Benzodiazepine Abuse in the United States

Benzodiazepines are among the most frequently prescribed medications in America. According to research by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the number of benzodiazepine prescriptions across the country saw a sharp increase over the past two decades.

Between 1996 and 2013, the number of benzo prescriptions across the country increased from 8.1 million to 13.5 million, an increase of 67 percent over the 17-year period that was focus of the study. Despite growing awareness about the addictive nature of benzodiazepine medications, use of these drugs has continued to spread in the United States.

The most common benzodiazepine drugs prescribed by doctors in the United States include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)

Benzodiazepine Abuse And Treatment - Maryland Recovery

How Do Benzodiazepines Work?

Benzodiazepine drugs interact with the central nervous system, the specialized pathways that help the brain communicate with the rest of the body. Benzos specifically interfere with the gamma-aminobutyric acid-A (GABA-A) receptors located in the brain. These receptors are responsible for managing the activity of the brain’s nerve cells.

Benzos interact with GABA-activated chloride channels to allow a surge of chloride to enter the brain’s nerve cells. This chemical reaction changes how these brain cells operate. The initial physical reaction after using a benzo is generally positive, because of a surplus production of dopamine – a naturally occurring chemical in the brain that is responsible for the feelings of happiness and pleasure.

The temporary high of benzo use fades, however, and what follows is a long list of negative side effects, including:

  • Memory loss
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Depression
  • Mental confusion
  • Nausea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of concentration
  • Vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Tremors

Signs of Short- and Long-Term Benzo Abuse

Friends and family members who are concerned about a loved one abusing benzodiazepines should keep an eye out for the common short-term and long-term signs and symptoms of addictive behavior, many of which put the individual at a higher risk of overdosing:

Short-Term Effects of Benzos

  • Physical weakness
  • Impaired judgment and decision making
  • Blurred vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Requesting prescriptions from multiple doctors
  • Asking loved ones to pick up benzo pills on their behalf
  • The desire to cut back but not feeling able to do so
  • Unusual changes in mood
  • Risk-taking behaviors, such as driving after abusing benzos
  • Combining benzodiazepines with alcohol or other drug use

Long-Term Effects of Benzos

  • Cognitive performance issues
  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Compromised immune system
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Development of mental health problems
  • Inability to feel or express emotions
  • Loss of self-confidence
  • Increased aggression and depression
  • Financial problems
  • Increased cancer risks