Abuse of benzodiazepines may turn beneficial medication into painful addiction. For patients, the highly-addictive substances all too often turn from use to abuse. According to a study by the University of Michigan in 2010, prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines were the most commonly abused drug after Marijuana.
It isn’t only patients who suffer from prescription abuse. Benzodiazepines enhance the high obtained from drugs such as heroin and amphetamine and therefore appeals to other drug addicts. They also alleviate withdrawal symptoms due to other substances. Alcoholics particularly use the drug to overcome anxiety caused by alcohol abuse.
From healing to abuse
A person may well become addicted to their benzodiazepine by accident, and start abusing their drugs. In time, the body builds up a tolerance to the substance and require higher doses to achieve the same level of relief. Physicians may not be willing to prescribe more; when the patient increases their use despite this or experience cravings, then addiction and dependency become a threat.
The user has to follow their prescriptions carefully to avoid becoming addicted. Benzodiazepine abuse occurs when using medication without a prescription, or at a higher dosage than prescribed, or by alternative means such as snorting or injection.
When used as prescribed, or short term, the effects of benzodiazepine medication, such as Valium or Xanax, may be beneficial. They are commonly used to treat anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia. However, due the risk of dependency and subsequent abuse, they are not usually used long term.
Potential health risks
In addition to prescribed medication, users may start to abuse other substances and stimulants. Benzodiazepine may become a gateway into further addiction, a risk that is especially apparent when users resort to buying the drugs illicitly, thus gaining access to other substances.
Whereas benzodiazepine alone is rarely fatal, the drug is often mixed with alcohol. This combination can be lethal. The combination may also cause overdose, either intentionally or accidentally.
Subsequent accidents, such as road traffic accidents, may happen when driving under the influence of benzodiazepines. Additionally, abuse may cause blackouts, aggressive behavior, memory loss, and violence.
Identifying Benzodiazepine Abuse
In addition to family and friends, professionals such as physicians and pharmacist may identify and intervene when suspecting abuse. When a patient asks for higher doses, the doctor should carefully examine whether this is due to tolerance, or a genuine need for medication.
Pharmacists may be the first line of defense, and keep a vigilant watch for drug abuse. Some have developed a hotline, where they inform other pharmacies in the region when fraudulent prescriptions are detected.
Finding a solution
Due to immense withdrawal symptoms, which may cause seizures and tremors, patients should undergo a carefully supervised detoxification process. Often, benzodiazepine abuse is linked to substance addiction, such as alcohol or opiates.
In the case of polydrug addiction, appropriate treatment should target all abuse. As with other addictions, there is a variety of options available, such as counseling, therapy, and group meetings. Sometimes, benzodiazepines users need treatment for psychiatric disorders, before they may sober up and start living life again.