Alarming Facts about Benzo Abuse and Addiction Among Women

There is often a darker side to prescription drugs than meets the eye.

Benzodiazepines are some of the most commonly prescribed medications by physicians. The drug has a calming effect that counters the stress of fast-paced lifestyles. It’s no surprise that it’s prescribed to those with demanding jobs. Many lawyers, doctors, movie stars and even judges rely on benzodiazepines to relax.

As American’s lead more and more demanding lives, the need for benzodiazepines rise. In past years, physicians have issued over 150 million prescriptions in just one year. While these medications are effective, they are also one of the most abused drugs.

Clinical Uses of Benzodiazepines

benzo rehab for women

What are benzodiazepines used for and why are they so popular?

Benzodiazepines are a class of psychoactive drugs. They are prescribed to treat general anxiety disorders (GAD), seizures, anxiety, insomnia and panic attacks. Among the different types of benzodiazepines, alprazolam and clonazepam are often prescribed for panic disorders. Clonazepam, clorazepate, diazepam and lorazepam are often prescribed to treat certain convulsive disorders, like epilepsy. Panic attacks and insomnia are often treated with diazepam.

Recently, they are also used to treat alcohol addictions. Benzodiazepines can lessen the severity and intensity of withdrawal symptoms experienced. This puts less of a strain on an addict’s journey to sobriety.

Unfortunately, all the ailments mentioned above affect women more than men. This means that benzodiazepines are most often prescribed to women than men. In fact, physicians prescribe two to three times more women than men this type of medication.

While effective, benzodiazepines are quite addictive. Due to this reason, the prescribed terms are often for only 2 to 3 months. This is also because the body builds a tolerance for this drug quickly. Over time, patients need larger doses to enjoy the drug’s intended effects.

Benzodiazepines are often prescribed under different types of brand names. Common generic and respective brand names include:

  • Bromazepam, also called Lexotan
  • Clonazepam, also known as Rivotril
  • Diazepam, also referred to as Valium, Ducene or Antenex
  • Flunitrazepam, also found in stores as Rohypnol or Hypnodorm
  • Lorazepam, also named Ativan
  • Nitrazepam, also regarded as Mogadon or Alodorm
  • Oxazepam, also known as Serepax, Murelax or Alepam
  • Temazepam, also branded as Euhypnos, Normison or Temaze

All in all, there are about 30 different types of benzodiazepines. Each of these generic drugs are marketed by several brand name drug companies. The active chemical composition and effects of these drugs are all the same. They have the same side effects. The only difference is that they are made by different pharmaceutical companies.

Benzodiazepine Addiction Statistics

Here are some more shocking statistics that will blow your mind.

  • Benzodiazepines are involved in over 30% prescription drug overdose deaths in 2013.
  • Between 1999 and 2010, overdose deaths related to benzodiazepines more than quadrupled. These numbers are still rising!
  • 56% of the prescriptions issued for this type of medication was for treating anxiety.
  • 75% of benzo overdose deaths involved the use of opioids.
  • Benzo use increases with age and is most often used by women between the ages of 65 to 80 years old.

Adverse Interactions of Benzos with Other Drugs and Alcohol

When prescribed benzodiazepines by a physician, read the warnings and the instructions carefully. There are many precautions to be aware of.

Do not mix this medication should not with other drugs and with alcohol. Using it with heroin and with alcohol can lead to adverse health complications. Some of which may have permanent effects on the body.

Minor complications from mixing drugs include difficulties thinking and in controlling movement. The complications don’t stop there. In worst case scenarios, the mixture can be so deadly that it stops your breathing. Although some experts claim it’s safe to drink some time after taking benzodiazepines, it’s best to avoid drinking alcohol entirely just to be safe. Benzodiazepines and alcohol simply don’t mix.

Other types of medications and drugs can also be dangerous when mixed with benzos. Pain medications, like morphine and oxycodone, can cause respiratory distress. Insomnia medication can have sedative effect when mixed with benzodiazepines. Fatal overdoses also become much more common when mixing your medication with drugs.

What Are the Side Effects of Benzo Abuse?

Even though benzodiazepines are clinically prescribed to treat various ailments and conditions, they still come with numerous side effects. Women tend to be more susceptible to benzodiazepine dependence and abuse than men. The side effects, however, do not discriminate based on gender. Both genders will experience similar physical and mental effects based on factors like duration of drug use.

Short-term Effects

Short-term effects of taking Benzos last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. It all depends on the type of benzodiazepines taken and the dosage. Common short-term effects include:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Feeling relaxed
  • Inability to judge distances
  • Lack of energy
  • Mood swings
  • Poor memory
  • Slurring of words or stuttering

In conjunction to these side effects, addicts also experience a rush of euphoria. Unfortunately, even a single large dose can also lead to a fatal overdose.

