Benzodiazepines are sedatives that are often prescribed for anxiety and insomnia. They’re often effective in the short term. These medications can help you relax, reduce the number of overwhelming thoughts so that you can get through the day, improve sleep issues and soothe your nerves when you feel panicky. But dependence on benzodiazepines is an enormous risk. If you develop an addiction, you’ll have to deal with the long-term effects of benzodiazepine abuse.
Benzodiazepines Are Intended to Be Short-Term Drugs
Benzodiazepines can be prescribed by psychiatrists, primary care providers and general practitioners. Experts recommend that health care providers prescribe benzodiazepines for a period of one month or less. 25% of people who are prescribed benzodiazepines end up using them long term.
The primary problem with chronic benzodiazepine use or abuse is that the medication starts to lose its effectiveness after a few weeks. Your body develops a tolerance for the drug, which means that it becomes less sensitive to its effects. You reach a point where you need more of the drug to achieve the same effects as you experienced when you started taking it.
Your body also becomes dependent on the substance if you take it regularly. Benzodiazepine abuse often occurs because you feel like you can’t function without it. In a sense, that’s true. Your body adjusts its vital functions to accommodate the effects of the medication.
Heavy users must be careful when they stop using benzodiazepines. If you are addicted to benzodiazepines, your central nervous system has likely slowed down. Your body may not be able to handle the surge in heart rate and other withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, it’s essential to seek professional treatment to quit using benzodiazepines safely.
Burning Tree Ranch Offers the Best Long Term Dual Diagnosis Treatment for the Chronic Relapser
What Happens When You Abuse Benzodiazepines for a Long Time?
Long-term benzodiazepine abuse does not improve mental health outcomes or sleep problems in most people. Doctors usually only recommend taking this drug for an extended time if other treatments are not successful and the benefits outweigh the risks. Besides increasing your risk of developing an addiction, the long-term effects of benzodiazepine abuse impair your mental and physical health in a number of ways.
1. Sleep Problems
Although using benzodiazepines for a short time can help with sleep issues, it worsens the quality of sleep in the long run. These drugs interfere with your breathing while you sleep. They also shift your sleep stages. You end up getting less deep, restorative sleep when you use benzodiazepines for a long time.
2. Increased Anxiety
Long-term abuse of benzodiazepines can exacerbate mental health problems. If you started taking benzodiazepines to treat psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety, those symptoms are likely to become worse over time.
Your body naturally produces chemicals to help you feel mentally and emotionally balanced. Mental health conditions interfere with those chemicals, and using the right medications at the right time can improve symptoms. For example, benzodiazepines can break the cycle that leads to panic attacks. However, to maintain the results, you need to learn other coping skills and relaxation techniques. Holistic treatment can help you sustain the initial relief that you got from the drugs.
If you abuse benzodiazepines, the tolerance that you develop will reduce the effects of the medication on your symptoms. Furthermore, your body will no longer produce the same levels of mood-enhancing chemicals because it has become accustomed to getting them from the pills.
Therefore, you might be more anxious or depressed than ever. This fear can prevent you from getting help because quitting means that the symptoms will get worse before they improve.
3. Cardiovascular Problems
Long-term use of benzodiazepines slows down your heart rate. When the heart isn’t pumping blood at optimal levels, the body can develop other physical ailments. Benzodiazepine abuse increases the risk of blood clots, low blood pressure and circulatory problems. In extreme cases, benzodiazepine use can contribute to heart failure.
As you gain a tolerance to the drugs, you increase your risk of overdose. Some people self-medicate by combining benzodiazepines and other substances, such as alcohol or opioids. This combination often leads to fatal overdoses.
If you are in recovery from benzodiazepine abuse and relapse, you also risk overdosing. After you clear the drugs from your system for a while, your body becomes more sensitive to the drugs than it was during active addiction. When you relapse, you often take the same dose that you were used to before. This quickly sends your system into a downward spiral.
Long-term benzodiazepine use also increases your chances of participating in risky or impulsive activities. Because it impairs your judgment, it boosts the odds that you will get in a car accident or another dangerous mishap.
5. Cognitive Impairment
Benzodiazepine use interferes with your memory, attention, verbal learning and motor skills. These brain changes are usually temporary. They begin to improve within six months of abstinence. However, some cognitive impairments may be permanent.
Elderly adults are especially susceptible to cognitive decline from sustained benzodiazepine use. A recent study found that people who took benzodiazepines for three to six months increased their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 32% compared with those who took the medication for less than three months or not at all. Taking benzodiazepines for more than six months increased people’s risk by 84%.
Benzodiazepine Abuse Treatment
Many people are afraid to seek treatment for the long-term effects of benzodiazepine abuse because they believe that the medication was helping them on some level. Whether they used it to escape or treat distressing symptoms, they found solace in the drug. But by the time you realize that treatment is necessary, the pills likely aren’t doing much to help anymore.
An addiction treatment center that has experience with benzodiazepine addiction and withdrawal can provide the support that you need. At Burning Tree Ranch, we offer long-term treatment that involves customized, holistic therapy. Let us help you understand more about benzodiazepines and their potential for abuse so that you can free yourself from it for good.