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Long-Term Effects of Benzodiazepines and Why Going to Rehab Can Help You Avoid Them

long term effects of benzodiazepine abuse and addiction

Benzodiazepines are a class of central nervous system depressant drugs that produce sedation and hypnosis, relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, and reduce seizures.[1] Benzodiazepines are available by prescription and are commonly used to treat anxiety and seizure disorders. The most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan).

While benzodiazepines are highly effective in treating symptoms of anxiety and reducing seizures, they are only intended to be used short-term. When used excessively, benzodiazepines are known to be habit-forming and highly addictive. Individuals who abuse benzodiazepines are at an increased risk of developing an addiction, experiencing fatal overdoses, and developing various medical or psychological issues.

There are many potential long-term effects of benzodiazepine abuse, too, but getting help for a benzodiazepine addiction early on can help you avoid the consequences.

What are the Long-Term Effects of Benzodiazepines?

While experts recommend that patients only take benzodiazepines on a short-term basis, up to 25% of people prescribed these substances take them long-term.[2]

Long-term benzodiazepines use almost always results in dependency and an increase in tolerance. Tolerance causes people to increase the dose they are taking, and physical dependence can result in symptoms of withdrawal upon cessation of use. Tolerance, dependence, and addiction are common with long-term benzodiazepine abuse.

Other long-term dangers of benzodiazepine abuse and addiction include:

Sleep Issues

Despite the fact that benzodiazepines are prescribed to treat insomnia on a short-term basis, excessive use can result in a myriad of sleep issues. Benzodiazepines interfere with your breathing during sleep and shift your sleep stages which can result in a decrease in deep, restorative sleep, leaving you feeling fatigued during the day despite getting an adequate number of hours of sleep.

Increased Symptoms of Anxiety

When benzodiazepines are prescribed for anxiety issues, they are typically used “as needed” to reduce symptoms of panic attacks. In other words, they are intended to be used situationally and on a short-term basis. But if you are using benzodiazepines to treat anxiety on a long-term basis, you could actually experience an increase in anxiety symptoms.

Long-term benzodiazepine abuse increases anxiety issues over time because your body grows accustomed to the mood-enhancing chemicals the medication provides. Unfortunately, this causes your body to rely on the medication to produce these chemicals, causing them to no longer occur naturally in your body. As a result, your symptoms of anxiety will be worse than before you began treating it with the medication.

Cardiovascular Issues

Benzodiazepines affect your heart by slowing down your heart rate and reducing blood pressure. This happens because it increases the levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid GABA in your brain, impacting functions like breathing and heart rate.[3] Regular and long-term respiratory depression can damage the function of the heart and cardiovascular system. When you take these medications long-term, you can experience permanent heart damage and even heart failure.

Cognitive Impairment

One of the most researched risks of long-term benzodiazepine use is cognitive impairment. Studies show that “long-term treatment with benzodiazepines has been described as causing impairment in several cognitive domains, such as visuospatial ability, speed of processing, and verbal learning.”[4]

Even further, the cognitive issues associated with long-term benzodiazepine abuse is even more severe among elderly individuals. According to research posted by Harvard, older adults who took benzodiazepines for 3 months experienced a 32% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Individuals who took the medication for over 6 months increased their risk of developing the condition by 86%.[5]

Overdose

The longer you abuse benzodiazepines, the higher your tolerance will be. This means you will have to continually increase your dosage to experience the effects of the substance. Unfortunately, taking high doses of benzodiazepines puts you at significant risk of overdose.

The symptoms of a benzodiazepine overdose include:[6]

  • Slowed or shallow breathing
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Floppy limbs
  • Blue tint to fingernails or lips
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Snoring or gurgling sounds
  • Profound confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Becoming unresponsive
  • Fainting
  • Coma
benzodiazepine abuse and addiction

Get The Care You Need and Deserve

Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment is a leader in the addiction treatment field, with proven success in facilitating long-term recovery. Our team of top clinical & medical experts specializes in treating addiction coupled with mental illness, ensuring that each person receives individualized care. Call us – we’re available 24/day, 7 days/week.

How Can Drug Rehab Help?

Whether you have been abusing benzodiazepines long-term with or without a prescription, attending a drug rehab center can help you regain control over your life. Without professional treatment, you would be at risk of experiencing severe symptoms of withdrawal, including fatal seizures. When you combine this risk with the long-term dangers of benzodiazepine use, it is clear that receiving addiction treatment is vital to your safety.

Benzodiazepine addiction treatment typically involves:

  • Medical detox
  • Evidence-based behavioral therapy
  • Medical treatment for any long-term effects of drug abuse
  • Group counseling
  • Treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions
  • Medication alternatives for anxiety or seizure conditions
  • Relapse prevention planning
  • Aftercare support

Find Help for Benzodiazepine Abuse and Addiction Today

f you or a loved one suffers from benzodiazepine abuse or addiction, receiving treatment from a drug rehab center can prevent you from experiencing long-term effects by tackling your addiction early. At Woburn Wellness, we prioritize the health, safety, and comfort of our patients by providing a wide range of individualized and targeted treatments. Rather than only treating your substance abuse, we take a look at the underlying factors that caused you to develop an addiction in the first place.

To learn more about our benzodiazepine addiction treatment program, contact Woburn Wellness today.

MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY

Inessa Maloney, MS, LMHC
Clinical Director

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