Benzodiazepines are a class of sedatives used to treat anxiety and/or insomnia. The most popular benzo on the market is Xanax, which has over 50 million prescriptions written each year in the U.S. Many Americans see benzos as socially acceptable and as a helpful way to treat anxiety. An overlooked fact, however, is just how many overdose deaths are caused by benzodiazepines either on their own or when combined with opioids or alcohol. In 2014, 19,000 people died of overdoses involving prescription opioids. 30% of those overdoses involved complications caused from benzodiazepines. So why don’t we warn more people about the dangers of benzos?
As early as the 1950s and 1960s doctors have been prescribing benzos as a “quick fix” for anxiety or insomnia. These drugs were often prescribed to overworked and anxious housewives or teenagers who had trouble falling asleep. Flash forward several decades and drugs like Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, and Ativan are being prescribed for conditions that do not require long-term pharmaceutical therapy. However, when taken over long periods of time, dosages increase and dependence on these drugs often occurs.
Benzos have become socially acceptable because of their popularity and because they are relatively easy to get. Unlike drinking or other illicit drugs, you can take a Xanax and go about your daily business. There is no smell or visible signs (unless the medication is taken in a higher quantity than prescribed) so most people don’t think of them as dangerous.
When combined with opioid pain medication, benzos can cause respiratory levels to drop dramatically and eventually stop. In the U.S. alone, a staggering 44 people die every day from respiratory arrest related to prescription opioid medication. Benzodiazepines like Xanax are designed to slow down your body. If you are in anxious state, you tend to breath heavily, have and elevated heart rate and feeling of nervous energy that won’t go away. Slowing these processes like heavy breathing and tachycardia is a good thing. Stopping them is not.
Similarly, benzos can be lethal when combined with alcohol. Combining benzos with a depressant, or by taking them in a much larger dose than prescribed can be deadly. Both benzos and alcohol block certain GABA receptors in the brain. This causes a calm and even euphoric state in high doses, but can also lead to respiratory failure and death. If someone you know or love is abusing benzos watch out for these symptoms:
- Blurred Vision
- Difficulty Breathing
- Slurred Speech
If they exhibit any of these symptoms, an overdose or harmful combination of drugs is likely. Don’t hesitate to call 911. If you or a loved one struggle with addiction, Rock Recovery Center in West Palm Beach, Florida can help with next steps. Call our 24-hour helpline or chat live with us now.