Benzodiazepines are the name used to classify a group of drugs that are most often prescribed for the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders. These prescription medications can also be used to treat insomnia, muscle tension, and seizure disorders. Benzodiazepines are normally used as short-term treatments for the aforementioned ailments. The most common types of benzodiazepines prescribed in the United States are:
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Ativan (lorazepam)
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
- Valium (diazepam)
When used for short periods of time these medicines are safe and effective. However, long-term use or abuse of this class of drugs can result in mental and physical harm. As such, both mental and physical harm can be done when this class of drugs is abused. Benzodiazepine addiction and dependency is a serious problem throughout the United States. Addiction denotes a physical and mental dependence on a drug or substance.
According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, benzodiazepines interfere with visuospatial functions including the ability to process speed and verbal learning(speech/language). The term “visuospatial” is defined as the way people visualize, process, and conceive of where an object is when compared to another object. Visuospatial functions are important to everyday tasks such as driving. Scientists also believe that these drugs can impair memory and cognition. Although the aforementioned issues can arise when Benzodiazepines are abused, doctors do believe that damage can be reversed once the body is free from these drugs for a significant amount of time.
Although some of the damage done by Benzodiazepines is not permanent, a study published in the British Medical Journal asserts that Benzodiazepine use increases the risk of developing dementia. This is particularly true for elderly people using this class of drugs. The study explains that using Benzodiazepines for more than six months increased patients probability of developing dementia by more than 80% when compared with people who never took Benzodiazepines. Elderly users are particularly vulnerable because of changes in metabolism that cause the body to store the drugs for a longer period of time. The decreased ability of the body to rid itself of these drugs increase the negative side effects of the drugs.
In addition to the impact that Benzodiazepines use has on memory and spatial awareness, there are also several other harmful physical side effects including:
- Slurred speech
- Extreme drowsiness
- Impaired vision
- Nausea and Vomiting
The most severe physical harm that can be done by benzodiazepines happens when an overdose occurs. Because most of these medications are tranquilizers, overdosing can result in decreases in heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and body temperature. In many cases, the results can be fatal. According to the CDC, nearly 10,000 people per year die from benzodiazepine overdoses.
Psychological harm is also related to the use of this class of prescription drugs. The mental impact of benzodiazepines is usually related to long-term use or abuse. Suicidal ideation, depression, hallucinations, and mood swings have all been reported. Although benzodiazepines are designed to address certain mental health issues, it can also exacerbate those issues when improper doses are taken or the medication is taken longer than prescribed.
Indeed, both physical and psychological harm can be done as a result of benzodiazepine use. The severity of these side effects is multiplied when benzodiazepine addiction or dependency develops. Doctors and patients have to be aware of the negative effects this class of drugs can have on the human body and be vigilant about the manner in which they are prescribed and consumed. Long-term use seems to be a positive indicator of future negative outcomes.