Long Term Effects of Benzodiazepines

Long Term Effects of Benzodiazepines

Also known as “benzos”, benzodiazepines are a class of drug that works on the central nervous system. They act on specific receptors in the brain that are called gamma-aminobutyric acid-A (also known as GABA-A) receptors. They attach to the receptors and make the brain less sensitive to stimulation. This causes a calming effect.

Benzodiazepines are used for many different medical conditions, specifically, anxiety and panic attacks. Although they do work as they are prescribed to do, the addictive potential of benzodiazepines is huge. This is why it is important to learn and understand the long term effects of benzodiazepines.

The History of Benzodiazepines

Understanding both statistics and at risk populations when it comes to benzodiazepines can help you to fully grasp their addictive potential. It can also help to understand the links between alcohol and benzos. Starting in 1955, chemist Leo Sternbach identified the first benzodiazepine as chlordiazepoxide (Librium). By 1963, Valium (diazepam) followed.

Originally benzodiazepines appeared to be less toxic than we now know them to be. They were also thought to be less likely to cause dependence than other drugs. However, although they suppress respiratory action less than other sedatives, they are not without risk, especially when taken long term or misused.

In the late 1970s benzodiazepines were the most frequently prescribed drugs in the United States. By the 1980s, it became understood that they were extremely addictive. As people began abusing them, medical leaders and legislators began to take action. This is when they were no longer given to elderly patients, and controlled more than they once were.

How are Benzodiazepines Typically Prescribed?

Typically, a benzodiazepine is used by taking it orally. However, when someone proceeds with an injection of benzodiazepines, the likelihood of an overdose is much greater. Using benzos with other drugs, and even alcohol is actually very common, it is called polydrug use.

Polydrug use can be very dangerous because it increases the effects. For example, benzodiazepines and alcohol or opiates (such as heroin) can cause breathing difficulties. It also leads to an increased risk of overdose and death. Using benzodiazepines and some pharmaceutical drugs such as strong pain-relievers, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, anti-psychotics, some anti-histamines, and over-the-counter medications can have a negative effect when taken with benzodiazepines. Not only can they lead to breathing difficulties, but also an increased risk of overdose and death. Sometimes benzodiazepines are used to help come down off of stimulant drugs such as amphetamines or ecstasy. This can eventually lead to being addicted to multiple substances.

Side Effects of Benzodiazepines

Even when prescribed legally, there are a few specific side effects commonly felt with benzodiazepine use, these include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Light-headedness
  • Confusion
  • Unsteadiness
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle weakness
  • Memory problems
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision.

Side Effects of Benzodiazepines

Although they do occur, these side effects as common:

  • Headaches
  • Low blood pressure
  • Increased saliva production
  • Digestive disturbances
  • Rashes
  • Sight problems
  • Tremors
  • Changes in sexual desire
  • Incontinence
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Blood disorders
  • Jaundice
  • Gynecomastia (breast development in people assigned male at birth)

Memory Problems with Benzodiazepines

Because they work to erase negative emotions, benzodiazepines can cause problems with memory. These problems are usually regarding holding on to new memories while under the influence of the medication. However, it is unlikely that they will make you forget old memories.

Most often benzodiazepines are not prescribed to help cure insomnia, because of this. The only time it will be prescribed for insomnia is if you are able to sleep for a full night without disturbances. This is because your mind retains memories while sleeping, and benzodiazepines can affect this process.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Benzodiazepines

Giving up benzodiazepines can be challenging because the body learns how to function with them. Once they leave your system, your body does not know how to function. This is why it is very important to seek help from a medical professional when you plan to stop taking benzodiazepines. Particularly, because if benzodiazepines are suddenly stopped, sudden withdrawal can cause seizures.

Withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person but are different based on the type of benzodiazepine being taken. Symptoms can last anywhere from a few weeks to a year. Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Aching or twitching muscles
  • Dizziness and tremors
  • Nausea, vomiting, stomach pains
  • Odd dreams, difficulty sleeping, fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Altered perception, heightening of senses
  • Delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia
  • Seizures

Paradoxical Effects of Benzodiazepines

Although they have a specific purpose when prescribed, benzodiazepines can cause effects that are the opposite of what they are meant to do. These are referred to as “paradoxical” effects. They include:

  • Aggressive behavior
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Delusions
  • Depersonalization
  • Depression
  • Loss of reality
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of normal inhibitions
  • Irritability
  • Nightmares
  • Personality changes
  • Psychosis
  • Rages
  • Restlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts

Dangers of Long Term Benzodiazepine Use

Benzodiazepines are prescribed for those who struggle with serious and debilitating anxiety. However, long term anxiety medication recovery is a serious process. The personality change with long term anxiety medication is visible, and there is also a link between dementia and anxiety medication. Despite these symptoms being due to long term use, they even show themselves after consistent use for a few weeks.

If you take benzodiazepines for more than two to four weeks, you may experience symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling dulled and slow
  • Feeling isolated and unreal
  • Feeling cut off from your emotions
  • Feeling irritable and impatient
  • Loss of confidence
  • Weight problems
  • Memory problems

Benzodiazepine Overdose

Benzodiazepines are often present in patients who have accidentally overdosed, or in some cases on purpose. Taking large amounts of benzodiazepines can easily lead to an overdose. This is especially because withdrawal symptoms are also very commonly felt with benzodiazepines. Common signs of benzodiazepine overdose include:

  • Over-sedation or sleep
  • Jitteriness and excitability
  • Mood swings and aggression
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma
  • Death

Generic and Brand Names of Common Benzos

T​​here are three main types of benzodiazepines, and it has to do with how long they act in the body. These lengths are long, intermediate, and short-acting. Short-acting benzodiazepines have a stronger withdrawal phase and can be more addictive as well. Benzodiazepines are known by their generic name or their brand name. Although the drug is the same, it is simply made by a different company.

For example, diazepam is the generic name for Ducene and Valium. It is a long acting drug. Alternativly, oxazepam (Alepam®, Murelax®, Serepax®), temazepam (Euhypnos®, Normison®), and alprazolam (Xanax®, Kalma®, Alprax®) are short acting. Nitrazepam lands in the middle and is intermediate-acting.

How Long Do Benzodiazepines Stay in Your Body?

The benzodiazepine half life timelines vary based on the drug. Different drugs have different durations of action and different half-lives. However, they are somewhat similar. Typically they will be eliminated from the body quickly, but these are the general timelines:

  • Valium is a long-acting benzodiazepine. It can be detectable in the system for up to 10 days after using it.
  • Xanax, Ativan, Restoril, Librium, and Klonopin have intermediate durations. They may be detectable for up to five days.
  • Halcion is a short duration and may be detectable in the system for up to two days.

It is good to once again note that these are general estimations. Each individual body will vary based on how long they have been using the drug, and the test used. For example, different tests use different methods, such as blood testing. This would have the shortest window, while urinalysis would have a medium duration of detectability, and hair follicle is the longest.

Drug-Free Managing of Stress and Anxiety

Identify the Source of the Stress

If you are taking benzodiazepines because of a reason other than prescribed, it is important to take a look at why you are doing so. Consider the reason for your use of benzodiazepines. If it is due to work or your home life, look into it.

Understand What You Can Control

Although some stressors can be controlled, there are things that you cannot control. Change what you can control, and get help for what you can’t.

Preserve Boundaries

It is essential to create boundaries in your life. Learn how to say no, and this will translate to your use of drugs as well.

Treatment for Benzodiazepine Abuse

Getting help for your misuse or abuse of benzodiazepines is essential. If not, you may suffer from the long-term side effects of benzodiazepine use. At Circle of Hope we can help you learn why you are using benzodiazepine, address the underlying causes, and let you begin a life free of these dangerous drugs. Contact us now to learn more and begin creating your personalized plan of treatment with our dedicated Admissions team today!

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