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. When used as prescribed, they cause few or no serious side effects. However benzodiazepine misuse can lead to tolerance, dependence and addiction.
A Brief Overview of Benzodiazepines
Mental and medical health professional prescribe benzodiazepines to treat a number of different conditions. Benzodiazepines can help manage generalized anxiety disorder, alcohol withdrawal, insomnia, seizures and panic attacks. They reduce stress and anxiety by making certain neurotransmitters more effective. Benzodiazepines are among the most commonly prescribed prescription medications. CNN.com reports: “The percentage of adults in the United States who filled a benzodiazepine prescription per year increased by about 30%, from 4.1% in 1996, to 5.6% in 2013. In addition, the amount of benzodiazepine medicine — whether Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin or other drugs in this class — in a prescription doubled over this time period.”1 While benzodiazepines can help some people manage their health, the rapid increase in prescriptions and dosage is troubling. It has contributed to overdose deaths, accidents, addiction and mood disorder development.
Benzodiazepines and Mood Disorders
Mood disorders include various forms of depression and bipolar disorder. They are common among Americans but aren’t always diagnosed or treated as they should be. According to Mental Health America shares, “About 20% of the U.S. population reports at least one depressive symptom in a given month, and 12% report two or more in a year… Bipolar disorder is less common, occurring at a rate of 1% in the general population, but some believe the diagnosis is often overlooked because manic elation is too rarely reported as an illness.”2 When a mood disorder is diagnosed, it is often treated with benzodiazepines. However this is a short-term option, and medication alone is not comprehensive treatment for any mental health issue. Use needs to be closely monitored and combined with traditional and alternative therapy options. Benzodiazepines should only be used for a few weeks to stabilize mood and health. When used for longer, they may worsen mood disorders rather than help treat them.
Benzodiazepines’ Impact on Mental Health
Benzodiazepines can cause nearly immediate health problems.“Current guidelines for doctors say [benzodiazepines] should be prescribed for a maximum of four weeks,” the Independent reports. “But some people become ‘involuntarily addicted’ within days, unable to stop without withdrawal symptoms such as burning sensations, distorted vision, headaches and even fatal seizures.”3 When someone misuses a benzodiazepine, side effects can be even more rapid and serious. If use continues, individuals may experience significant changes to mood, health and behavior. They may experience brain damage that impacts attention, memory and feelings of wellbeing. They may experience more or more severe depression, bipolar disorder or other mental health concerns.
Treating Mood Disorders and Addiction
When addiction and mental health issues occur at the same time, professional treatment becomes essential. Integrated treatment addresses all aspects of mental, physical and emotional health. This treatment begins with detox but certainly doesn’t end there. Once benzodiazepines have left the body and withdrawal symptoms have faded, patients begin psychotherapy, group therapy and supportive practices.
With treatment comes hope. Real, lasting recovery is possible for anyone no matter the challenges they face. You or your loved one can manage mental health symptoms and find freedom from addiction. Black Bear Lodge can help. We know how frustrating the combination of addiction and mental health issues can be. We offer in-depth assessments, world-class treatment and experienced, compassionate professionals. Call today to learn how we can help.
1 Storrs, Carina. “Benzodiazepine Overdose Deaths Soared in Recent Years, Study Finds.” CNN.com. 18 Feb. 2016. Accessed 7 Oct. 2017.
2 “Mood Disorders.” Mental Health America. Accessed 7 Oct. 2017.
3 Lakhani, Nina. “Drugs Linked to Brain Damage 30 Years Ago.” Independent. 7 Nov. 2010. Accessed 7 Oct. 2017.