Benzodiazepines or benzos as they are more commonly called are a type of medication that aids in the relief of anxiety, insomnia, and other conditions. This sedative must be prescribed by a doctor–and these prescriptions are at concerning levels. Seth Doane, a correspondent on CBS’s popular show 60 Minutes, recently covered this topic of the dangers of benzos today.
In his story, he reported that in 2020 there were 90 million prescriptions for benzodiazepines in the United States alone. What’s more one in eight adults in the U.S. takes some type of anti-anxiety medication. And, sadly, many of these individuals who begin taking benzos to help with debilitating anxiety, will end up addicted.
Many individuals mistakenly believe that if their doctor prescribed it’s safe and not addictive. They also trust their healthcare professionals to warn them about the dangers, monitor how much they take and for how long, and help them safely get off the medication within a reasonable time. This isn’t always the case, and in fact, research is showing that in more cases than not, this initial prescription is what perpetuates the addiction.
What are Benzos?
As mentioned, benzodiazepines are prescription medications used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and other disorders. These downers slow the brain activity and nervous system down resulting in feelings of being more relaxed and less ‘stressed out’ or anxious. While these are prescriptions drugs they can also be made and sold illicitly. Once someone becomes addicted, they may seek illicit forms of benzos to support their habit.
The effects of benzos last for between about four to 24 hours depending on dosage amount, how long the user has been taking them, when the last dose was taken, and more factors. The following are some of the most commonly-prescribed benzos:
- Diazepam (Valium),
- Alprazolam (Xanax),
- Clonazepam (Klonopin).
Illicit benzodiazepines include:
While prescriptions for benzos peaked in 2013, one of the concerns is that many people are now mixing benzos with other drugs, particularly opioids. This is leading to more overdoses from drugs and higher fatality rates as well.
What Are the Risks of Benzos?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that between 2019 and 2020 emergency room visits for overdoses where benzos were involved increased by 24%. What’s more, benzos were involved in about 7,000 overdose deaths in 23 states from January 2019 to June 2020. While benzo prescriptions may not be at their highest, overdose and death from these addictive sedatives are growing.
When taken, benzos start becoming effective in about 30 minutes, give or take. Benzos produce the following effects in addition to relieving anxiety and promoting sleepiness:
- Loss of motor control
- Decreased reaction times
- Slurred speech
- Memory issues
As you can see, benzos can produce adverse effects in users, even when they first take them. However, as people become dependent and then addicted to these drugs they can begin to experience these negative impacts more frequently and more severely. Addiction can lead to tolerance, overdose, and death. It’s vital that people become more aware of the benzo crisis happening.
Dr. Sumit Agarwal, an internist, primary care physician, and researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston conducted a study about benzos and said the following,
“I don’t think people realize that benzodiazepines share many of the same characteristics of opioids.”
He went on to explain,
“They are addictive,” he says. “They cause you to have slower breathing; they cause you to be altered in terms of mental status. And then, eventually, [they] can cause overdose and deaths.”
While men are prescribed benzos, more women seek treatment for anxiety and anxiety-related prescriptions and are more frequently prescribed benzos than their male counterparts.
“Women are more likely to be prescribed these medications,” Agarwal says. “Women are more likely to come into the clinic to be treated for anxiety and depression, and benzodiazepines tend to be one of the medications we reach to.”
It’s important to note that the majority of benzos being prescribed today are coming from a primary care physician (PCP). Many times, these doctors may not be fully educated about the real dangers of prescribing and using benzos. In fact, these PCP may be overwhelmed by the complexity of problems their patients are bringing to them and not understand the best course of action to take or have the time to figure it out.
For this reason, it’s more essential now than ever to increase public knowledge and awareness about the dangers of benzos as well as the medical professionals struggling to keep up.
Spreading Awareness About the Dangers of Benzos
As mentioned, benzos misuse and death from benzo-involved overdoses are on the rise. It’s essential to get ahead of the benzo misuse crisis before it snowballs into another opioid epidemic as many in the medical field fear.
Talking about not only the misuse of benzos but also opening a dialogue about mental health disorders, including anxiety-related disorders, is vital. Breaking free from stigmas about mental health, substance abuse, and the treatment of both is critical for helping those with issues now as well as combatting future issues.
It’s important to find ways to talk to young adults about the dangers of benzos too. When topics like the dangers of drugs and alcohol are kept quiet, young adults are left to figure it out on their own and this can result in difficult situations arising. One rapper, Lil Xan, has been open about his battle with addiction, specifically to the benzo–Xanax.
Nicholas Diego Leonas, or Lil Xan as he’s better known, sang about his own personal battle with addiction to benzos in his songs. In one song, Betrayed, he talks about how Xanax is bad for you and will rob you of your life. In a 2021 interview with 60 Minutes, he elaborated on his own addiction story, mental health struggles, and recovery journey.
He explained to 60 Minutes,
“I was really bad. It was really bad. I looked in the mirror and I’m, like, it was just that moment you know, like, if I keep doing this, I’m gonna die soon. So I just quit, cold turkey. And I actually ended up having a few seizures. And I landed in the hospital.”
Additionally, he explained that he didn’t like that his nickname, Lil Xan, was popularizing the use of Xanax and benzos. Today, Lil Xan is sober from all prescription pills and said that being sober makes him feel ‘alive’. Something that addiction steals from everyone.
Lil Xan even started his own campaign against Xanax and benzos following the overdose death of fellow rapper, Lil Peep. The Xanarchy Movement. The goal of this nonprofit is to educate the kids and fans about pills.
Lil Xan said, “We’re out here trying to tell these kids that pills are bad for you.”
As addiction and overdoses from benzos grow, it’s vital that celebrities, families, schools, and communities, as well as health care professionals, not only educate themselves about the dangers of benzos but also educate youth.
Futures Recovery Healthcare offers clinical treatment for adults with benzo addictions as well as other substance and alcohol use disorders. If you want to learn more about our programs for yourself or a loved one, reach out online or call us at 866-804-2098.