All about Benzodiazepines
These prescription medications are used to assist people struggling with mental illnesses, including anxiety disorders. They work by slowing down electrical activity inside the cells of the brain, which can keep an electrical storm of anxiety from taking hold. People who take these medications might be accustomed to living with storms of anxiety on a regular basis. With medications, they may not feel those storms.
Remarkably common are Benzodiazepine prescriptions. According to research by the National Institutes of Health, 1 person in 20, ages 18-80, received a benzodiazepine prescription in 2008. Doctors who felt their patients needed these medications had several different brand name drugs to choose from, including:
Benzodiazepines are classified based on their strength and longevity. Some drugs hit a user hard, and they go away quickly. Those drugs are ideal for someone in the midst of a panic attack, but those drugs can also be quite addictive as they change reality very quickly and go away very quickly. Other drugs take longer to hit, but they last a longer period of time. These drugs can also cause harm, but they tend to be a little safer, from an addiction perspective.
Overall, according to a study in American Family Physician, benzodiazepines are considered safe. Even if people take too many of them all at once, they rarely if ever cause an overdose. They drugs can be powerful, but when taken alone, they do not seem capable of causing a person’s immediate death.
However, benzodiazepines can be quite dangerous during the recovery period. That slowing of electrical activity can seem like a new normal for a brain long exposed to drugs, and when the brain’s electricity returns to a normal level, it can spark a storm of activity. That could cause a person to experience seizures, and those seizures can be damaging to the brain.
Severe withdrawal symptoms can cause death, but they can also block the recovery process. As an article in Current Opinion in Psychiatry points out, people who experience the first inkling of a difficult side effect during withdrawal may opt to return to drug use, rather than allowing the withdrawal to continue. They may refuse to try to get clean in the future. To them, the process might not seem safe.
Clinicians can help by moving addicted people to a new type of benzodiazepines. If people are taking fast-acting drugs, they can be moved to long-lasting versions. Those drug versions can be progressively tapered until they are no longer strong and powerful. In time, with a slow taper, people can get clean without experiencing a life-threatening problem.
Then, therapy can be used to help people understand their drug cravings and come to a better and healthier future. Those therapy programs are often measured in months, not days, and most people who complete them still need the help of support groups to stay clean, but they can be remarkably helpful.