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Benzo Abuse and Addiction

Bezodiazepine stats
What are benzodiazepines?
Signs and symptoms of benzo addiction

Benzodiazepine Stats and Abuse

With the anxiolytic, sedative, anticonvulsant, and muscle-relaxing effects of benzodiazepines (also known as benzos), these drugs have been extensively used to treat anxiety and insomnia.

 

Abuse of benzodiazepines is much more frequent than you may believe. This can encompass the misuse of prescriptions of these medicines or acquiring them illicitly. Abusing these substances, if left untreated, may negatively influence your family, job, and emotional or physical health.

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzos are depressants that affect the central nervous system (CNS). CNS depressants reduce specific forms of brain activity, leading to sleepiness and sedation, which can benefit those who take them as a doctor recommends.  Benzodiazepines are used to treat the following conditions:

 

  • Anxiety

  • Muscle spasms

  • Panic attacks

  • Seizures

  • Acute stress reactions

  • Sleep disturbances

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Signs And Symptoms of Addiction to Benzos

Look for physical and psychological symptoms if you suspect someone is under the influence of antidepressants like benzos. Signs of physical illness may include, but are not limited to:

 

  • Drowsiness

  • Coordination problems

  • Dizziness

  • Muscle weakening

  • Sluggishness in response

 

Benzo's usage may cause a variety of mental health issues as well, including:

 

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Depression

  • A lack of focus

  • Confusion

  • Problems with recall and concentration

  • A hard time controlling emotions

The CSA (Controlled Substances Act) has classified benzos as Schedule IV substances, which means the government heavily controls them. These drugs are dangerous and addictive. In light of these alarming benzo statistics, it's clear that we must seek therapy and devise strategies for avoiding their abuse.

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Medically Reviewed:

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Rolling Hills Recovery Center

Expert Contributor

Dr. Williams presently serves on the board of Directors for two non-profit service organizations. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University, Philadelphia, Pa, and a Ph.D. with a concentration in Clinical Psychology from Union Institute and University. In Cincinnati, Ohio. He is licensed to practice addictions counseling in both New Jersey and Connecticut and has a pending application as a practicing Psychologist in New Jersey.

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Benzodiazepines Addiction and Use Trends

Use trends of benzos

The usage and misuse of benzos and other medications are constantly changing.

 

In 2019, there were 28.3 million Benzodiazepine users in the United States.


The prevalence of anxiety and depression in the United States increased threefold between 2020 and 2019, making people more inclined to seek out benzodiazepines and opiates daily.

 

According to the Provisional Substance Overdose Death Counts published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overall drug overdose deaths increased in 2020.

Why Do People Take Benzos?

Why do people take benzos?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse observes that the most common reasons for abusing or misusing benzodiazepines are:

 

  • 5.7 percent - Experimenting to see how things would turn out.

  • 11.8 percent – To get high or as they were already dependent.

  • 46.3 percent — For relaxing and relieving tension or stress.

  • 22.4 percent – For improving sleep quality.


According to a study published in the Comprehensive Psychiatry Journal, women are more likely to be long-term users of antidepressants like benzos and abusers of lormetazepam, often prescribed for insomnia. Men are more likely to misuse the benzo called lorazepam, widely prescribed for anxiety. According to the US Library of National Medicine, unemployed, unmarried, and less educated Americans are more prone to abuse benzos, but not necessarily to have a benzo use disorder.

Overdoses and Benzos

Overdoses and benzos

Benzodiazepines were involved in 30 percent of all prescription medication overdose fatalities in 2013. This was second only to deaths from opioid overdoses. It was a 700 percent increase over 1996. The most notable increases were in the age range of 18 to 64 years. In 2017, there were 11,537 benzo overdose fatalities. Around 85 percent of these deaths were caused by an opioid.

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Benzodiazepines and Opioids

Benzos and opioids

Benzodiazepines increase the opioid epidemic, even though opioids like fentanyl and heroin kill much more people than benzos. This is especially true for people in their golden years.

 

  • There has been a 400% rise in benzodiazepine and opioid co-prescribing since 2003, with 26.4 percent of patients already on benzodiazepines obtaining opioids.

 

When taken with alcohol or opioids, these benzo side effects may occur:

 

  • Breathing that is too shallow or inadequate (hypoventilation).

  • Excessive sleepiness.

  • Fainting.

  • Dangerously low heartbeat tempo.

  • Coma.

  • Blood pressure that is too low.

  • The danger of overdose is ten times higher when benzos and opiates are taken together.

  • Overdose deaths with benzodiazepines account for 30 percent of all opioid overdoses.

 

Although benzo overdoses aren't always as deadly as some opioids, most necessitate a hospital or emergency department trip.

 

The number of visits to the doctor when both benzodiazepines and opioids are given rises as the patient ages:

 

  • Four percent for those aged 18 to 44.

  • Thirteen percent for those aged 45 to 64. 

  • Sixteen percent for those aged 65 or older.

  • Generally, benzodiazepines are given to women at a higher rate than males across all age categories (11 percent vs. 8 percent).

  • Women prescribed benzos make up six percent of the population between 18 and 44, while males make up just three percent.

  • There is no substantial gender difference in the 45-64 age group.

  • 19% of women and 13% of males aged 65 and above are prescribed benzos.

The Risks of Benzo use Among the Elderly

Riska of benzo use among the elderly

The use of benzodiazepines, particularly in the elderly, may produce health concerns even if they are not misused. Because of their increased sensitivity and difficulties in metabolism, specialists recommend that adults over 55 avoid using benzodiazepines, at the very least, to treat anxiety and sleeplessness. Elderly adults who use benzodiazepines are at risk for:

 

  • Falls and fractures may occur as a result of dizziness.

  • Accidents are caused by drowsiness and weariness.

  • Memory loss and other cognitive dysfunctions.

Use of Benzos in Children

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number and severity of reports of youngsters being exposed to benzodiazepines. In  2017, for example, benzodiazepines were prescribed to over 130,000 underage Americans, including 39,000 newborns and small children.

 

Anti-anxiety drugs, including but not limited to benzos, were administered to over 600,000 American children aged 12 and younger in 2020.

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Conclusion

Conclusion

It is undeniable that a growing number of individuals are turning to benzodiazepines to address anxiety and other mental illnesses. Many of these drugs are prescribed by physicians and are obtained via prescriptions. Others are received via illegal means and used illegally. However, although benzos may not have the same lethal overdose potential as opioids, they constitute a public health concern that needs attention.

 

Because benzodiazepines may be dangerous, you should be on the lookout if someone you know seems to be abusing them. Consult with a medical professional or a professional in the field of addiction!

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