Even though the use of benzodiazepines (benzos) has declined as more effective drugs have reached the market, three drugs, Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam), are among the top 50 prescribed drugs in the US. Valium is one of the most prescribed in the world.
Benzodiazepine drugs, also called “tranquilizers,” have been in use since 1960, when Librium was first marketed. They became popular rapidly, and were soon being prescribed in huge quantities by physicians who were unaware of their potential for addiction. In those days, the concept of addiction was not broad enough to include suburban housewives who seemed a little out of it.
Today, unfortunately, the situation is not much different. Physicians still prescribe psychoactive drugs, often without good reason, and allow their patients to remain on them much too long. As a result of this over-prescribing, along with illicit use of drugs obtained by prescription and on the street, benzo addiction is an ongoing, severe problem in the United States.
Addiction can occur from repeated large doses of benzos, common in abuse, but also from prolonged smaller doses, including therapeutic quantities. They are popular drugs of abuse, especially among young people, because their effect is similar to that of alcohol. When combined with alcohol they can produce deep depression of the central nervous system (CNS) that can lead to prolonged coma and/or death. The famous case of Karen Ann Quinlan, who remained in a coma for more than ten years, was due to a mixture of alcohol, diazepam and another psychoactive drug.
Intoxication from this class of drug can cause hostility, irritability, disturbed dreams, amnesia, and eventually lead to tolerance (needing more of the drug to have the same effect) and both physical and psychological dependence. Withdrawal from benzos, once addicted, can be life-threatening, and may require hospitalization.
Withdrawal symptoms from low doses of benzodiazepines can include anxiety, agitation, restlessness, impaired concentration and memory, insomnia, increased sensitivity to light, sound and touch, restless leg syndrome (leg jitters), elevated blood pressure, depression (which can be severe), visual disturbances, mood swings and irritable bowel syndrome.
High-dose withdrawal can include convulsions, stroke, coma and/or death, suicidal thoughts that sometimes lead to attempts, other forms of self-harm, homicidal thoughts, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, confusion, manic episodes and even delirium tremens (DT’s).
Benzodiazepine withdrawal is a serious medical condition that can deteriorate rapidly. It requires careful management by people who understand the condition and are alert for potential problems. A medical detox setting, such as ours at Sunrise Detox, is not only safer, but much more comfortable. Sunrise Detox uses the latest approved protocols for benzo detoxification, and provides education and support to help clients through the initial phases and into the recovery process.