While prescription drugs can be therapeutic when used properly, many of them produce negative effects if used improperly. Benzodiazepines, or benzos for short are one example of a drug that’s meant to be used over short periods of time with close supervision. Chronic use of benzos carries serious risks that are still not as well understood as other, more common substance abuse problems.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are a family of drugs that have potent anxiolytic, muscle relaxant, and sedative effects, among others. Doctors prescribe them as short-term treatments for stress disorders, anxiety, insomnia, and a variety of other conditions. However, benzos also have considerable addictive potential in the long term as well as particularly problematic withdrawal symptoms.
The Long Term Effects of Chronic Benzodiazepine Use
There are many detrimental effects of chronic benzodiazepine abuse, especially when someone self-medicates with the drug or abuses it recreationally. The addictive qualities of benzos compound these problems, as they make it much harder to get clean even when a person recognizes the way the drug is harming their health.
Addiction and Withdrawals
Chronic benzo usage can often cause addiction and withdrawals that invert the effects of benzos. Attempting to quit comes with worsening sleep to the point of insomnia, intensified anxiety, panic attacks, and related symptoms. This also segues into one of the major risks of chronic benzo usage, which is suicide risk that’s rooted in the psychological turmoil that someone experiences as they attempt to get clean. There are also hazardous or painful physical symptoms to consider, such as seizures, nausea, and muscle pain. To make matters worse, the initial stages of benzo withdrawals typically last for roughly 14 days.
Benzos have neurotoxic effects that can compound over time with long-term usage and cause general cognitive impairment. Some specific results may include a loss of inhibitions, declining concentration and memory, generalized confusion, and other symptoms. Brain scans of those who use benzos long-term create temporary physiological changes, but these largely reverse six months after the end of benzo use. However, some portion of the cognitive decline may last longer than six months or be permanent.
While benzos and other sedatives are used to treat insomnia, they worsen sleep in the long run. The drugs disrupt key elements of the sleep cycle such as REM sleep and essentially result in sleep that’s more shallow and less restorative. In this sense, benzo is similar to alcohol in that it creates long-term obstacles to a healthy sleep cycle.
One serious implication of chronic benzo use that hasn’t been explored adequately is potential immunotoxic effects. This degrades the immune response over time and can leave long-term, though repairable damage. Very few studies in human patients have been conducted, but early animal trials indicate that fears of benzo immunotoxicity are well-founded.
Call Baystate Recovery Center
Benzo addiction and withdrawal are challenging to cope with, but it’s necessary to take this step for your own health. At Baystate Recovery Center, we’re proud to advocate for those who struggle with substance abuse disorder and provide them with treatment for common drug addictions. We’re ready and waiting to provide guidance and care for anyone who struggles with benzo addiction.