzodiazepine

Like many medications, people being treated with benzos must steadily increase the does for the medication to remain effective. Naturally the decrease in response to benzodiazepines is an obvious mark of tolerance. As tolerance begins to take effect, the natural ability of GABA receptors to calm the fear response begins to fade and weaken until the receptors recover fully. Withdrawal symptoms are common as well as the returning of anxiety if the dose of the benzo in question is not lowered at a slow rate in order for the GABA receptors to recover.

Applications of Benzodiazepine

Because there are a variety of benzo options, it may sometimes be difficult for a physician to select the perfect one for their patient. Like other medications a lower dose is usually what a doctor will prescribe first and will eventually raise or lower the dose until the optimal level for that patient is achieved. The dose may also increase as tolerance begins to form. For anxiety and panic attacks, the drug most prescribed is diazepam. It is a short acting benzo that provides fast relief for anxiety symptoms and remains in the body for a fairly long time which offers continuous relief to the patient. Diazepam and Ativan also offer relief of pain from physical injury or an acute disease.

Sleep disorders can also be effectively treated by benzodiazepines. The drug flurazepam is long-acting and allows a patient to fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep. It also provides daytime sedation if that is desired.

Benzodizepines are also extremely helpful in surgery. When diazepine is combined with anesthetics it is an extremely effective form of sedation. Midazolam is a good option for outpatient surgical procedures and dental procedures. Benzos also help those who suffer from seizures, including people with epilepsy and recovering alcoholics who are experiencing withdrawal symptoms (who are at a risk of seizures). Clonazepam is commonly used as a long-term treatment for epilepsy while diazepine is very useful when it comes to treating a seizure when it occurs.

Addiction and Withdrawal

In the 1960s the new benzos were used and prescribed openly. Unfortunately they were prescribed without much regard to the eventual problem of dependence. This resulted in many patients being stuck with an addiction to certain benzos for years. Prozac, a newer medication, is a much better option for treating anxiety and it is much less addictive than other benzos. The process of gradually taking a patient off benzodiazepines is conducted by switching the patient from their current benzo to a much less addictive option and gradually reducing the dose until the addiction is cured.

Benzodiazepine Addiction

Sobriety.ca Foundation is a riverside addiction treatment facility found in beautiful rural Canada. Here, individuals struggling with an addiction to benzodiazepines have access to multiple evidence-based treatment options. Our facility provides a comprehensive rehabilitation treatment plan catered towards everyone’s needs and desires. We offer the following treatment services:

  • Detoxification from benzodiazepines
  • Treatment for benzodiazepines in residential settings
  • Interventions for benzodiazepine use
  • Rehabilitation from benzodiazepines
  • SMART Recovery

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines or “benzos” are a class of psychoactive drugs prescribed by physicians. They affect the brain by slowing down its activity. Therefore, benzos are typically given to patients experiencing anxiety disorders, insomnia, or seizures. Indeed, they are controlled in Nova Scotia and can only be prescribed by physicians. Most often, they are prescribed under the names of diazepam or lorazepam.

Benzodiazepines were first discovered in 1955 by Polish chemist, Leo Sternbach. This led to the eventual availability of benzos in medicine by the early 1960s. By the late 70s, benzos were the most prescribed drug in the world. Roughly 15-20% of the American population was using benzos during this time to treat a variety of disorders (e.g., anxiety, panic attacks, seizures.)

What is Benzodiazepine Addiction?

During the late 60s, benzodiazepines were given openly. There was little to no regard by physicians for the potential long-term consequences associated with taking the drug. Consequently, this led many patients to develop an addiction to the drug which remained over the course of many years.

Today, physicians are aware of the addictive potential of benzodiazepines. However, that does not necessarily protect individuals from developing an addiction. Like most drugs, patients can develop a tolerance to benzos. In turn, they must be treated with more of the same drug for it to remain effective. Alternatively, in a situation where someone does not encounter the drug via prescription, they must seek out of more of the drug on their own.

When the drug begins to leave the patient’s system or tolerance builds, they begin to experience withdrawal. Because benzodiazepines are typically prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, patients may experience a return of their initial anxiety. In fact, all withdrawal symptoms associated with benzodiazepines tend to be quite distressful. In turn, this reinforces behaviours to seek out more of the drug. Regardless of whether an individual takes benzodiazepines through means of prescription or through encountering it “on the streets,” they are still subject to the possibility of withdrawal and tolerance which (again) leads to drug-seeking behaviour.

Short-Term Effects and Risks

Benzodiazepines can lead to physical dependence even when dosages are monitored by physicians. An abrupt cessation in taking benzos can lead to withdrawal. The most reported side-effects of benzodiazepines are:

  • Confusion
  • Weakness of muscles
  • Memory loss
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired coordination and/or balance
  • Slurring of speech
  • Delusional thoughts
  • Hallucinations
  • Irritability and aggressive behaviour
  • Anxiety
  • Euphoria
  • Restlessness
  • Overdose

Long-Term Effects

  • Withdrawal
  • Tolerance
  • Overdose
  • Increased risk for dementia
  • Memory deficits
  • Negative sensory perceptions
  • Impaired processing speed
  • Impaired learning abilities
  • Impaired motor coordination in elderly

Pharmacology – How does it work?

Benzodiazepines augment the effects of a major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain called Gamma Amino Butyric Acid (GABA). In turn, this creates a greater calming or ‘inhibition’ in the brain. Benzos bind to GABA receptors throughout the brain in conjunction with already-circulating GABA in the brain. This greatly enhances the effects of GABAergic neurons. Further, experts believe that benzos also increase the likelihood that GABA molecules bind to GABAergic neurons. Albeit, this mechanism is still not entirely understood. When GABA and benzos bind simultaneously to these receptors, it causes an influx of an ion called chloride. Chloride alters the electromagnetic activity of the neuron. Consequently, this reduces the likelihood that the neuron will fire or ‘activate.’ In other words, it inhibits the activity of neurons that make up the networks in the brain involved with anxiety and arousal thereby producing calm-like or sedative effects.