In the scope of history, it’s only very recently that we’ve begun to understand that addiction is a disease. Before the age of dangerous synthetic and designer drugs, the consensus was that having a substance abuse problem meant a person had a defective character and was not close enough to God. As a result, many people who had substance abuse problems were sentenced to prison or put in insane asylums. The idea was that confining substance abusers would force them into sobriety and the fear of further punishment would discourage them from resuming their substance abuse behaviors. However, they soon realized that the majority of these individuals returned to substance abuse in spite of knowing they would likely face additional repercussions. In effect, people were beginning to realize that was some unseen process causing substance abusers to defy logic and behave in ways that opposed their best interests.
Although we know much more about addiction today than we did when addicts were imprisoned, substance abuse is still a highly criminalized act today. Part of the reason for this is because there are many more addictive substances available today with a large number of them being pharmaceutical, intended for medicinal and clinical purposes. Many of the laws that exist today were put in place in an attempt to regulate these controlled, man-made substances that have become a major problem to society.
Of the pharmaceuticals that are commonly abused, the most popular are opiate painkillers and benzodiazepines. The latter is not typically used as a painkiller as it doesn’t work in the same way as painkillers; however, benzos have proven to be incredibly addictive in their own way. In fact, benzodiazepines are considered one of the most dangerous and highly addictive substance that exist, second only to alcohol. There have even been a number of recent studies to suggest that benzodiazepines have a lasting harmful effect on a person’s brain. As such, the following will define benzodiazepines, explaining their effects as well as how benzos damage the brain.
When most people think of prescription pills, they often picture opiates. Derived from the opium of the opium poppy, opiates are painkillers that are notoriously addictive. However, benzodiazepines have a much different function and are most often prescribed for conditions that involve anxiety such as generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. Benzos are considered a form of tranquilizer, sedative, anticonvulsant, and muscle relaxant, making them a common choice for the treatment of epilepsy and insomnia. This type of drug acts on the central nervous system in order to induce feelings of calm, sedation, and muscle relaxation.
It’s been reported that there are more than 2,000 different drugs that could be considered benzodiazepines, but there are only 12 that have been approved for medicinal use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Some of the most popular benzodiazepines include Valium (diazepam) and Klonopin (clonazepam), which are long-acting benzodiazepines; and Xanax (alprazolam) and Ativan (lorazepam), which are shorter-acting. However, all types of benzodiazepines have proven to have a very high potential for abuse and addiction. Additionally, benzodiazepines are known for requiring only a relatively short period of consistent use in order for a person to become dependent. As such, benzos are typically prescribed to individuals for only short periods of time, and are often prescribed to be taken on an as-needed basis rather than regularly. It’s also become quite common for benzos to be given to alcoholics during detoxification as a means of alleviating severe withdrawal symptoms.
Benzodiazepines work enhancing a particular neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid, which is also known as GABA. This particular neurotransmitter is responsible for producing feelings of calm and relaxation, especially in response to occasions that evoke stress. By making GABA more efficient, benzodiazepines can enhance the brain’s natural calming response, triggering the sedative effects for which benzos are known. Moreover, this is what makes benzodiazepines effective for the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, and conditions that involve seizures as they essentially make the brain better able to induce feelings of calm.
One of the most prominent shortcomings of benzodiazepines is the tendency for feelings of drowsiness or even dizziness and loss of motor control to accompany the sedative effects of benzos. When taken at higher-than-prescribed doses, benzos are known to produce a very mild sense of euphoria, making them a popular drug to mix or layer with other recreational drugs. And according to studies, there’s evidence that benzodiazepines can cause changes and damages to the brain when used for prolonged periods of time. In some instances the changes may reverse themselves when benzo use is discontinued, but there are some changes or damage that’s permanent.
The prolonged use of benzodiazepines has been implicated in a number of serious effects, which include forgetfulness, difficulty thinking clearly, inability to make decisions, depression and irritability, and even anxiety, which is the symptom that benzos are designed to relieve. There have been some reports of long-term benzo use causing people to stop caring for themselves and developing poor hygiene as well as significantly diminished social functioning. It’s also a well-known fact that benzodiazepine withdrawal is particularly dangerous and considered more unpleasant than heroin withdrawal. This is why people are discouraged from abruptly ceasing their benzodiazepine use without medical supervision in a detox program.
In addition to the potential for brain damage, benzodiazepines are dangerous due to the potential for people who take benzos to react with a violent rage. Although uncommon, this bizarre reaction has been documented in some cases. There’s also been an influx of people taking benzodiazepines with other drugs, which significantly increase chances for overdose and death. In fact, it’s been reported that there was a fourfold increase in the rate of benzodiazepine overdose deaths from 2001 to 2013. As such, initiatives to combat these alarming rates of benzodiazepine overdose continue to be a priority.
There’s no such thing as a mind-altering substance that’s safe. Whether it’s alcohol, marijuana, or a narcotic, any substance carries with it a potential for addiction and the potential to kill. Nobody should be losing their life to this treatable disease. If you or someone you love would like a free consultation with one of our recovery specialists, call Sound Recovery Solutions at 561-666-7427 and let us help you or your loved one take the first steps toward a life of sobriety and health.