Understanding Benzodiazepine Addiction

Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction

Table of Contents
  1. What are benzos? 
  2. What are the different forms of Benzodiazepines?
  3. How long does the Benzos effect last?
  4. What do benzos look, taste, and smell like?
  5. How benzos work
  6. What are benzos called on the street?
  7. How does Benzos addiction happen? 
  8. What are Benzos overdose symptoms?  
  9. Benzos addiction, overdose, and fatality rates 
  10. Benzo treatment options 

What are Benzos? 

Benzo is short for Benzodiazepines. Benzos are a schedule IV drug in the Controlled Substances Act, which means it has a somewhat lower potential for abuse and carries an accepted medical use in the USA. It is, however, a drug that is illegal other than for its accepted uses, and has claimed many addiction victims.

Classified as a depressant, they are a drug that slows down the central nervous system. It is a medication that is prescribed for a variety of ailments and conditions, including: 

  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Withdrawal from alcohol 
  • As a muscle relaxant 
  • Seizures 
  • Insomnia  
  • Panic attacks 

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What are the different forms of Benzodiazepines?

The variety of benzos include (brand names are in parenthesis): 

  • Diazepam (Valium) and clorazepate (Tranxene) – usually begin working quickly, in around 30 to 60 minutes. 
  • Oxazepam (Serax) – this type of benzo has a much slower onset, meaning it takes longer to begin working. 
  • Lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax), and clonazepam (Klonopin) fall somewhere in between in terms of how quickly they begin to work. 

How long does the benzos effect last?

The length of time that the effects of benzos last is also dependent on the type of benzo taken. They can last a short amount of time (3 to 8 hours), an intermediate amount of time (11 to 20 hours), or a long period of time (1 to 3 days). 

Xanax, which is one of the more common and well-known benzos falls into the middle category, lasting 11 to 20 hours. Xanax, in particular, is most commonly prescribed to treat anxiety disorders. 

Valium is another commonly prescribed benzo. It can be used for a variety of reasons, such as muscle relaxation, seizure disorders, and insomnia. 

As you can see, the list of the different types of benzos is quite long, as is the multitude of reasons physicians prescribe them. 

What benzos look, taste, and smell like 

With so many different types of benzos, the look, taste, and smell can vary, particularly how they look. The taste of benzos is practically nonexistent, as you might imagine, because they are swallowed and not chewed. And prescription medications rarely have any smell at all. 

Xanax comes in different shapes in colors depending on the dosage. White bars are 2mg. Blue ovals are 1mg. Gold ovals are .5mg. And white ovals are .25mg. 

However, there are other brands of alprazolam that come in entirely different shapes and colors than the Xanax brand. 

How benzos work 

Benzos work on specific receptors in the brain, like gamma-aminobutyric acid-A receptors. When benzos attach themselves to these receptors, it has a calming effect because they make the nerves in the brain less sensitive to stimulation. 

Different types of benzos work in different ways, including the strength of the medication, why it is prescribed, and how long the effects last. 

Although some benzos can be used interchangeably, other benzos are used for specific conditions and should not be substituted. It’s a good idea to always use benzos for their intended purpose.  

Xanax, like most other alprazolam, has a calming effect after it binds to the GABA-A receptor. 

When it comes to anxiety disorder, for instance, Xanax can relieve symptoms of anxiety quite quickly. It does so by enhancing the effects of the natural chemical – GABA-A, which our bodies already produce. Certain foods also contain GABA-A, but usually in smaller amounts that are necessary to treat anxiety and other conditions or disorders. 

What are benzos called on the street?

Benzos have many street names and some of them are dependent on the location. 

Street names for benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax can include bars, benzos, blues, candy, chill pills, French fries, downers, planks, sleeping pills, totem poles, tranks, zanies, and z-bars

These are simply the most common street names for benzos in the U.S. In other parts of the world, the street names may be quite different. These street names could also vary in certain parts of the U.S. 

How does benzos addiction happen?

Why benzos are abused may be the more interesting question, but let’s first address the how. How you abuse any prescription medication is by taking a dosage that is larger than your physician prescribed or taking medication for reasons that differ from your physician’s recommendation. 

People can abuse benzos, or any other drug, for a number of reasons. Some drugs are more addictive than others. When we become addicted to a drug, even when it is prescribed to treat a mental or physical condition, it can be exceedingly difficult for some people to stop taking that medication. 

Many people will find that they feel better on benzos than they do without them, which means that even though someone’s insomnia has subsided, they might continue to take a benzo for no other reason than to experience the benzo high

Besides chasing a high, as it is sometimes called, there are real physical dependencies that can develop if someone takes benzos for a long enough period of time. This may also vary based on the particular type of benzo taken and also based on the user.  

Some people naturally have a more addictive personality than others. So, while one person has no trouble stopping once the prescription runs out and the prescribed condition ceases to exist or is cured, another person may become very addicted. When this happens, that person will find it difficult to stop and may go to great lengths to obtain another prescription or get the benzo through other channels that aren’t legal. 

What are symptoms of Benzos overdose?

Even though all of us are of the same species, there still exists a wild variation on how we respond to certain drugs or prescription medications. Our tolerance levels can also fluctuate based on age, weight, prior drug use, and so forth. 

Benzo symptoms, in general, vary quite a bit and depending on the person, the dose can actually be quite small to experience any symptoms. Some of the more common benzo side effects are: 

  •  Sedation 
  •  Dizziness 
  • Weakness or feeling unsteady 
  •  Drowsiness 
  •  Feelings of depression 
  •  Headaches 
  •  Trouble sleeping 
  •  Confusion
  •  Irritability 
  •  Aggression 
  •  Excitement or euphoria 
  •  Memory loss  

With an acute overdose of benzos, the onset of symptoms can appear rapidly, however, most people will begin to notice symptoms in an hour or so, but generally no longer than four hours. An overdose of any benzo will appear as if the person is severely drunk – impaired balance, impaired motor function, slurred speech, or other mild central nervous system impairments. 

Most people who overdose on benzos will merely get very lethargic and fall asleep. However, and especially when combined with other drugs or alcohol, when a person takes an extreme amount of benzos, hospitalization may be required. And while rare, an overdose of benzos can also result in death. 

The elderly and people with chronic illnesses are particularly susceptible to severe benzo symptoms. 

Benzo addiction, overdose, and fatality rates 

The data shows that while benzo use is high in the U.S., disorder rates are not. Using statistics from 2016, the benzo statistics are as follows: 

  • 12.5 percent or roughly 30 million people 
  • 2.1 percent 
  • .2 percent 

It should be mentioned, however, that among all benzo users, 17.1 percent abused the drug, and 2 percent experienced overdose symptoms. While these statistics aren’t as high as you find with opioid use, abuse, and overdose, it still indicates a benzo misuse problem in the U.S. 

Benzos addiction treatment options 

Around 34 percent of benzo users who take the drug for six months or longer will experience health issues when they stop taking the drug. The first step when it comes to treating for benzo addiction is a safe medical detox process

One particular side effect of stopping the use of benzos suddenly is the risk of seizures. If this or other dangerous side effects occur, doctors will first address those by slowly tapering the patient off the medication by gradually reducing the dosage. Only then will professional healthcare workers move on to therapy options. 

Cognitive therapies and counseling sessions are both options – anything that gets to the route of the addiction and addresses the psychological problems that may have led to developing a benzo addiction to begin with. With any benzo treatment option, the patient must be in a comfortable and healing environment. 

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