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Benzodiazepines, colloquially known as benzos, belong to a class of medications known as sedative hypnotics. These fast-acting, psychoactive substances are classified by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as Schedule IV Controlled Substance, meaning they are “defined as drugs with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence.” Benzodiazepines work by interacting with the natural functioning of one’s brain and central nervous system. Medical News Today explains that benzodiazepines “alter the activity of the neurons that trigger stress and anxiety reactions.” When ingested, benzodiazepines affect one’s system by enhancing the effects of the neurotransmitter, known as GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA is a neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in one’s brain. Benzodiazepines increase GABA, which in turn reduces brain activity. The addictive qualities of benzodiazepines lead them to be habit-forming, even when used as prescribed at therapeutic doses.

Risks and Dangers

When used properly, benzodiazepines can be effective in treating a variety of ailments and have been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specifically for use in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), insomnia, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), seizure disorders, and panic disorder. They are intended for short-term, sporadic use, as a person can become physically dependent on benzodiazepines in as little as 30 days. As is true with taking any type of medication there are associated risks. The specific risks will vary from person to person, as they will depend on several contributing factors. Major risks and dangers associated with benzodiazepine use identified in Risks Associated with Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use include the following:

  • Cognitive impairment: Benzodiazepines cause acute adverse effects: drowsiness, increased reaction time, ataxia, motor incoordination, and anterograde amnesia. Additionally, a meta-analysis of studies found that long-term use led to substantial cognitive decline that did not resolve three months after discontinuation. 
  • Motor vehicle crashes: The risk of driving while on benzodiazepines is nearly the same as the risk of driving with a blood alcohol level between 0.050% and 0.079% (an alcohol level greater than 0.08% is illegal in all states). 
  • Hip fracture: Benzodiazepines increase the risk of hip fracture in older persons by at least 50%. In a study of 43,343 persons, zolpidem increased the risk of hip fracture by 2.55 times in those older than 65 years. 

When used long-term, benzodiazepines can increase the risk of memory problems. Benzodiazepine may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts particularly in young adults and those who are alcohol or opioid dependent. An individual that abuses benzodiazepines is at increased risk of overdose, which in severe cases can be life-threatening.

For Information and Support 

If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one regarding substance abuse and/ or addiction, we recommend reaching out for help as soon as possible. If left untreated, substance abuse can result in long lasting and potentially life-threatening consequences. Keep in mind: you are not alone! There is an entire network of professionals that are available to help and support you and your loved one throughout the recovery process. The earlier you seek support, the sooner your loved one can return to a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.

Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions regarding our specific program at Haven House Addiction Treatment and/ or general substance abuse and/ or addiction treatment related information. Our highly trained staff is readily available to discuss how we might best be able to help you and your loved one. We can be reached by phone at 424-258-6792. You are also welcomed to contact anytime us via email at admissions@hhtxc.com.

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