Benzodiazepines Effects

Benzodiazepines are a widely prescribed class of medications commonly used to treat anxiety, insomnia, seizures, alcohol withdrawal, and other conditions. Some of the most well-known benzodiazepines include drugs like Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, and Ativan. 

While benzodiazepines have legitimate medical applications, these drugs also have a high potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction. Their sedative and tranquilizing effects provide short-term relief of symptoms, but long-term use carries serious risks.

Benzodiazepines enhance the effects of a neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA. GABA has a calming effect that can relieve anxiety and relax the body and mind. Benzodiazepines increase GABA activity in the brain, inducing feelings of calmness, sleepiness, and even euphoria at higher doses.

Due to their habit-forming properties, these medications are only recommended for 2-4 weeks. However, benzodiazepine prescriptions have risen dramatically in recent decades. From 1996 to 2013, adult use of benzodiazepines increased by 67 percent in the United States. Reasons for increased prescribing include:

  • Greater awareness of anxiety disorders.
  • Prescribing for conditions like insomnia.
  • Pharmaceutical marketing of benzodiazepines to doctors.


Understanding How Benzodiazepines Work

To understand the effects of benzodiazepines, it helps first to understand a neurotransmitter called GABA and its role in the brain.

Mechanism of Action: GABA Receptors and the Nervous System


GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that blocks or reduces activity in the central nervous system. By binding to GABA receptors in the brain and spinal cord, GABA helps induce relaxation of muscles, sedation, and feelings of calm.

Benzodiazepines enhance the effects of GABA by increasing the affinity of the GABA receptors, making them more sensitive to GABA. This results in excess GABA activity and suppresses overall activity in the central nervous system.

The therapeutic effects: Anxiolytic, sedative, muscle relaxant, and anticonvulsant properties

By amplifying GABA’s natural calming effect on the body and mind, benzodiazepines demonstrate:

  • Anxiolytic effects - relieving anxiety
  • Sedative effects - inducing sleepiness and fatigue
  • Muscle relaxant effects - relaxing muscles and reducing spasms
  • Anticonvulsant effects - preventing seizures

These properties make benzodiazepines effective at treating conditions like anxiety, insomnia, muscle spasms, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal. However, enhancing GABA activity also slows critical cognitive and motor functions.


Common Types of Benzodiazepines


Some of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include:

  • Xanax (alprazolam) - short-acting, high potency. Used for anxiety and panic disorder.
  • Valium (diazepam) - long-acting benzodiazepine used for anxiety and alcohol withdrawal.
  • Klonopin (clonazepam) - long-acting. The main uses are for seizures and panic disorder.
  • Ativan (lorazepam) - intermediate-acting. Prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, seizures.
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Short-Term Effects of Benzodiazepines

When taken as prescribed by a doctor for short durations, benzodiazepines can provide therapeutic effects. However, even short-term use comes with side effects.


Desired Effects for Medical Use

Benzodiazepines elicit desired effects that make them valuable medicines in the short term, including:

  • Reduced anxiety
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Sedation and sleepiness
  • Euphoria or mood lift (especially at higher doses)
  • Prevention of seizures
  • Relief of alcohol withdrawal symptoms

These effects provide temporary relief for conditions like generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, muscle spasms, seizure disorders, and substance withdrawal.



Common Side Effects Experienced by Users

Potential short-term side effects of benzodiazepines include:

  • Drowsiness, fatigue
  • Impaired coordination, dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Headaches
  • Impaired memory and concentration
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Nausea

These side effects increase the risks of accidents and injuries. Combining benzodiazepines with other drugs or alcohol enhances these sedative effects.


Long-Term Effects of Benzodiazepine Use

While intended for short-term use, many people use benzodiazepines for months or years. This long-term use can have severe consequences.

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Potential for Dependence and Addiction

Regular, continuous use of benzodiazepines quickly leads to physical dependence and addiction. Tolerance builds rapidly, increasing users' dose to feel the same effects, and quitting abruptly after support sets in leads to challenging withdrawal symptoms.



