Benzodiazepine’s (shortened to benzo’s, otherwise known as tranquilizers) are one of the most prescribed drugs in the US. I’ve been taking benzo’s since I was 17 years old, that was the first med my psychiatrist put me on: Clonazepam (Klonopin for those in the US) I’m going to compare a few of them, explain the difference between dependence and addiction, and go through discontinuation, or withdrawal, symptoms.
Benzo’s are highly abused, especially Xanax, since it has a euphoric feel to it at first. I take Xanax (alprazolam) twice daily (.5mg twice a day) A year go, I was taking 0.5mg 4 times a day, or more. I slowly tapered down to 0.5mg twice a day and now I want to just have it around for anxiety or panic attacks, like before going to the dentist, or getting on a plane. I’m not saying this is for everybody: Some people need to be on benzo’s full time. I’m just setting a baseline for myself. Benzo’s are also good for seizure control, but you still need an anticonvulsant for regular maintenance.
Benzo’s are prescribed for a variety of reasons: Anxiety, insomnia, alcohol withdrawal, seizure control, muscle relaxation, something to calm you down before a procedure (like surgery, or the dentist).(1) They are CNS(1) (central nervous system- brain and spinal cord) depressants, but that doesn’t mean they’ll make you depressed. It is a physiological depressant, not a psychological one(2).
There are many benefits to taking a benzo, such as quick relief for anxiety. There are short term and long term benefits, anxiety and insomnia being a short term benefit. Valium is commonly used to help an alcoholic to get off of alcohol without horrible side effects. Librium is used for other drugs, as well, as it’s long acting and less harsh on the system to withdraw from. They are far less toxic than other medications.
There are risks to taking benzos, though. Some people have an opposite reaction and get very angry. They can be sedating (well, they are tranquilizers) and you shouldn’t drive until you know how it effects you. They can cause addiction, physical dependence and are not easy medications to get off of(4). It hasn’t been declared if it is safe to take them during pregnancy ornot. They also show up on a drug test.
There are many different benzo’s to try, here are the4 most commonly used today:
Valium (diazepam): Treats anxiety disorders, muscle spasms and alcohol withdrawal symptoms(5) and sometimes used in the treatment of seizures. It has a long half life (up to 200 hours, with 6-8 at the beginning and slowly tapering down) so it’s one of the easiest benzos to discontinue, although it still sucks. Discontinuing a benzo should only be done with a doctors supervision.
Ativan (Lorazepam): Used mainly to treat panic or anxiety attacks. Comes in sublingual (under the tongue) form so it works faster. Kicks in pretty fast. Has a half life of 12 hours. (6)
Xanax (Alprazolam): Has the shortest half life of about 6-8 hours, and produces a euphoric feeling at first. Often given before surgery, or for insomnia, but most commonly used for panic attacks. (7) I sometimes take a pill, and ignore the taste, and dissolve it under my tongue if I get really panicky.
Klonopin (Clonazepam): A long acting benzo which is great for anxiety and panic disorders, and in higher doses, it helps with seizure control as well. (Also the first benzo I ever took!) It has a long half life of 18-20 hours, but it’s still not fun to come off of.(8)
Benzo’s are abused(9) and that is why some psychiatrists don’t prescribe them to people with an alcohol or drug background, or at all. I saw one psychiatrist and her first thing on the agenda was to get me completely off of Valium. Over my dead body. I fired her and went back to my (just retired and waiting for a referral) psychiatrist. But psychostimulant’s were perfectly fine, to her. Derp?
To someone not taking benzo’s on a regular basis, yes, they can be abused. They can be abused if they’re taken on a regular basis, too. They are a scheduled drug and if you get caught with them you better have them in the original prescription bottle or have a prescription/doctor’s note with you. They are scheduled because of their tendency to be abused. I crossed the Canada/US border with a bottle of Valium, no problem, it had everything on the label.
Some people start abusing benzos because they like the way they make them feel, their doctor has prescribed them for a good reason, and they get hooked after a while, and start taking more.(10) The more you take, the more you need, and if you find yourself without, well, you’ll go through withdrawal. Many people mix benzos and alcohol (sometimes even as a date rape drug!) which is combining two CNS depressants, and that has bad news written all over it. It greatly impairs your ability to think, as well as stand up. Thousands of people go to emergency rooms in the US every year for mixing benzos and alcohol.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be hell on earth. Many healthcare providers will switch you over to Vaium, because of the long half life (it gradually leaves your system, slowly, rather than Xanax, which is quickly out of the system causing you to crave it). The most common, and the most likely, side effects from withdrawal are: perceptual distortions, abnormal skin sensations, difficulty waking, anxiety, tension, agitation, restlessness and insomnia.
Some less common effects are: feelings of unreality, extreme depression, depersonalization, paranoid thoughts, headache, and seizures. Rare withdrawal symptoms are: psychosis, confusion and fits.
- A very useful tool for comparing benzos: http://www.psychresidentonline.com/Benzodiazepine%20Comparison.htm