There are so many different stressors in our lives. So many, in fact, that it might seem impossible to even begin to list them. But here’s a stab at such a list—woefully incomplete though it is:
- We have stress in our family lives. Our partners, kids, parents, in-laws, and on and on are a source of stress, even when we aren’t in any sort of direct conflict with them.
- We have stress in our work lives. There are bosses to please, people to supervise, goals to meet—and all of it is demanding and stressful.
- We have stress related to our health. We catch a cold. We worry about cancer and viruses and dementia. We wonder why we can’t seem to eat right or work out more. All of it causes stress.
The sources of stress are many, but the good news is that most of the time the stress is manageable. We meet the day’s demands, we find some time to relax, and, generally speaking, we’re okay.
But individuals who suffer from mental health disorders centered on anxiety or panic almost never get a break from the stress they experience. Indeed, that stress doesn’t even have to have a cause like the ones we have listed above. They just feel extremely stressed and anxious continually.
It would, of course, be quite difficult to function under those circumstances. Fortunately, a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines (informally known as “benzos”) can provide significant relief for those struggling with anxiety or panic disorders. As a rule, benzos are quite effective—which explains why Xanax, a member of this class of medications, is one of the most frequently prescribed drugs in the United States.
But for all their benefits, benzos can have a downside, too—especially when misused. Let’s take a closer look at how these drugs can be helpful and how they can be harmful.
How Benzodiazepines Can Be Helpful
Benzodiazepines work by reducing the amount of activity in the brain. If you think about the last time you were agitated or anxious, you might remember a sense that your thoughts were racing and you couldn’t slow them down. Benzos act as central nervous system depressants (in this case, “depressant” means a type of drug that slows activity, not one that makes you feel depressed).
If your doctor is trying to help you with ongoing anxiety, they have a range of benzos to choose from. We have already mentioned Xanax (generic name: alprazolam), but there are several other options as well. They include:
- Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
- Valium (diazepam)
- Ativan (lorazepam)
No matter which of these drugs your doctor prescribes, the goal is the same: to provide you with some much needed relief. As we have noted, these drugs can be exceptionally effective at providing a wonderful sense of well-being and calm.
For some, however, the very thing that makes a benzo helpful is the same thing that can make it harmful.
How Benzodiazepines Can Be Harmful
It might seem ridiculous to suggest that something that provides feelings of calm can have a downside. But for some people, that wonderful feeling can tempt them to misuse benzos in dangerous ways. The desire to hang on to—or intensify—those feelings of calm can lead to poor decisions. And those poor decisions can quickly lead to the development of a substance use disorder.
Some of the psychological symptoms of a substance use disorder are examples of these poor decisions. For example, a person who wants to keep taking a benzo after their prescription has run out has to figure out a way to maintain a supply. They might try a number of different ways to make sure they don’t run out of the drug, including:
- Doctor shopping: Making appointments with multiple doctors in the hope that you can get multiple prescriptions.
- Forging prescriptions: Stealing a prescription pad requires less legwork than doctor shopping so some people attempt to forge their own prescriptions.
- “Borrowing” or stealing the drug from other users: If you can’t get your own prescription, you might try to get the drug from other users either by asking for one (or more) of their pills—or by simply stealing their supply.
- Finding an illicit source: Buying benzos “on the street” is, of course, illegal. It is also dangerous because you cannot guarantee the quality or purity of the drugs you buy from a dealer.
There are, of course, also a range of physical symptoms that can indicate a substance use disorder centered on a benzo. For our purposes here, however, we will focus on the primary challenge related to giving up a benzo once a problem has arisen.
That challenge is withdrawal.
The Rigors of Withdrawal
As you use—and misuse—a benzo, your body and brain become accustomed to its presence. Try to quit “cold turkey,” and your body will let you know it isn’t too pleased.
Withdrawal symptoms will likely include intense cravings for the drug as well as increased feelings of anxiety (a sad irony given that the drug is intended to calm those feelings). Other symptoms may include increased blood pressure, increased heart rate or heart palpitations, abdominal cramping, and, in rare cases, seizures.
We Can Help You Beat Benzos
At Bel Aire Recovery Center, we know a substance use disorder can feel like a trap. Even when you’re committed to quitting, withdrawal symptoms make it very difficult to do so. Our medically supervised detox program can help you make it past withdrawal and into rehab so that you can start your recovery journey on the right foot.