Benzodiazepines (benzos for short) are potent medications used to treat various conditions, including anxiety and insomnia. These medications are intended for short-term use, but some people use them far longer than they should and put themselves at risk of becoming addicted to them.

If left untreated, benzo addiction can be fatal. If you are in the Elizabeth, N.J. area, Summit Behavioral Health’s outpatient rehab services can help you start the journey of recovering from benzodiazepine dependence and get your life back on track.

Benzodiazepines are prescribed for various conditions

Doctors prescribe benzodiazepines for various conditions, including:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic disorders
  • Insomnia or other sleep disorders
  • Alcohol withdrawal in severe cases
  • Muscle spasms
  • Seizures

Widely prescribed benzodiazepines include:

  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Halcion (triazolam)

The opioid overdose crisis in the United States has been at the forefront during the past few years. Opioid substances, including the narcotic heroin, are not the only drugs that concern officials. Benzodiazepines are also on the radar as drugs to watch for. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) shares that 16% of opioid-related overdose deaths in 2019 involved benzodiazepines.

One problem area concerning benzodiazepines is how often the medications are prescribed in the United States. NIDA highlights data that between 1996 and 2013, the number of adults in the U.S. who filled a benzodiazepine prescription increased by 67%, from 8.1 million people to 13.5 million people.

Some in the medical community are calling for efforts to educate about the dangers of these drugs and urge healthcare professionals to review their prescribing practices and seek other ways to address conditions that are usually treated with benzo medications.

How do benzodiazepines work?

Benzodiazepines attach to gamma–Aminobutyric-acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. These receptors are responsible for inducing relaxing and calm feelings. Therapeutic doses of benzos are prescribed for the short-term treatment of the disorders mentioned above. However, when these drugs are used for periods longer than prescribed or in amounts outside of what’s recommended, a person can develop a physical and psychological dependence on them.

What Is Benzo Abuse?

Using benzodiazepines for longer times and in larger amounts than what’s considered safe is considered abuse. Other behaviors that count as abuse include:

  • Taking someone else’s benzo medication
  • Mixing the drugs with other drugs, including prescription opioids and/or alcohol
  • Crushing benzo pills into a powder for smoking, inhaling, or injecting into the body

Too much of a benzodiazepine can result in the person experiencing effects akin to alcohol intoxication. A person could feel:

  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Sedation
  • Headache
  • Loss of motor control skills
  • Slurred speech

Benzodiazepines can also slow a person’s breathing rate and lower their blood pressure to abnormal levels. A benzo overdose can lead to brain damage or cause a person to fall into a coma.

NIDA also shares that using opioids and benzo medications together is doubly dangerous because both substances do similar things, such as sedate users and suppress their breathing. It can also harm their cognitive functioning. NIDA also highlights a study that found people who used opioids and benzos together are at greater risk of visiting the emergency room or being admitted to a hospital for help with a drug-related emergency.

Help for Benzodiazepine Dependence, Addiction Is Available

Your benzodiazepine dependence may have started with a doctor’s prescription or outside of one. Either way, these medications are habit-forming and can be difficult to stop using when dependence has set in. Many people struggle with stopping their use of benzodiazepines because of the harrowing withdrawal symptoms they experience when they do.

These symptoms can be so uncomfortable that some people will go back to using the substance again just to make the symptoms easier to bear. This is dangerous. An on-again, off-again cycle of use can lead to a relapse if the body is no longer used to the usual dose after a person stops using for a while.

We recommend that people who are going through benzo withdrawal consider medical detox at a professional and accredited facility. This 24-hour medically monitored procedure ensures that a person recovering from benzo misuse will receive the personalized medical care they need to safely taper off these potent drugs.

They could receive medications to ease their withdrawal symptoms as the body adjusts to the drug’s absence. Drug withdrawal can last several days, and the timeline is shaped by various factors, including how long and how often someone has been using benzodiazepines. A person’s age, weight, metabolism, health status, and substance abuse history are also key factors that can affect withdrawal length.

If your benzodiazepine dependence is moderate to severe, you likely will have to complete a medical detox before moving forward to a treatment setting that is right for you. If you are in the early or mild stages of benzo dependence, or if you have exited treatment but need additional support, you could join an outpatient program such as the ones offered here at Summit Behavioral Health.

We Offer 3 Types of Outpatient Care

An addiction care professional will evaluate your physical and mental health needs before recommending a treatment program for you or your loved one. At Summit, we offer:

Partial care: For at least 30 days, clients can come on-site for treatment up to seven days before returning home. The goal is to lessen the time the patient spends in residential care, which is a structured setting that is monitored around the clock.

Intensive outpatient program (IOP): This program requires patients to attend treatment nine or more hours a week for at least 90 days.

Outpatient program (OP): This treatment placement is for people who need therapy for nine hours or fewer a week.

Our addiction care professionals can help you determine if you will need either an inpatient or outpatient program for your recovery. All programs offer therapy, counseling, and support services to participants. These offerings include:

  • Counseling for the individual and groups
  • Behavioral therapies (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy)
  • Relapse prevention planning
  • 12 step programs and other support groups
  • Dual diagnosis treatment (treating a substance use disorder and mental health disorder together at the same time)
  • Life skills training
  • Continued support in recovery

Therapies and counseling guide you in getting to the root of understanding why you or your loved one misuses benzodiazepines. Medical detox alone is not enough to address the “why” of dependence and addiction. It also does not help people in recovery gain the skills and tools they need to identify triggering situations and events and how to effectively manage them so that they can avoid relapse.

Outpatient treatment allows flexibility in one’s schedule

IOP and OP settings allow individuals to fit treatment into their personal schedules. It allows flexibility and affordability as well because participants can stay home between sessions instead of on-site at a facility full time. This arrangement allows participants to continue their personal obligations at work, school, or elsewhere.

We encourage family members to participate in their loved one’s recovery program. Having relatives involved can motivate a person to focus on their recovery goals. Plus, family members can also start or continue their healing process where it concerns their loved one’s addiction. They can learn what guidelines they need to follow as well as what boundaries to set with their loved one that allows all parties to move forward in a healthy way.

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