The effects of benzodiazepines include a high potential for misuse, abuse, and addiction. As such, physicians typically prescribe benzos only for short-term use.
Medications in the benzodiazepine family include:
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These prescription drugs are typically used to treat anxiety disorders or panic disorders.
Benzos work by inhibiting excitement in the CNS (central nervous system) and in the brain. Taking benzodiazepines induces a sense of calm by intensifying the effects of a chemical that occurs naturally in the brain – GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid.
What are the side effects of benzodiazepines?
Side Effects of Benzodiazepines
In most cases, people use benzodiazepines to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety disorders.
Less frequently, benzos are prescribed for the treatment of panic disorders.
Many people often misuse benzodiazepines for its calming side effects, often unaware of the consequences of abusing this class of medication.
When medications like Xanax or Klonopin are abused, this can trigger the following side effects:
- Impulsive behavior
When you take benzodiazepines, tolerance to the medication rapidly builds. This means you will need more benzos to achieve the same calming side effects. Alternatively, you’ll need to take more frequent doses of benzos.
Abusing benzodiazepines can cause dependence and addiction to develop in the form of substance use disorder.
If you become addicted to benzodiazepines, a variety of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms will manifest in the absence of the medication.
What are the effects of benzodiazepines, both short-term and long-term?
Short Term Effects of Benzodiazepines
Taking benzodiazepines triggers many short-term effects. These side effects usually present at the start of benzo therapy and subside when you discontinue the medication.
These short-term effects can include any of the following:
- Impaired coordination
- Reduced energy levels
- Blurred vision
- Reduced sex drive
- Memory loss
- Inflammation of the skin
- Dry mouth
- Muscle twitching
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
- Appetite changes
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Upper respiratory infection
- Menstrual disorders
- Nasal congestion
What are the long term effects of benzodiazepines, then?
Long Term Effects of Benzodiazepines
If you abuse benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium long-term, this leads to changes in the function and structure of the brain. Over time, the brain’s ability to operate without benzodiazepines is impaired.
The long term side effects of benzodiazepines disrupt the following:
- Emotional responses
- Thought processes
- Muscular coordination
All types of benzos prompt an increase in GABA production in the brain. GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) is an amino acid that occurs naturally and serves as a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger. GABA calms nerve impulses that govern emotional responses like anxiety or panic.
Taking benzos long-term causes tolerance to form and renders the medication increasingly less effective. Over time, the medication will no longer effectively counter emotional disruptions.
The higher the dosage of benzodiazepines you take, the greater your risk of developing an addiction. Dependency can start forming in as little as one month, even with small doses of benzos.
Continuing to use benzodiazepines can lead to pronounced mood swings, often resulting in hostility, aggression, and sometimes violent behavior.
Sustained use of benzos typically causes appetite changes and weight gain or weight loss. In some cases, long-term benzo use can precipitate binge eating episodes.
Benzodiazepines stimulate neurotransmitters in the brain, but the medication can make you feel fatigued. Lethargy is a long-term side effect associated with benzodiazepines.
Long-term benzo abuse can lead to problems with:
The most damaging long-term effect of using benzodiazepines, though, is the risk of developing an addiction to the medication. Addiction to Xanax, Klonopin, or other benzodiazepines normally requires a supervised medical detox.
Attempting to stop using benzodiazepines abruptly and without medical guidance is inadvisable and potentially dangerous. Detoxing at a licensed medical detox center allows your treatment team to administer a drug taper to minimize the severity of withdrawal symptoms. You will also have emotional and clinical care on hand in the event of any complications during benzo withdrawal.
If you have been using benzodiazepines for the treatment of anxiety disorder or panic disorder, you will need to address the underlying issue through ongoing treatment, usually in the form of the following:
- Non-benzodiazepine medications
- Psychotherapy (talk therapies like CBT or DBT)
- Relaxation techniques (mindfulness, meditation, yoga)
We can help you with all this and more here at California Detox.
Adverse Effects of Benzodiazepines
Using benzos for more than a few months raises your risk of damaging brain cells. Sustained use of this medication changes the way the brain functions, reducing inhibitions and resultantly exposing you to more risks – unsafe sex or driving under the influence of benzos, for instance. In some cases, these adverse effects can be fatal.
The long-term abuse of benzos often leads to depressive episodes, sometimes resulting in suicidal thoughts. Some people also experience hallucinations and paranoid delusions after taking benzodiazepines long-term.
Research shows a possible association between long-term use of Xanax and the development of dementia, especially in the event of ongoing benzo use for six months or more.
All benzodiazepines are best when used strictly short-term, but what can you do if it’s too late for that and you are already dependent on benzos or addicted to this prescription medication?
Benzodiazepines Addiction Treatment at California Detox
Perhaps you started taking benzodiazepines to relieve the symptoms of anxiety and then became addicted. Maybe you misused benzos without a prescription without realizing their addictive potential. Either way, you should not suddenly stop taking this medication without close medical supervision.
Discontinuing the use of benzodiazepines after long-term use will trigger a variety of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of alcohol withdrawal or barbiturate withdrawal.
At California Detox, we can help you navigate the uncomfortable detoxification period at our licensed beachside treatment facility. We can help you address your addiction to benzos through the following interventions:
- Tapered reduction in benzo dosage
- MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
- Counseling (individual and group)
- Psychotherapies like CBT and DBT
We provide treatment programs at all levels of intensity, from standard outpatient programs through to more intensive IOP, PHPs, and residential rehab. Additionally, we provide remote therapy for those unable to access our rehab center.
To stop using benzodiazepines safely and as comfortably as possible, reach out to admissions today by calling 949.567.8790.