Benzodiazepines are Popular Anti-Anxiety Drugs
Despite their Side Effects of Amnesia and Involvement in Many Deaths
Given the hundreds of thousands of people abusing benzodiazepines or taking them legally, the Narconon drug rehabilitation and education program recognizes the importance of people knowing their side effects and addictiveness, to help prevent accidental poisonings or injuries.
Benzodiazepines first hit the U.S. market in the 1960s, starting with Librium and followed by Valium, both from pharmaceutical giant Hoffman LaRoche. Suddenly, people who were anxious about their lives didn’t have to feel that anxiety anymore, the marketing told them. Both drugs became highly popular in a short period of time, with 2.3 billion tablets of Valium selling in 1978. It was not long before the general population realized how addictive these prescription drugs were and how hard they could be to withdraw from.
Benzos are commonly used to treat panic attacks, insomnia, compulsive behavior and generalized anxiety. They are long-lasting drugs and given to a person needing constant medication over a long period of time, such as a person suffering from continuous anxiety. Short-acting forms of the drug are given for sleeplessness as they wear off by morning.
- ProSom (estazolam)
- Dalmone (flurazepam)
- Restoril (temazepam)
- Halcion (triazolam)
Other short-acting benzos may be used for presurgery or dental anxiety. Versed (midazolam) is often used for this purpose.
Longer-acting benzos include well-known prescription drugs Xanax (alprazolam), Librium (chlordiazepoxide) and Valium (diazepam). Ativan (lorazepam) is often given in hospital or hospice settings. Valium and Klonopin (clonazepam) may be given in the emergency room as anti-convulsants.
Benzodiazepines Should Only be Prescribed for the Short-Term
Any guidelines about the drug will say that benzodiazepines should never be taken for more than a few weeks or a month at a time due to their addictiveness. Benzos are also noted for their tendency to cause amnesia. This side effect is looked on as a benefit when the drug is given before surgery as the person might not be able to remember the event. But some people taking these drugs have reported performing complex actions while hypnotically unaware of what they were doing—acts such as driving, cooking food and eating it, making phone calls or having sex.
Rohypnol, or flunitrazepam, is a benzodiazepine that is illicitly used in the United States as a party drug and a “date rape” drug. A person unknowingly drugged with Rohypnol may not be able to defend herself or himself against sexual assault and afterward may not remember what happened.
Drug Combinations Can Turn Deadly
Combinations of benzodiazepines alone or with other prescription drugs, illicit drugs or alcohol are involved in hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits each year. Of 971,000 ER visits involving prescription drugs in 2008, nearly 21 percent or 194,000 involved benzos. Xanax alone accounted for more than 100,000 of these visits. The misuse of alcohol with benzodiazepines can increase the effects of both drugs and lead to death
In February 2011, a New York Times article reported on a number of veterans returning from combat with various types of pain, depression, and guilt who were given a cocktail of benzodiazepines along with antidepressants and pain medications, who then died from the combined effects of the drugs. None of the soldiers featured in the article had any alcohol in their systems when they died; the deaths were considered accidental poisonings.
The actor Heath Ledger also died from a combination of painkillers plus an antihistamine, diazepam, temazepam, and alprazolam.
Benzos Particularly Bad for Pregnant Women
Benzodiazepines are known to pass through the placenta and affect unborn babies. Newborns may suffer from withdrawal symptoms for as long as six months for some drugs in this class. Additionally, some studies have shown a slightly increased risk of cleft palates in babies born to women taking benzodiazepines while pregnant.
Dangerous Side Effects
Side effects vary by the individual drug but include drowsiness (which is why they are given for sleeplessness), dizziness, decreased concentration and lower awareness and lack of coordination that can result in falls or harm especially in older people. It’s not recommended that people drive while under the influence because of the risk of traffic accidents. Lowered sex drive and decreased ability to perform sexually are not uncommon. Other effects include nausea, euphoria, nightmares, and changes in appetite.
How to Help Someone Who Can’t Stop Taking the Drug
Since benzodiazepines are addictive when taken long-term, getting off these drugs calls for an effective drug rehab and perhaps also a medical detox to taper down off the dosage. The Narconon drug and alcohol rehabilitation program uses nutritional supplements and minerals during the withdrawal phase. Those who have been addicted often neglect their health and diet and so wind up nutritionally bankrupt. When withdrawing from a drug like Valium or Xanax, this deficiency can contribute to depression, pain and anxiety.
Once a person at Narconon completes their withdrawal step, they go through a sauna and exercise program to help the body flush out toxic residues of the fat-bonding drugs they have been abusing. This program is called the Narconon New Life Detoxification and is an essential part of living a life free from benzodiazepine addiction. Many people completing this program state that it reduces or even eliminates the cravings that often sabotage recovery.
The next step in recovery is to reclaim one’s ability to communicate with people and things around one. This is a skill that is often lost during addiction. On the Narconon drug recovery program, life skills classes help students practice new communication skills and put them to use in life. The result is a brighter present and more hopeful future.
All in all, the dozens of Narconon drug rehabilitation centers around the world specialize in enabling people to leave drug abuse and addiction in the past. With the help of experienced Narconon staff, recovering addicts learn to create the new life they could only dream of while addicted.