Cognitive and Psychological Impacts

Prolonged benzo use can cause lasting cognitive dysfunction, even after stopping. Effects may include impaired learning and memory, lack of concentration, confusion, depression, and personality changes.



Physical Health Concerns

Chronic benzodiazepine use is linked to increased risks of pneumonia, fractures from falls, heart conditions, sexual dysfunction, and premature death. Those with substance use disorders face heightened risks.



Treatment for Benzodiazepine Addiction

For those dependent on benzodiazepines, professional treatment programs provide the needed support and structure for regaining sobriety. A range of treatment options are available.

Preventing Benzodiazepine Abuse

When appropriately used under medical guidance, benzodiazepines can offer safe, short-term relief. However, preventing abuse requires wisdom and caution.


Guidelines for Safe Use

Only use benzodiazepines as explicitly prescribed. Do not increase dosage or mix with other substances without consulting a doctor. If use exceeds 2-4 weeks, consult a doctor and seek alternative treatments.


Alternatives to Benzodiazepines for Anxiety and Sleep

For long-term issues like anxiety or sleep disorders, consider non-addictive alternatives like psychotherapy, improved sleep hygiene, regular exercise, meditation, acupuncture, and limiting caffeine.


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Our Benzo Addiction Treatment Programs

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Detox : 
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The detoxification process takes place in one of our high end residential treatment centers with 24/7 medical supervision by state-certified addiction practitioners.
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Participants stay within the same facility that they completed detox in, partaking in various therapeutic treatment modalities and have access to all amenities offered.
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This is typically a 30 day stay within a beautiful residential center in Orange County, with access to a variety of therapies, case management, and psychiatry.
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PHP offers 30 clinical hours over a 5 day week and can last for 4-8 weeks. Participants can commute from home or live in one of our gorgeous sober lives here in Orange County.

Detoxification Process

Medically supervised detox is recommended for benzodiazepine withdrawal due to the risks involved. Doctors use tapering protocols to gradually wean patients off benzodiazepines while monitoring vital signs and medication needs around the clock. This prevents life-threatening complications.


Therapy and Rehabilitation Options

Detox addresses physical dependence, but further psychological treatment is needed to address the root causes of addiction. Options like inpatient rehab, outpatient counseling, and 12-step programs help solidify recovery. Cognitive behavioral therapy, in particular, teaches coping skills.


Long-Term Recovery and Support

It can take 18-24 months for the brain and body to heal after chronic benzodiazepine use entirely. Ongoing accountability through support groups, sober living, and social services improves the chances of sustained sobriety by providing motivation and healthy connections.

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MAT involves using FDA-approved medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to help individuals overcome substance use disorders.
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Half the clinical hours of PHP & more flexible schedule. As clients accrue sobriety time, hours are tapered down, while maintaining therapeutic support.
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This program offers greater flexibility to continue your daily schedule during treatment. This program meets twice per week in the evenings.
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Our sober living homes are residential facilities that provide a structured and supportive environment for individuals in addiction recovery.

FAQs About Benzodiazepines

Clearing up common questions and misconceptions can motivate people to learn more and seek help. Potential FAQs include:

  • Are benzodiazepines safe medications if used correctly?
  • What's the difference between use and abuse of benzodiazepines?
  • Can someone become addicted after just a few weeks of use?
  • Is withdrawal from benzodiazepines dangerous?
  • Do benzodiazepines damage the brain long-term?
  • What treatments are available for benzodiazepine addiction?
  • How can someone safely discontinue benzodiazepines after heavy use?


Conclusion and Resources

In summary, benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed medications that provide therapeutic short-term relief but also carry risks. Understanding both their medical uses and dangers empowers people to make wise choices. Those struggling with benzodiazepine dependence or addiction should know that treatment and recovery are achievable with professional help. Valuable resources include addiction education agencies, treatment locators, support groups, and evidence-based medical guidance.


Contact Crescent Moon Recovery Today 

If you or someone you care about is misusing benzodiazepines or experiencing signs of addiction, reach out for help today. Consult a doctor about supervised withdrawal options. Choose a treatment program that provides medical detox management, counseling, and aftercare planning tailored to your needs. You have the power to reclaim your health and well-being.

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