What Are Benzos?
Benzos is short for benzodiazepines, a class of psychoactive drugs that includes the popular tranquilizers Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ambien and Ativan.
Benzos are prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, panic issues, insomnia, seizures, alcohol withdrawal and as a muscle relaxer.
They are also one of the most-abused class of drugs around.
You may have heard that benzos aren’t dangerous drugs. Well, they shouldn’t be – they’re just a Schedule IV drug, according to the DEA. (Marijuana is Schedule I).
Unfortunately, most people who abuse Xanax, Valium and other benzos tend to combine it with alcohol and other drugs. This poly-drug use is what makes benzo addiction much more dangerous than it otherwise should be.
How Do They Work?
Using benzos over a long period will cause the GABA receptors in the brain to reduce in numbers and GABA function to decline. This is why people build up a tolerance to benzos, and why no one should use them for more than a few months. Reversing the loss of GABA function takes a long time, which is why withdrawal from benzos can take many months.
In the US, benzos are classified as a Schedule IV drug under the Federal Controlled Substances Act. Prescriptions for Schedule IV drugs may be refilled up to five times in a six-month period. It is illegal to sell or to distribute these drugs to others, and you should not take them unless you have a prescription.
The first benzo class drug, Librium, was developed as a tranquilizer by Hoffmann–La Roche in 1955 and released to the market as a sleep aid in 1960. Valium was later introduced in 1963, and for a while these two drugs were the most commercially successful sleeping aids.
By the 1970s, benzos had mostly replaced barbiturates as the most popular form of sleeping aid. In the 1980s, the risks of benzo dependence and addiction became well-known, leading to several lawsuits in the UK.
What They’re For
Benzos help adults suffering from a range of mental and physical issues by providing a calming, relaxing effect on body and mind.
For example, they are often prescribed to relieve anxiety, to control panic attacks, to reduce muscle spasms, to prevent convulsions and to control seizures. Benzos are also used to help safely withdraw from alcohol addiction.
The most popular and most often abused benzos include Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan and Ambien.
Click to learn more about each:
Benzodiazepines are not intended for use by young children and are usually avoided in older adults; in fact, all benzos are on Beers List because the benefits are minimal and the risks are greatest in the elderly.
Benzo Abuse in America
Xanax, Valium, Ambien and other benzodiazepines are abused by millions of Americans every day – in several ways:
- in combination with other drugs. The majority of abusers combine benzos with other drugs and/or alcohol. This greatly multiplies health risks and can cause death.
- intravenously. Heavy users may inject the drug to speed the onset of effects.
- as a sleeping aid. Benzos are often overused by people who suffer from issues that make sleep difficult.
Today, it is believed that roughly 10% of US adults have abused benzodiazepines at one time or another. Between 2005 and 2011, almost a million people were admitted to emergency rooms for benzodiazepine abuse. Over half of those were also using opioids, alcohol or both.
Mixing benzos with narcotics and alcohol is especially dangerous and seems to be on the increase. In the US, emergency room admissions involving benzos and narcotics is 5 times higher today than it was in 2005.
Benzos are also abused by teens – Xanax in particular. According to the University of Michigan’s 2012 Monitoring the Future study, over 8% U.S. high school seniors reported abusing some form of benzo drug at least once, with half of those abusing it within the past year.
Benzo Dependence Is Very Real
While not as physically addictive or dangerous as barbiturates, benzo dependence and tolerance is very real and can develop quickly. It can take just a few months or weeks of continuous use for serious withdrawal symptoms to appear.
Long-term use of Xanax, Valium, Atival and other benzodiazepines can also cause severe withdrawal symptoms including depression, anxiety, panic attacks, seizures and fear of social interaction.
Where We Get Them
Although benzos are only available by prescription, they are relatively easy to obtain. All you have to do is:
- tell a doctor you need it for anxiety. The retail price for a brand-name dose is $1-5 per pill, but much cheaper with insurance. Most benzo prescriptions are time-limited, so longer-term users must find other sources.
- buy pills from other people. Xanax and Valium are relatively easy to find in college libraries, fraternities/sororities and study groups.
- purchase it online. Today, popular discussion forums list and rate popular online sources.
How We Use ‘Em
Once acquired, benzodiazepines are consumed in several ways. The most four popular include:
- Swallowing pills or capsules
- Injecting – crushing tablets into a powder, mixing with a safe liquid and injecting the drug into the bloodstream to produce a faster effect.
- “Parachuting” – crushing the tablet or capsule contents into a powder and ingesting it orally, for quicker effect.
- Plugging – mixing the powder with water or glucose and inserting into the rectum, where the drug can be absorbed into the bloodstream more quickly. Provides a faster effect.
No matter how you abuse them, benzodiazepines are addictive, and you can build up a tolerance if you continue to use them beyond the normal prescription timeframe – typically a few weeks and never longer than 6 months.
Benzo drugs carry a high potential for abuse and addiction, especially for people who already abuse other drugs and/or alcohol. Abuse of benzos carries serious health risks and can cause significant, long-term mental and physical side effects if used for a long period of time.
Side Effects and Risks of Benzo Abuse
Common side effects of benzo abuse:
|Memory impairment||Headache||Sleep disturbance|
|Behavior changes||Low concentration||Hallucinations|
|Muscle spasms||Skin rashes||Constipation|
|Change in libido||Urinary incontinence||Low blood pressure|
Withdrawing from benzos must be managed carefully. If you are physically dependent on them after years of use, quitting benzos cold-turkey can cause a rare type of seizure (stat-ep) that can kill you if not treated immediately.
Thats why most medical professionals advise weaning-down your dosage over time.
While your brain is adjusting to lower dosages, you may suffer from depression, anxiety attacks, lack of initiative, fatigue, withdrawal from social and work circles and reduced job performance.
Common symptoms of withdrawal from benzo addiction include:
- mood swings
- poor concentration
- social isolation
- sleep disturbances
- physical weakness
- blurred vision
- panic attacks
- seizures (can be dangerous)
Withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person, and they vary in severity. Extreme anxiety is the most common.
These symptoms can create issues in your personal and professional life, such as the loss of personal relationships or the loss of a job. It is important to be as honest and open with others about your struggle to quit, so they have an opportunity to be understanding.
Recovering From Benzo Addiction
Recovery from long-term addiction to benzos usually takes many weeks, often months. It can take more than a year to completely eliminate the effects of the drug.
The only safe way to quit taking benzos after long-term use is to wean yourself slowly off of it. In some cases, use of another drug is helpful.