The benzodiazepines class of drugs includes names like Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, and Valium. They are used in the short term of 2-6 weeks to treat anxiety, seizures, insomnia, and even as a way to get someone off another substance like alcohol.
However, there are also hidden dangers to this class of drugs. We are just now beginning to understand more about the long-term effects of benzodiazepines which can be quite dangerous for many.
They can help with addiction issues, but they may also cause their own addiction issues. In 2023, this class of drugs was responsible for 25% of prescription drug overdose deaths. That is second only to opioids and fentanyl.
Keep reading to find out more about the long-term effects of benzodiazepines.
Have you ever been so stressed out and anxious that you have said, “Someone get me a tranquilizer?” If you were serious about that request, then you might need a prescription for benzodiazepines. That is a long name, so they are often referred to simply as “benzos.”
As far as tranquilizers go, benzos are relatively mild. They work with the body’s central nervous system. You may also hear them referred to as muscle relaxers, because your body should relax after you take them.
Xanax and Ativan are short-acting benzodiazepines because their half-life is less than 12 hours. Valium is a long-acting benzo because it has a half-life of at least 24 hours.
Benzos can work well for people with severe anxiety and other issues. But like opioids, they can be abused. That is especially likely if the patient keeps taking these drugs in the long-term.
Opioids should relieve a short-term issue like pain after surgery. Benzos should also be used for a week or two at most.
The Long-Term Effects of Benzodiazepines
More and more experts believe Benzos are increasingly over-prescribed. The longer you use these drugs, the less likely they are you to help you.
In fact, benzos can turn on the patient. Have you heard of a rebound headache? It happens if you take headache medicine too often.
Unfortunately, you can also get rebound anxiety or rebound insomnia. Your body can become too used to the drug. If you try to stop taking it, the anxiety or insomnia can roar back and feel worse than ever.
Then there is the alcohol problem. If a patient’s Xanax is no longer helping calm them down, they may try adding a few glasses of wine. Mixing those two drugs can be fatal.
That sounds grim. The fact is, there are benzo recovery success stories. But the vast majority of patients can’t stop taking the pills on their own.
You need a doctor’s supervision to taper off benzos. Some patients can get there with outpatient care. Others must enter a rehab facility to get off the meds.
Symptoms of benzo withdrawal can include anxiety, irritability, sweating, and muscle pain. Some patients even feel suicidal.
The Hidden Dangers
What should you do if your doctor mentions prescribing benzodiazepines? First, you should ask how long he plans for you to be on the drug.
For instance, a week-long supply of Xanax may be appropriate if you’re dealing with something traumatic like the death of a loved one. But be wary of any doctor who will keep refilling your prescription.
If your doctor doesn’t bring up the long-term effects of benzodiazepines, then you should. Refusing to talk about addiction doesn’t make it less likely to occur.
For more on addiction, check out our post on ways addicts can help themselves.