One of the most often prescribed drugs in the U.S., benzodiazepine is a sedative, anticonvulsant and muscle relaxant that can help treat a number of physical and mental conditions. Benzodiazepines are widely used, acting as the main ingredient in popular prescription drugs including Xanax and Valium. In fact, an estimated 11 to 15 percent of American adults have taken the drug at least once in the last year alone. While mostly used as an effective medicine, benzodiazepine is also abused for its euphoric effects.
Although this drug can be abused, it is also considered relatively safe when taken as directed by a doctor. In some instances, benzodiazepine is even used to help alcoholics by reducing anxiety and depression symptoms and curbing withdrawal symptoms. However, like many prescription drugs, benzodiazepine can be addictive, and can pose a risk to a patient’s health, especially when abused.
Most commonly prescribed for anxiety symptoms, benzodiazepine may also be prescribed for bipolar disorder, depression and muscle spasm disorders.
Benzodiazepine by itself is not usually abused; however, it is often abused alongside other drugs, especially opiates such as methadone, heroin and prescribed painkillers. In fact, 8 out of 10 incidents of benzodiazepine abuse involve other drugs. Its popularity among opiate addicts is often due to the way it enhances the “high” and moderates withdrawal symptoms.
Potential Dangers Of Benzodiazepine
Although it has relatively low toxicity on its own, taking benzodiazepine is not without its risks. Side effects, some severe, are possible, and there is a serious risk for dependence and addiction. Note that the risks and severity of benzodiazepines increase when the individual doesn’t take it as directed, drinks alcohol or takes other drugs or medicine. Drinking alcohol while taking benzodiazepines is particularly dangerous. Although fatal overdoses are rare, they do occur, most often due to drug interactions with other medications or alcohol.
This drug can pass through the placenta and is excreted in breast milk, so pregnant and nursing mothers are strongly advised against taking benzodiazepine, as it can harm the fetus and baby.
Side effects include:
- Poor concentration
- Impaired coordination
- Impaired memory
- Severe depression
- Suicidal thoughts
Both addiction and dependence are possible with benzodiazepine, and individuals who use it on a consistent basis will likely build a tolerance. Over time, some patients may come to rely on this drug so much that withdrawal can lead to mood instability, anxiety and an overall loss of confidence. In very rare cases, benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms could last for several months.
If you or a loved one has a history of substance abuse and addiction, caution with benzodiazepine is advised, and finding an alternative medication or therapy is highly recommended to reduce the chances of substance abuse.