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September 19, 2018

How Do Benzodiazepines Affect the Body?

Prescription medications may not seem like much of a risk. After all, your doctor prescribed this treatment to help you with an issue. Benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin and others can provide relief from anxiety, insomnia, social anxiety disorders and even alcohol withdrawals.

However, even following your doctor’s orders carefully can put you at risk for dependence or addiction. Let’s take a look at some of the effects benzodiazepines can have on the body.

How Do Benzodiazepines Work?

Benzodiazepines (sometimes called benzos or downers) are designed to depress the central nervous system. By calming nerve impulses, they can reduce anxiety. However, a rush of endorphins much like those released with the use of opioids and other powerfully addictive drugs also takes place. These good feelings can cause a person to seek out this state more often than his prescription dictates. Long-term use builds tolerance, which can also lead to experimenting with higher doses.

Benzo Addiction & Tolerance

What makes benzos so addictive in the first place has to do with something called “half-life.” In simple terms, the “half-life” of drugs like benzodiazepines refers to the amount of time it takes for the body to eliminate 50% of the starting dosage of the medication. For example, Xanax typically has an elimination half-life of 9-16 hours. So, for a healthy person, that means the substance should be entirely out of their bodies after about four days.

The problem arises when people begin to take more than the recommended dosage or take the medication more frequently than prescribed. This behavior has a compounding effect on the elimination half-life and can quickly increase the user’s tolerance, leading to more and more medication needed to achieve the same effect.

“While the effects of benzodiazepine addiction on the body are severe and even life-threatening, the impact of addiction on a person’s life can be just as devastating. Job loss. Problems at home. Legal trouble – the list goes on. Unfortunately, these are the types of negative consequences many people experience before taking that critical first step toward recovery,” Director of Operations: Georgi Manker Stokes, CATC

Benzodiazepine Side Effects

In addition to the intended effects, people using benzodiazepines may also experience:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Constipation
  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Lowered sex drive
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight gain

More severe side effects can develop—particularly with long-term use of six months or longer. These can include:

  • Addiction
  • Dangerously low blood pressure
  • Drastic changes in heart rate
  • Fainting
  • Forgetting things or how to complete tasks
  • Increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Trouble breathing

Withdrawal Symptoms Associated with Benzodiazepines

Because benzodiazepines are chemically altering your brain every time you use them, giving them up can be quite a challenge. Those who try to quit cold turkey have a high rate of relapse. A doctor or treatment program may recommend slowly weaning yourself off the medication to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Typically, longer periods of use can bring more intense withdrawals when trying to quit. You might encounter some or all of the following:

  • Changes in perception
  • Dry heaving or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Increased anxiety or instances of panic attacks
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Sore or stiff muscles
  • Sweating
  • Tremors

Get Help Quitting Benzodiazepines at Cycles of Change in Palmdale, California

Withdrawals from benzodiazepines usually start within 24 hours and can last anywhere from days to months. In some severe cases, an individual may experience some of the symptoms years after stopping.

If you need help battling the disease of addiction, Cycles of Change can help. From the initial detoxification process and innovative therapies to treatment that helps heal the entire family, we are committed to helping your recovery become a reality. Take the first steps towards reclaiming control of your life and talk to one of our specialists today.


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