Used for their effects on anxiety among other problems, benzodiazepines are a group of prescription tranquilizers that are also referred to as anxiolytics (or anti-anxiety medications) or sedatives. Benzodiazepines are categorized based on how quickly they take effect. This divides the drug class into four groups:
- Ultra-short acting
- Short acting
- Long acting
Some of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include Valium, Xanax, and Ativan. Ultra-short acting benzos will manifest their effects for a several minutes, while long acting varieties may stick around for hours. In effect, the withdrawal symptoms from ultra-short acting benzos can also be particularly short while long acting options will only manifest withdrawal symptoms after about one to two days.
Used to sedate and tranquilize the system, benzodiazepines work directly on the central nervous system to relax muscles and reduce anxiety and stress. Some of the short-term effects of benzos include:
- Slowed breathing
- Relaxed mood
- Sense of well-being
- Reduced heart rate
- Feelings of euphoria
- Impaired thinking or decision making
- Drowsiness and sleepiness
- Dry mouth
- Slurred speech
- Blurred vision
- Heightened risk of accidents
- Sexual dysfunction
- Permanent cognitive defects
Because of the immediate effects of benzos, they have often been utilized as date rape drugs. As the chemistry of the sedative takes over, victims are less likely to have the strength or the clarity to fight back against a rapist. For those with a prescription, benzos provide relief against a variety of stressors and discomforts.
While it’s not likely to develop a dependence simply by using the drug – especially when taken in doses prescribed by a doctor – there are certain people who are more prone to abuse as they seek the benefits of the medication to combat their daily struggles. That said, individuals who meet specific criteria are more likely to intentionally abuse benzos.
These include people in lower socioeconomic classes, the unemployed, and those with poor family dynamics and unhealthy intimate relationships are just some of the individuals who might be more likely to misuse the drug in order to escape their unpleasant reality.
With time, the constant use of benzodiazepine is likely to result to various effects that might make everyday life difficult. These include:
- Dizziness and headaches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of memory
- Confusion and inability to think clearly
- Sleep disturbances and insomnia
- Personality changes
- Aggression and violence
- Skin rashes
- Weight gain
- Lethargy and lack of energy
During the first few uses, individuals might continue to take doses intentionally – which means that they choose to use the drug as opposed to their use being fueled by dependence and addiction. However, over time, users develop dependence which means their bodies get so used to the presence of the drug that they can no longer function without it.
In the absence of benzodiazepine, users feel weak, isolated, moody, and basically unwell which are the characteristics of withdrawal syndrome. This then leads them to take recurring doses so as to avoid the symptoms of withdrawal. According to studies, benzodiazepine can become addictive even at low doses, with 23% of users developing a dependence within 3 months after they begin using the drug.
Other than that, users are also likely to develop a tolerance to benzodiazepine. This means that with the constant use, their bodies become accustomed to the dosage and thus no longer react as noticeably to the drug’s effects. The result is that they need to take higher doses in order to experience their desired potency.