Long-term Effects

Long-term users with a serious benzodiazepine dependence will experience long-term effects like:

  • Depression, which can also lead to suicidal thoughts
  • Gastrointestinal problems and complications like nausea
  • Headaches and migraines of increasing severity and intensity
  • Increased appetite that often leads to weight gain
  • Increased frequency of fatigue and exhaustion
  • Insomnia brought on by nightmares and bad dreams
  • Lack of energy or interest in performing daily errands
  • Menstrual problems and other issues affecting reproductive system
  • Mood swings, especially cranky feelings
  • Sexual dysfunction and an inability to maintain arousal
  • Increased risk of dementia

Much like in other drugs, the way that addicts take the drug can also lead to an array of other long-term effects. Users who inject the drug may cause serious permanent damage to their veins. This can lead to loss of limbs from poor blood circulation and to permanent damage to vital organs. If users use and share non-sterile needles, there is an increased risk of contracting bloodborne infectious diseases, like HIV. Avoid this by using one-time use needles and avoid sharing.

Effects of the Drug on Pregnant Women and New Mothers

Benzodiazepines can also have a profound effect on pregnant women and new mothers. Pregnant women and new mothers may need to completely avoid benzodiazepines.

Why?

Benzodiazepines are classified as category D medications. This means that they may have potentially harmful effects to the fetus. It’s vital that women are informed of all the potential risks that the drug may have on the fetus if the medication is prescribed during the pregnancy. Most physicians recommend getting off of the medication immediately upon getting pregnant.

The drugs may affect the mother’s body as well. It may make them incapable of carrying a baby. Female drug abuse statistics state that misuse of illicit drugs increases the risk of stillbirths by three times.

New mothers who are breastfeeding should also avoid taking benzodiazepines at all cost. The medication can enter breast milk, and chemical compounds in the drug can cause lethargy and weight loss in newborn babies.

Why Are Benzodiazepines so Addictive?

Even when prescribed by medical professionals, benzodiazepine use must be carefully monitored. This is because benzos are one of the most addictive drugs out there. Even when prescribed for legitimate reasons, it’s not uncommon for patients to become addicted. Benzodiazepine dependence happens very quickly.

The potential for abuse also increases because of the drug’s high binding affinity and short half life.  The euphoric and relaxing rush upon taking the drug is intense.

Even when patients are weaned off of the drugs, many will relapse. The strong cravings encourage addicts to eventually buy the pills illegally from drug dealers.

Benzodiazepines are addictive because the body quickly develops a tolerance to the drug. This means that the body needs larger and larger doses. Once benzos are in your system, your body will adapt and adjust to those levels. Without the drugs in your system, your body will have difficulties adjusting and will begin to crave it. This causes a cascade of withdrawal symptoms to pop up. Getting through the withdrawal symptoms can be quite difficult.

Neurological Effects of Benzos on the Body

Addiction to benzos is attributed to the chemical reaction it has on the body. This compound binds to the GABA receptors in the body. This causes the receptors to change its shape in a way that allows easy and efficient uptake of GABA molecules. GABA molecules are inhibitory in nature and reduce the excitability of the nerves. This means that benzodiazepines have a calming effect on the body that is similar to that of alcohol. These two compounds work in very similar ways.

Benzodiazepine also causes hormonal changes within women. These changes likely make the drug more addictive to women than to men. Women usually experience more intense cravings and lowered inhibitions associated with the drug.

Signs that You’re Addicted to Benzodiazepines

It’s easy to get addicted to benzodiazepines even if you follow all the instructions given to you by your doctor. If you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse, you will be even more likely to develop a dependence to the drug. Common signs that you’re addicted include:

  • Experiencing gastrointestinal issues, like diarrhea
  • Getting goose bumps
  • Experiencing muscle pain and aches
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Having problems sleeping
  • Vomiting
  • Experiencing uncontrollable leg movements

If you suspect that you’re addicted, speak to your doctor immediately. It’s also wise to consult with professionals at rehab centers. Once you’re addicted, the benzodiazepines will change your brain’s chemistry. Long-term drug addiction results in permanent, irreversible changes.

Unfortunately, not all addicts will realize their addiction until it’s too late. It can also be difficult to identify signs of addiction in women close to you. There are plenty of functioning addicts that can hide their dependence to benzodiazepines.

Benzodiazepine Overdose Symptoms

Since benzodiazepines are so addictive and prone to being abused, they are also one of the most common drugs involved with overdoses. In 2014, 4,217 and 1,729 cases of overdoses were caused by alprazolam and diazepam, respectively. As the body builds tolerance to the drug, it becomes easier and easier for addicts to overdose. Addicts take larger doses to get the desired effects. Long-term addicts tread a very thin line between getting high and overdosing.

