Twice as many women as men are prescribed benzodiazepines, according to a drug market research firm cited by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Benzodiazepines, which include drugs like Xanax, Librium, and Valium, are prescription drugs that are used to treat anxiety disorders, insomnia, convulsions, and muscle pain.
Benzodiazepines are listed as Schedule IV drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, which means that while they have medical value, they are known to be habit-forming, partly due to their sedating effects, which produce a keen sense of well-being.
If you suspect your loved one has a benzodiazepine addiction, understanding the nature of addiction and of these drugs can better equip you to help her seek treatment.
Effects of Benzodiazepine Consumption
The short-term side effects of taking benzodiazepines include impaired coordination, fatigue or drowsiness, and memory impairment. At high doses, they can cause mood swings, hostility, and erratic behaviors.
According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), taking benzodiazepines over a long period of time leads to a buildup of the drug in the fatty tissues and may lead to cognitive impairment, muscle weakness, disorientation, and confusion.
Signs of Benzodiazepine Addiction & Abuse
Benzodiazepine abuse increases the risk of addiction. Abuse occurs when benzodiazepines aren’t taken as prescribed or they’re taken without a prescription. Signs that your loved one is abusing benzodiazepines include:
- Engaging in drug-seeking behaviors
- Visiting more than one doctor to get prescriptions
- Stealing or forging prescriptions
- Disengaging from friends and family
- Neglecting responsibilities at home, work, or school
- Changing sleeping or eating habits
Abusing benzodiazepines can lead to a number of negative life consequences, including serious financial or legal problems, trouble maintaining healthy relationships, the onset of mental illness, the inability to stay employed, and developing an addiction to the drug.
Unlike abuse, addiction is a complex disease that causes changes in the brain’s structures and functions. Signs that your loved one is addicted to benzodiazepines include:
- Developing a tolerance so that higher doses are needed to get the same effects
- The onset of withdrawal symptoms when use is discontinued
- Behavior changes, such as a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, increased moodiness, and hostility when confronted about the drug use
- The inability to stop using the drug even though it’s causing negative consequences
- Engaging in risky behaviors in order to get the drug or while under its influence
There Is Hope
Beating an addiction to benzodiazepines without help is very difficult. The withdrawal symptoms associated with benzodiazepines can include intense cravings, anxiety, panic attacks, and in some cases, dangerous shifts in heart and respiratory function. These symptoms typically send even those who are highly motivated to quit right back to using the drug.
In addition to the physical aspects of addiction are the psychological aspects, which are far more complex. Professional treatment can help your loved one overcome the physical addiction and work through the issues that led to the abuse in the first place.
How to Help Your Loved One Get Help
Women who have a drug addiction are more likely than men to resist treatment, according to the National Institutes of Health. They face more barriers to treatment, largely due to family responsibilities, and they’re more likely to feel embarrassed or ashamed of their addiction than men are. However, once in a specialized treatment program like Destination Hope’s, women tend to recover more quickly.
If your loved one is resisting getting help for benzodiazepine addiction, approach her with empathy and let her know that you’re concerned and that you’ll do whatever it takes to help her seek treatment. Be prepared for her to become upset or hostile, but try not to get defensive.
Offer to make an appointment for her, and let her know you’re willing to accompany her for moral support. Remember that addiction isn’t a character flaw or a sign of weakness, but rather a medical condition that requires medical intervention.