Benzodiazepines can be dangerous, addictive drugs with a painful, lengthy withdrawal process. These drugs slow nervous system function, inhibiting the neurons that regulate dopamine production, allowing the brain to produce dopamine with impunity. As with all drugs that cause unnaturally excessive dopamine production, extended use of benzos will make normal dopamine production insufficient to produce a pleasurable feeling. Unlike with other drugs or treating alcohol dependence, which has a more or less linear withdrawal period (with a peak of difficulty followed by a steadily easier process), benzodiazepines have a wildly variable withdrawal that can last for months. These drugs are addictive, extremely dangerous, and widely available. The worst part? Many people addicted to them didn’t choose to take drugs in some hedonistic pursuit of pleasure, but rather were prescribed them by a doctor. Knowing how dangerous benzos are, one can’t help but ask, why would any doctor take that risk?
The fact is that benzodiazepines if taken for a short length of time, can be a great help in some medical situations. If someone suffers from anxiety attacks or finds it so difficult to sleep that their insomnia disrupts their life, then taking a tranquilizer like a benzo is actually an effective medical treatment. By slowing the overactive brain functions that cause anxiety attacks, the patient is left calm and in control. The problem comes when doctors extend prescriptions indefinitely. If a patient has suffered from anxiety attacks for a long time, it’s tempting to keep them taking the pills that finally gave them some relief.
Benzodiazepines are also very helpful for treating alcohol dependence and alcoholics undergoing detox. Alcohol withdrawal is one of the toughest, with long-time drinkers entering a state called delirium tremens, a period of convulsions and hallucinations that in extreme cases can turn deadly. Benzodiazepines have a similar effect on the brain as alcohol, and therefore taking them while detoxing from alcohol keeps symptoms from being as severe as they would be, significantly decreasing the risk of death during withdrawal. Of course, as with prescribed benzos for panic attacks, danger comes when the drugs are prescribed for too long. When used as a tool for a specific purpose, they can be a lifesaver, literally, for alcoholics. If that prescription is needlessly renewed, the alcoholic could simply end up trading one addiction for another.
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When a person develops a tolerance to benzodiazepines, their helpful, calming effect starts to wane. As with all drugs, extended use makes its effect less potent. Therefore, not only do benzos no longer calm the brain, but any slowdown in taking them can lead to painful withdrawal. Ironically, a drug which was prescribed over and over to prevent anxiety and help sleep eventually becomes a source of anxiety and inability to sleep.
The best way to avoid addiction is to set a tapering-off schedule with your doctor when being prescribed benzodiazepines. Even those not yet addicted can experience painful withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking tranquilizers all at once. By tapering off doses slowly, you can avoid both addiction and withdrawal symptoms. However, if it’s too late to avoid addiction, the best option is physician-managed treatment at facilities like The Ridge.