Among all the substances that are potentially addictive, benzodiazepine is probably one of the most common. You may have already encountered it before. That’s because it has plenty of medical uses, and is commonly prescribed by doctors.
The only problem is when people abuse it, adverse effects may follow. So today we are going to discuss all the basic facts about benzodiazepine, including its benefits, its side effects, and everything else in between.
Benzodiazepine, which we will call BZD from this point on, is a class of psychoactive drugs. Their core chemical structure is a fusion of diazepine ring and benzene ring. The first BZD was accidentally discovered in 1955 by Leo Sternbach. It was later made available in 1960. By 1977, BZD were globally being used as prescribed medications.
They work by enhancing the effect of certain neurotransmitters, causing sedation and facilitating sleep. It is also used to counter anxiety and convulsions. BZD has also been found to relax the muscles.
However, at higher doses, this drug may cause a person to dissociate from reality, or develop anterograde amnesia. For these reasons, a patient must follow the prescription and doctor’s recommendation closely. Recreational use of the drug is what normally causes the adverse effects, so there’s no need to fear it if you’re using it responsibly.
BZD are generally considered safe and effective for short term use, although sudden aggression may sometimes occur even at therapeutic doses. There is also controversy surrounding the drug’s effects on pregnant women. It is unconfirmed whether or not the drugs truly cause cleft palate in some babies.
Ask your doctor about pregnancy and BZD if it is prescribed to you.
Despite all the benefits that these drugs can provide, they are also considered major drugs of abuse. Their accessibility only makes this worse, as people could easily abuse the drug. Most countries have it as a schedule drug so it can still be used for medical purposes.
BZD possess hypnotic, anxiolytic, sedative, and amnesic properties. They can be used against seizures, anxiety disorders, agitation, and insomnia. Most of these drugs are taken orally, but they can also be injected.
For panic disorder, BZD are effective because of their rapid onset. People with anxiety could feel instant relief. However, it is not considered a long term solution to panic disorder. Similarly, it serves as a good short term answer for generalized anxiety, but cannot serve as a long term solution.
For insomnia, it can be used for treatment as well, but not for longer than 4 weeks, due to risk of dependence. It should be taken at low doses to make sure tolerance does not become a problem. Also, listen carefully to doctor’s recommendations regarding the drug and proper usage. Otherwise they could help improve the condition of people who are suffering from sleep related problems.
For convulsions, BZD can be used during medical emergencies such as epileptic seizures.
Other common uses for BZD include helping fight alcohol withdrawal, extreme distress, acute panic, and sometimes even obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Take note that there are contraindications particularly for pregnant women and the elderly. The benefits of BZD are comparatively lesser when it comes to the elderly, and they are also at greater risk of suffering from the adverse effects. Using BZD may give them memory problems, impaired motor coordination, and daytime sedation. In some cases it can even worsen dementia.
BZD is among the most potent recreational drugs when it comes to producing dependence and serious health risks. Common side effects (even for those who only use it at therapeutic doses) include drowsiness and dizziness. Accidents and injuries may happen due to lack of coordination after taking BZD.
For those who abuse the drugs, they run the risk of hypotension, depression, nausea, depersonalization, and nightmares. Long term effects commonly happen to recreational users as they descend towards dependence. They may find it difficult to think constructively, and they also develop agoraphobia. They may experience an altered perception of self and the world around them.
Decreased IQ, impaired hand-eye coordination, impaired learning capabilities, and impaired concentration may all stem from long term abuse.
In other cases, BZD may produce the opposite effects of its medical benefits on people who abuse the drug. A person suffering from epilepsy may experience increased seizures with improper use of the drugs. For others, they may feel more aggressive, impulsive, and even violent. This makes them dangerous for the people around them.
The problem escalates once the person develops tolerance, wherein they start requiring more and more of the drugs. This is considered one of BZD’s biggest disadvantages: it quickly develops tolerance while allowing adverse effects to continue. This makes it very difficult to recover from. If a person gets addicted to the drug and tries to quit, they may experience some withdrawal symptoms.
Even abrupt reduction of dosage can result in withdrawal symptoms. BZD withdrawal effects include insomnia, gastric problems, agitation, and muscle spasms. Less commonly, they may feel irritable, depressed, and even suicidal. Psychosis and seizures are rare but possible.
Remember that with BZD, abrupt withdrawal can be dangerous.
It is important to find a treatment center that will gradually reduce the dosage while managing the withdrawal symptoms. During this process, symptoms will still occur, but typically less severe than what would usually happen otherwise.
Through detoxification, a person addicted to BZD may still recover and live a fulfilling and sober life.