Benzodiazepines, also known as “benzos,” are a class of sedative drugs that were first introduced in the 1960s. While they can be highly effective when used in a medical context, they are also dangerously addictive and lead to debilitating, long-term substance abuse problems. Since 1996, benzo prescriptions increased by more than 65%, paving the way for the current 13.5 million adults who regularly use the drug. However, for those who have fallen into a cycle of benzo addiction, there are plenty of treatment options which have been proven effective.
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What are Benzos and what are they used for?
Benzos are a class of sedative drugs that include, most popularly, alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium). They work by depressing the central nervous system, and as a result can effectively treat anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, muscle tension, alcohol withdrawal, and can be used to prevent epileptic seizures.
Before building a dependency, abusers seek the calming, tranquilizing effects of benzodiazepines. However, along with this effect come a series of symptoms which can include slurred speech, muscle weakness, poor coordination, confusion, blurred vision, intense drowsiness, and confusion. As users build a dependency, they begin to experience more intense symptoms that only discontinued use can assuage.
Impacts of Long-Term Use
Long-term use of benzos can lead to several troubling and unpleasant symptoms. By the point these symptoms have developed, users can generally be classified as having a physical dependence, which means that the brain requires the chemicals within the drug to regulate balance. If users stop taking it once they’ve developed a physical dependence, they generally enter benzodiazepine withdrawal.
Of the many long-term abuse symptoms, the following are the most common: anorexia, tremors, memory problems, and ironically anxiety and insomnia, which they are originally prescribed to treat.
Conquering a benzodiazepine addiction can be challenging and potentially dangerous if attempted without medical supervision or assistance. Treatment centers provide comprehensive care for people who are entering the recovery process, lessening the risk of any complications developing.
Inpatient treatment programs are the most comprehensive treatment option for recovering from benzo addiction. Once enrolled, patients receive 24/7 around-the-clock care for anywhere from one to three months. They have constant access to medical professionals, a positive environment, and engage in regularly therapy and counseling sessions.
Outpatient treatment programs are designed for people who have more mild addictions or who are unable to take time away from work or school. Outpatient programs require patients to regularly check into a treatment center several times a week. They receive counseling, therapy, and medical assistance, but return to their homes afterward.
- PHP: PHP programs, or Partial Hospitalization Programs, are essentially a step down from inpatient treatment. Patients spend the majority of their week in the facility but leave in the evenings to sleep elsewhere.
- IOP: IOP programs, or intensive outpatient programs, are essentially a step up from outpatient treatment. They offer a more rigid structure and are designed to help people who are struggling with withdrawal symptoms
Detox is the process of removing all traces of benzos from the body and allowing the natural production of brain chemicals to resume. It essentially means ridding your body of the drug and letting your body adjust back to its normal balance. However, to get to this point, the body can experience withdrawal when drug usage is prolonged. Symptoms of withdrawal can appear as quickly as 10 hours after the last benzo use, depending on the benzodiazepine used.
Still, the duration of the medical detox period varies from person to person, which is why it’s important to get support from an accredited detox center to monitor the detox process, and even aid with medically assisted treatment to make the process easier. Symptoms of withdrawal very but may include anxiety, irritability, insomnia, sweating, headaches, and the inability to concentrate. They usually peak in the second week of withdrawal, and then begin to taper off in the next few weeks until they disappear entirely.
Inpatients vs. Outpatient
Inpatient treatment is generally recommended for patients who exhibit a high chance of relapse. Usually, they’ve experienced long-term and debilitating addictions which are difficult to break from. With the help of medical professionals, the withdrawal symptoms can be mitigated, allowing the user more comfort during the trying detox period.
Outpatient treatment programs are designed for people who are struggling with milder addictions or for people who have exhibited a strong will to get clean. In these cases, they are likelier to abstain from use once the treatment is finished.
Signs of Abuse
There are several ways to identify benzo abuse. Many users begin missing important responsibilities like school or work, or they may start neglecting their friends while isolating themselves from their social environment. They can lose weight, have difficulty sleeping, exist in a constant “drowsy” state, and lose themselves within depression and anxiety.
Cost & Insurance Options
Generally, private insurers offer coverage for addiction treatment. The extent of that coverage is dictated by each individual policy. Navigating your policy may be challenging, and for that reason, most treatment centers keep an insurance specialist on retainer to advise clients.
Cost also varies from center to center and is dictated by the extent of an individual’s stay in a program. Most inpatient programs cost more than outpatient programs, and the cost can also be adjusted based on the services rendered by the treatment center.
Helping a Loved One
Watching a loved one struggling with benzo addiction can be challenging. They seem to recoil into themselves and may become isolated from others. They seem to fundamentally change as a person, but it’s important to remember that their struggle with addiction isn’t a moral failing; they’re suffering from a legitimate disease.
Sometimes an intervention is necessary, but it’s also possible to convince a benzo addict to enter treatment by having a productive one-on-one conversation. Do your best to express your deep, sympathetic concern without judgment. Many people struggling with addiction suffer from low self-esteem and may react negatively if they perceive that they are being judged.
If your first attempt to convince them to enter rehab is unsuccessful, don’t quit trying. Addictions are hard to overcome, and gentle persistence on your behalf is a crucial step towards initiating the recovery process.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding the Epidemic. 2018.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. Benzodiazepines and Opioids. 2018.
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