Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that are very widely prescribed for their effectiveness in treating anxiety, insomnia and other conditions.
They are well known for their sedative and relaxant effects, and, in the proper dosages, cause no significant side effects. However, benzodiazepines are controversial because of their potential for tolerance and dependence, creating addictions of their own. Also of concern is the possibility of mood disorders caused by benzodiazepines.
A Brief Overview of Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines are used to treat a number of different (if related) conditions, such as generalized anxiety disorder, alcohol withdrawal, insomnia, seizures and panic attacks. They work by enhancing the effect of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, which in turn reduces stress and anxiety.
There are many different types of benzodiazepines, which themselves are sold under various brand names – Xanax, Valium, and Rohypnol, among others. Unsurprisingly, benzodiazepines have become among the most commonly prescribed medications for depression in the US.
Benzodiazepine Abuse and Mood Disorders
Benzodiazepines are generally safe, but recreational or long-term use – six months or more – has been known to cause problems, and one such problem is mood disorders. In increased doses, benzodiazepines have similar effects to those of alcohol, such as decreasing levels of serotonin, which can contribute to depression in a patient. A 1987 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry noted that of 46 panic disorder patients who received alprazolam (which is in the benzodiazepine class of drugs), 33 percent of them developed symptoms of major depression, despite their panic symptoms going into remission.
One of the concerns of prescribing benzodiazepines to a patient is that benzodiazepines can be highly addictive. Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that more than 33 percent of people taking benzodiazepines for over a month become addicted to the medication.
Treating Mood Disorders Caused by Benzodiazepines
Abrupt discontinuation of benzodiazepines after a period of use can cause withdrawal symptoms that can similarly lead to depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. That’s why treatment of a benzodiazepine addiction to resolve mood disorders has to be slow and staggered. Detoxification involves gradually weaning the patient off benzodiazepines, perhaps with the careful administration of anti-anxiety drugs (or even other, possibly milder benzodiazepines) to control the withdrawal effects.
Once the detoxification program is complete, patients will enrolled in a course of psychotherapy to address the issues of the mood disorders and the reason behind the initial benzodiazepine abuse. This may involve learning coping skills to counter the temptation to abuse the drug, or to control the effects of the depression or anxiety brought about by the benzodiazepine; or it may involve participation in group and family therapy to improve aspects of communication and empathy in the life of the patient.
While benzodiazepines can have positive effects, developing mood disorders because of their usage can feel like a double blow. However, treatment brings hope. At Black Bear Lodge, we know how frustrating and confusing it can be when your medication starts working against you, and that’s why we don’t want you to think that you are alone in your struggle. Please call us today and learn how our trained staff of mental health professionals can help you address mood disorders caused by benzodiazepines.