Why Treatment for Anxiety (Benzos) Is Causing the Next Drug Epidemic

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The United States has been reeling from the effects of the opioid epidemic for more than a decade, and there have been many legislative maneuvers, advocacy initiatives, and other programs enacted to combat the growing trend of opioid overdose deaths and new addiction cases. But another type of drug is creating a new epidemic: benzo medications.

What are benzos? Benzodiazepine medications, or “benzos,” can help some people manage the symptoms of anxiety disorders, but these drugs also carry a high risk of addiction. Whenever a person receives a prescription for benzodiazepine medication, it is absolutely crucial to follow the prescribing doctor’s directions for use. Misuse of these drugs or failure to follow prescription instructions can easily lead to benzo addiction.

Dangers Of Benzodiazepines

Some of the most commonly seen brand names of benzodiazepine medication prescribed in the United States include Valium, Ativan, and Xanax. These drugs are effective anti-anxiety medications and can help a person manage the symptoms of several psychological issues, such as general anxiety disorder and insomnia. Benzodiazepines are also the most commonly abused type of prescription pharmaceuticals in the U.S.*

Most anti-drug initiatives focus on the opioid crisis, but it is vital to prevent the growing number of benzodiazepine addiction cases from flying under the public’s radar. Like some prescription opioid medications, many members of the public may simply assume a prescribed medication is safe since a doctor prescribed it, but this is far from true.

Over-Prescription Of Benzodiazepines

Some doctors fail to adequately explain the risks of addiction with some medications. In some cases, patients want to know how to reduce stress and their doctors simply turn to benzodiazepine prescriptions because they appear to be an easy fix. Benzodiazepine medication prescriptions increased a staggering 67 percent from 1996 to 2013***, and doctors have known about their addictive properties since the 1970s.

Benzodiazepine medications can effectively the treat the symptoms of anxiety and similar conditions, but these medications work best with short-term use. When a patient takes these medications longer than prescribed, he or she faces significant side effects, including addiction. Doctors must only treat patients who haven’t responded to alternative treatments and develop individualized cessation plans for each patient.

Factors Influencing The Increase In Benzo Prescriptions

The number of benzodiazepine overdoses in the United States increased 500 percent from 1996 to 2013**. While there is no single cause for the growing number of benzodiazepine addiction cases and overdoses, one of the measurable factors that has had an impact in recent years is over-prescription.

Doctors may be prescribing benzodiazepines for conditions that could benefit from alternative treatments that do not pose the risk of addiction or overdose to the patient. Xanax is the most prescribed pharmaceutical drug in America, with more than 50 million prescriptions filled each year, and improper Xanax use leads to more than 125,000 emergency room visits each year**. It’s essential for doctors to prescribe these medications only to patients who truly need them and account for the significant risk of addiction.

Risks Of Stress

Risks Of Detoxing Without Medical Assistance - Family First InterventionWhat is stress? It is the strain on the mind and body that every person experiences throughout regular life. Work, school, family issues, relationships, driving, and countless other things put stress on the average person each day. Acute stressors such as traumatic events, bad news, injuries, accidents, and surprises can increase stress levels quickly and have the potential to leave lasting emotional impacts. It’s important to know the signs of stress and develop healthy coping techniques.

Stress is an undeniable factor in the growing number of benzodiazepine addiction cases. Modern life is incredibly fast-paced and demanding, and traumatic events seem to be increasingly common. Various stress management techniques exist that can help some people decompress and manage stress effectively without medication. When people treat stress with benzodiazepine medications, they hinder their ability to develop healthy coping methods for their stress and head toward addiction.

Stress And Addiction

Benzodiazepines can help regulate anxiety and the symptoms of acute stress for a short time, but it is difficult to cease taking these medications. After ceasing a medication with any kind of habit-forming properties, a patient will likely experience some type of withdrawal. One of the most difficult benzo withdrawal symptoms is resurgence, or a sudden, intense reappearance of the patient’s former symptoms. Most prescribing doctors will recommend tapering, or a patient lowering a dose gradually to minimize the chances of resurgence.

Treating Benzodiazepine Addiction

Imagine a patient suffering with acute anxiety receives a three-month Xanax prescription. After a few weeks the patient decides to stop taking the medication without consulting the prescribing doctor because his or her symptoms appeared to subside. The next day, the patient experiences an intense anxiety attack and the other prior symptoms of anxiety return.

This is just one example of how cessation may cause severe problems and compel a person back into benzodiazepine use. Symptoms of benzodiazepine addiction may include resurgence of prior symptoms, severe depression or anxiety, sleeping problems, respiratory issues, and many other possibilities. It is critical to seek substance abuse treatment as soon as possible when a person shows the signs of benzodiazepine addiction.

Risks Of Detoxing Without Medical Assistance

Detoxing affects each individual differently, and benzodiazepine addiction may lead to severe withdrawal symptoms upon cessation. Some experience suicidal thoughts, extreme shaking, and fatal seizures. Medical assistance during the detox process can help a person more easily remove the benzos from his or her system while managing the side effects of withdrawal. Nutritional support can also help a patient recover more quickly and experience less-severe withdrawal symptoms.

Finding The Right Addiction Treatment

Family First Intervention understands the severity of benzodiazepine addictions and the catastrophic results they can have on families. We offer a full range of substance abuse support ranging from professional intervention services to ongoing support after rehabilitation. It’s essential to address substance abuse as early as possible, so visit our programs page to learn more about the treatment options available from Family First Intervention.

Mike Loverde

With firsthand experience with addiction, Mike Loverde is now a Certified Intervention Professional (CIP), as accredited by the Association of Intervention Specialists and the Pennsylvania Certification Board. He founded Family First Intervention in 2008 and has since helped hundreds of families find intervention and addiction rehabilitation solutions.

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