Union, New Jersey, has seen some significant impacts from the drug addiction and overdose epidemic in the past several years. Opioids have been a major culprit in drug-related public health problems in the state. However, benzodiazepines are a common prescription medication that has a significant potential for misuse, dependence, addiction, and overdose. Benzodiazepines can also be dangerous when they’re mixed with other drugs like opioids and alcohol. Learn more about benzodiazepine-related substance use disorders and how they can be treated in Union, NJ.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines, also called benzos, are a class of prescription medications that include popular brands like Xanax, Valium, and many other drugs. They’re frequently used to treat anxiety disorders and sleep problems. They may also be used to treat muscle tension and spasms caused by epilepsy. Benzodiazepines are in a broad class of substances called central nervous system depressants. Depressants include other substances like alcohol, barbiturates, and other sedative-hypnotics.

They can have slightly different effects on the brain and body, but they all work in similar ways in your nervous system. Depressants interact with a chemical called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is responsible for sleep, relaxation, and calm feelings in your brain. GABA is important in calming you down and allowing you to rest. People with overactive nervous systems that cause anxiety and sleep problems can benefit from benzodiazepine drugs because they boost the calming ability of GABA.

However, benzos can also be misused to achieve a euphoric relaxing high, similar to alcohol intoxication. When they’re misused, benzodiazepines can cause you to feel sedated, relaxed, socially inhibited, and comfortable. Benzo misuse can also cause you to experience heavy sedation, drowsiness, loss of motor control, memory issues, and other problems that you might associate with alcohol intoxications. Misuse can also lead to chemical dependence, addiction, and overdose.

Recreational misuse is not the only way to experience some of a benzodiazepine’s side effects. Several benzodiazepine drugs can cause chemical dependence after just a few weeks of consistent use. Most benzos are only prescribed for short-term therapeutic use because using them for too long can have diminishing effects and can lead to chemical dependence.

Benzodiazepine Overdose Symptoms

Benzodiazepines aren’t as dangerous during an overdose as other depressants like alcohol or barbiturates. They’re generally considered safe and well-tolerated. As we age, we lose our ability to process benzodiazepines efficiently, so older people may experience more severe symptoms in lower doses. Typical overdose symptoms can include severe drowsiness, memory loss, muscle weakness, dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, and passing out.

However, it is possible to experience dangerous and life-threatening overdose when taking benzodiazepines. Very high doses can start to slow down important unconscious functions of your nervous system, including your heart rate and breathing. Deadly depressant overdose usually involves respiratory depression, which is when your breathing is slowed down to the point of oxygen deprivation, brain damage, coma, or death. A dangerous benzodiazepine overdose may be more likely if you mix the drug with alcohol, opioids, or other depressants.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms

Benzodiazepines can cause chemical dependence, which can lead to withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit or cut back. Depressants are known to be the only major class of drugs that have a significant risk of life-threatening overdose symptoms.

If you become dependent on a benzo and spend a long time taking the drug in high doses, quitting abruptly can cause symptoms like seizures, severe confusion, sweating, panic, and heart complications. In some cases, depressant withdrawal can cause heart attacks and strokes. However, it’s possible to go through withdrawal safely if you have guidance or supervision from a medical professional. If you’ve used a benzodiazepine for a while, it’s important to speak to a doctor before quitting cold turkey.

Union Benzodiazepine Misuse Statistics

In the United States, there were 67,367 drug overdose deaths in 2018, and 2,900 involved opioids. Overdose rates in 2018 were slightly lower than in 2017, but 2020 is expected to have an impact on the rates of addiction and overdose all over the country. Opioids accounted for almost 70% of all overdose deaths in the state. There were 98,628 addiction treatment admissions in 2019. In Union County, heroin and alcohol were the most common drugs for which people sought addiction treatment. Heroin was the primary drug of choice in 39% of admissions, and alcohol accounted for 35% of admissions in the county.

Drugs like opioids that don’t fall under the common categories of alcohol, opioids, cocaine, or marijuana accounted for 3% of admissions. However, benzos could have been a secondary drug of misuse for many more people. In many cases in which a benzodiazepine is involved in a drug overdose, other drugs are present as well.

Does Union Have a Benzodiazepine Problem?

Based on numbers, opioids seem to be the biggest threat to New Jersey and Union County, followed closely by alcohol. However, benzodiazepines may cause significant problems in people who misuse them or use them for too long.

On their own, they may not be responsible for vast numbers of overdose deaths like opioids. But benzos are commonly prescribed and have a significant misuse potential. When they come into contact with Union’s most common drugs of abuse, alcohol, and heroin, they can be deadly. Benzodiazepines can potentiate both alcohol and heroin. When they’re mixed, they can have a similar effect on your nervous system, leading to respiratory depression, even with moderate doses of each drug.

How Does Benzodiazepine Treatment Work?

If you have a substance use problem related to benzodiazepines, there are several options for treatment in and around Union. In many cases, your first step may be to speak to a doctor. Even your family physician can help you find your next steps in addressing a benzodiazepine problem. Through a medical assessment, your doctor can determine some of your immediate needs in treatment.

If you have a mild benzo dependence, your doctor may be able to help you taper off the drug safely, allowing your body to adjust gradually. However, if you have a more severe substance use disorder, you may need more substantial addiction treatment. Formal addiction treatment involves several approaches to treatment, andyour specific treatment plan will depend on your needs.

There are four major levels of care, including medical detox, inpatient treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, and outpatient treatment. Through these levels of care, you may go through treatment with medications and psychotherapy to address medical, psychological, and social needs.

Is Medical Detox Necessary?

When you enter an addiction treatment program, you may go through an assessment process that involves the use of the ASAM Criteria, a set of six important factors that should be considered when determining your level of care in addiction treatment. Some important factors in the criteria that may point to the need for medical detox include:

  • Current or recent benzodiazepine use. If you present to treatment while on a benzodiazepine, or if you’ve recently quit after a long period of use, you may need to go through detox to make sure you achieve sobriety safely.
  • Severe withdrawal potential. Because benzodiazepines are depressants and can be dangerous during withdrawal, you may need detox if you present to treatment with a high likelihood of dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
  • Medical complications. If you have medical complications that could be complicated by withdrawal symptoms, you may need to go through detox with medical professionals monitoring your condition. For instance, heart conditions may be affected by depressant withdrawal and should be treated or monitored.

Detox may not be necessary if you’ve already tapered off the drug or if you’re currently on a tapering schedule with your doctor. If your physical needs are met and stable, but you still need to address psychological and social needs related to addiction, you may move on to other levels of care.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient and residential treatment involve 24-hour care every day. In inpatient treatment, you may receive medically monitored or clinically managed treatment. This level of care is ideal for people with high-level medical or psychological needs, even though their condition is stable and they aren’t going through severe withdrawal. Residential treatment is useful for people that may have a high risk for relapse or continued use, even if they have stable mental and physical conditions. Someone who has a poor recovery environment, such as someone who lives with a person who still uses drugs, may also benefit from residential care.

Inpatient and residential treatment may involve a combination of treatment with medications and with therapy. Individual and group therapy sessions are common, and you’ll meet with a therapist at least once a week to assess and process your treatment plan.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment allows you to live independently while you go through addiction treatment services during the day. There are multiple levels of care in outpatient treatment that depend on the amount of time you spend in treatment each week. Partial hospitalization involves 20 or more hours of addiction treatment every week. Intensive outpatient treatment involves nine or more hours of treatment each week. Outpatient treatment involves fewer than nine hours of treatment each week.

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