What are the Health Consequences of Benzodiazepine Abuse?

Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem in the United States. Benzodiazepines, such as Valium and Xanax, are a class of drug often prescribed to treat anxiety. In the short-term, benzodiazepines can be effective in treating mental health concerns, but when abused or taken over a long period of time, they can cause major health complications.
Benzodiazepines are extremely addictive. They cause surges in dopamine, the pleasure-producing chemical in the brain. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “The pleasurable sensations that make addictive drugs disastrously attractive for vulnerable individuals occur when dopamine levels in the brain’s reward area abruptly surge.” Overtime, these surges make physical changes to the brain that cause tolerance, addiction, and withdrawal symptoms if one stops taking the drug.
The side effects of benzodiazepines vary greatly, but can include: drowsiness, confusion, dizziness, trembling, impaired coordination, vision problems, grogginess, depression, and headache. However, the severity of health complications become much more severe overtime. According to Medical News Today, “The long-term use of benzodiazepines can also result in physical dependence. The withdrawal symptoms of benzodiazepines include trouble sleeping, feelings of depression, and sweating. If someone has become dependent on benzodiazepines, it is crucial that they do not suddenly stop therapy cold turkey. Stopping cold turkey can result in tremors, muscle cramps, and life-threatening seizures. Therefore, it is important to taper off benzodiazepines slowly with professional help.”
The most dangerous way to take benzodiazepines is in combination with another drug, such as opioids. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “In 2015, 23 percent of people who died of an opioid overdose also tested positive for benzodiazepines. Unfortunately, many people are prescribed both drugs simultaneously. In a study of over 300,000 continuously insured patients receiving opioid prescriptions between 2001 and 2013, the percentage of persons also prescribed benzodiazepines rose to 17 percent in 2013 from nine percent in 2001. The study showed that people concurrently using both drugs are at higher risk of visiting the emergency department or being admitted to a hospital for a drug-related emergency.” Even without another drug, benzodiazepines can still cause overdose.

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