I feel like this is more a topic for a book than a blog, but I’m going to do my best over the course of just 3 blog posts on the topic. In this first post, I want to get through the basics of this class of drugs, medical uses, and some of the negative consequences. In subsequent posts, I will explore the complex relationship between anxiety, insomnia and benzodiazepines. Finally, I will share my own experiences.
Benzodiazepines (benzos) are a class of psychoactive medications. Benzodiazepines enhance the effect of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Benzodiazepines frequently cause dependence, tolerance, withdrawal and rebound insomnia or anxiety if used beyond the recommended 2-4 week maximum. Drug abuse and addiction occur with benzodiazepines as well.
Benzodiazepines are used clinically to produce one or more of the following responses:
- anxiolytic (anti-anxiety)
- hypnotic (sleep-inducing)
- muscle relaxant
Commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Halcion, Rohypnol(!) and many more.
- Most common side effects include drowsiness, light-headedness, confusion, unsteadiness, dizziness, slurred speech, muscle weakness, memory problems, constipation, nausea, dry mouth, and blurred vision.
- Other, less common side effects include headaches, low blood pressure, increased saliva production, digestive disturbances, rashes, sight problems (such as double vision), tremors, changes in sexual desire, incontinence and difficulty urinating.
Risks of Long-Term Use
Long-term use can result in: difficulty concentrating, feeling dulled and slow, feeling isolated and unreal, feeling cut off from your emotions, irritability and impatience, loss of confidence, weight problems, and memory problems.
Terms to Know
Experiencing a higher baseline anxiety level after treatment with medication than before treatment.
Worsening of insomnia symptoms after discontinuing treatment with medication.
Some individuals, particular younger and older persons, can have an opposite or ‘paradoxical’ reaction to a benzodiazepine, including: increased anxiety, aggressive behaviour, agitation, delusions, depersonalisation, depression, derealisation, hallucinations, inappropriate behaviour (loss of inhibitions), irritability, nightmares, personality changes, psychoses, rages, restlessness, and suicidal thoughts or behaviour.
Physical dependence on a drug or substance, characterized by tolerance and withdrawal. It is possible to have a physical dependence without being addicted.
A higher dose of the substance is required to achieve the same effect.
Symptoms that occur with discontinuation or decrease in dose of a medication. Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms may include: abdominal cramps, agoraphobia, increased anxiety, depression, and insomnia. More on this in a subsequent post.
Mental and physical reliance on a substance characterized by the substance becoming the key focus of a person’s life. Also called Substance Use Disorder.
Peace 🕊 & 💗 Progress,