According to Harvard Medical School, benzodiazepines are a class of medications primarily used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. They work by increasing the activity of a neurotransmitter, or brain chemical, called GABA, which slows activity in the nervous system and produces a calming effect. These medications can be useful for treating anxiety and related issues, but with long-term use, people may become addicted to them and undergo withdrawal if they attempt to stop using benzodiazepines. It is critical to understand the risk of addiction and withdrawal that comes with benzodiazepine use in order to make informed choices about the best course of action for treating conditions like anxiety.
Before learning about benzodiazepine withdrawal, it is first important to understand why these drugs are addictive and lead to dependence. The reason for benzodiazepine dependence is that the brain and body adapt to the presence of these drugs, and they become accustomed to increased GABA activity. This means that over time, the body cannot produce enough GABA on its own, and it becomes dependent upon benzodiazepines to increase GABA activity and calm the body. Once the body becomes dependent on benzodiazepines, if a person stops using these drugs, there will not be enough GABA activity to maintain normal functioning. This causes the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms associated with benzodiazepines.
Benzodiazepines are a relatively common class of prescription drugs. Pharmaceutical companies introduced benzodiazepines to the market at the start of the 1960s as a safer alternative to a class of sedative drugs called barbiturates. Benzodiazepines do have legitimate medical uses, but they are not without side effects, and some people may abuse them.
Medical Uses of Benzodiazepines
According to Harvard Medical School, the main use of benzodiazepines is the treatment of anxiety and sleep problems. Some doctors may prescribe them to alleviate drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms or to treat muscle spasms, seizures, or tremors.
Benzodiazepines may be useful for anxiety and sleep disorders in several situations. For example, a doctor may prescribe a few benzodiazepine pills to a patient to use for occasional insomnia as needed. People who have generalized anxiety disorder may also benefit from taking benzodiazepines, and some people may use these drugs to treat temporary anxiety, such as that which occurs before boarding a plane, having a surgery, or during an agitating situation. For people with panic disorder, benzodiazepines can reduce the anxiety that triggers a panic attack.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), benzodiazepine or “benzo” drugs are depressant medications that treat anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizure disorders. Benzodiazepines may even be used in treatment and detoxification from alcohol. They are legal when a doctor prescribes them, but some people may abuse these prescriptions or buy benzos illegally. While benzos do have legitimate medical purposes, when people misuse them, they may develop a tolerance and become dependent upon them. This means that when they stop using benzos or reduce their doses, they will experience withdrawal. According to a report in Emergency Medicine News, some patients may even experience withdrawal symptoms when taking benzos under a doctor’s supervision.