Common symptoms of an overdose include clammy skin, dilated pupils, a rapid and weak pulse and shallow breathing. This can then be quickly followed by coma and death. If you or someone you care about is exhibiting symptoms of an overdose, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Benzo Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline

Withdrawing from benzos is difficult and dangerous. Serious complications can arise, which is why experts recommend getting professional treatment. It’s never wise to quit cold turkey. The withdrawals can be worse and more dangerous than the withdrawals for opioids.

Withdrawal symptoms can appear during dose reduction. It can also appear if the prescription is taken at a different time. For example, daytime symptoms can occur after the administration of nightly doses.

Among high and low doses, the types of symptoms experienced will not change. However, high doses often lead to more severe and intense symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are the same for both women and men. Common symptoms include:

  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pain
  • Depersonalization
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Dry mouth
  • Dysphoria
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances like nausea
  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Hypertension
  • Increased sensitivity to touch
  • Insomnia
  • Impaired memory
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Muscular spasms
  • Nightmares
  • Paranoia
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Stiffness
  • Taste and smell disturbances
  • Tachycardia
  • Tinnitus
  • Tremors
  • Visual disturbances

Withdrawal symptoms for benzodiazepines last a long time. This is one of the main reasons why getting sober and avoiding relapses is so difficult to addicts. Many addicts relapse because the withdrawal timeline stretches out over weeks and months.

Physical symptoms first emerge 24 to 78 hours after last use. The timeline varies from individual to individual. It also depends on factors like length of drug use and amount of drugs taken at a time. At 2 weeks after last use, the symptoms peak and begin to finally subside. It can take weeks and even months before former addicts feel like their old self.

Short-acting benzodiazepines have more intense and serious withdrawal symptoms. Long-acting options tend to have shorter and less intense symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms also take longer to kick in.

Detox Options for Benzo Addiction

As withdrawing from benzodiazepines can be dangerous and deadly, it’s best to go to rehab to get sober. Rehab programs involve several different approaches. Based on each patient’s condition, professionals draft up specific treatment plans. The plans often include behavioral therapy and counseling and detoxification with or without pharmaceutical therapy.

There are two types of pharmaceutical therapy for the management of withdrawal symptoms. The two approaches are low- and high-dose withdrawal.

Patients who have been taking benzodiazepines for about 1 month can sober up using the low-dose method. This involves weaning off of the drugs bit by bit. Outpatient treatment programs are recommended for these cases. Outpatient programs offer more flexibility than inpatient ones.

Patients taking high doses for long periods of time require inpatient high-dose treatment. These patients are most likely to experience deadly side effects and withdrawal symptoms. The benzodiazepine rehab program may prescribe patients additional pharmaceuticals, like flumazenil. These drugs will help wean patients off the benzos and will combat dire withdrawal symptoms.

Prevent relapses and deal with underlying psychological issues in behavioral counseling. This is a great place to identify triggers and to work on building better behaviors. Behavioral therapy can help patients stay motivated throughout the length of the treatment. Enjoy one-on-one therapy for more private affairs and group therapy for more support.

Many rehab centers also offer family counseling. This is a great way to rebuild and mend broken relationships damaged by addiction. Having a strong familial support group is one of the keys to preventing relapses.

Women tend to face more stigma when dealing with addition. This makes it very difficult for many women to get the help they need from traditional treatment centers. Gender-specific treatment programs focus on issues that specifically affect women. They visit issues and triggers that affect women more than men.

This type of environment also better nourishes trust and support. Women tend to feel much more at ease opening up in these types of recovery centers. By feeling more comfortable in sharing private information, it’s easier for patients to stay on the right path.

Catering treatment to the needs of women dramatically improves the treatment outcomes. The quality of the treatment is also better. Patients are less likely to relapse.

Many addicts started off using benzodiazepines as prescribed and in a legal manner. Unfortunately, the addictive nature of this drug can take control of lives and move on its own course. Before you know it, you might find yourself addicted.

If you notice the tell-tale signs of addiction in women close to you, reach out to them. Open up the communication in an honest and genuine manner. Voice your concerns, and don’t hesitate to recommend that they get professional help before the problem spirals out of control.

Due to the dangerous and deadly nature of benzos, don’t attempt to quit cold turkey. It’s always best to contact a counselor at a women’s rehab center for professional advice. Take action to avoid you or someone you know from becoming just another statistic.

Those who are unable to tackle the spiritual aspect of the program may find solace in a secular recovery program like SMART Recovery or Secular Organizations for Sobriety. They are similar to AA in their new design for living but approach recovery in a more individualized fashion.

Similar to anonymous programs, secular recovery programs do not mix well with everyone. To find out the best option for yourself between a twelve step program or a secular recovery program, try attending meetings at both. Don’t just go for a week, though; instead, try going a few times to get a feel for the meeting and those who attend.