Benzodiazepines: What You Should Know Before Filling Your Prescription
The opioid crisis remains in full swing, but that doesn’t mean opioids are the only class of drugs hurting people. Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Versed, Ativan, or Valium, are a class of drugs that are prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders. Prescriptions for and overdoses caused by benzodiazepines, which depress the central nervous system, have increased at alarming rates over the last twenty years.
Richard Taite is founder and CEO of Cliffside Malibu, offering evidence-based, individualized addiction treatment based on the Stages of Change model. He is also co-author of the book Ending Addiction for Good.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
Here’s what you need to know about benzodiazepines before you fill your prescription.
Like all prescription drugs, there are some people in specific circumstances who can benefit from properly used prescription benzodiazepines. People suffering from chronic anxiety and panic attacks can find temporary relief from their conditions in the short-term use of this drug. Benzodiazepines aren’t innately bad, but they do pose a potential for abuse that cautious physicians should consider before writing a prescription.
It’s relatively easy to become dependent on benzodiazepines. Dependence can occur when the drug is used at higher levels than the recommended dose, creating cravings between doses and creating withdrawal symptoms if you try to quit. Even though you get them from a doctor, used incorrectly, prescription benzodiazepines can be just as deadly as heroin.
If you try to quit benzodiazepines cold turkey you’re in for a rude surprise. The very symptoms your prescription was meant to treat – i.e. anxiety and panic attacks – will boomerang in full force as your body reacts to the drug’s absence. Withdrawal symptoms usually start three or four days after your last dose and can last for several days. The safest way to detox from benzodiazepines is under the guidance of a physician.
An addiction to benzodiazepine medications can be avoided with the right precautions. You should always take any medication you are prescribed according to your doctor’s orders and the instructions on the bottle. Never give away any leftover pills. Do not change the way you take the medication without first consulting your prescribing doctor. Always be aware of potential interactions, especially with alcohol, in order to avoid serious injury or an accidental overdose.
Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions about this class of drugs and possible treatment alternatives before s/he writes you a prescription. You are entitled to the best, most-effective treatment for any debilitating physical or mental condition you’re struggling with. At the same time, make sure you carefully weigh the possible benefits of any prescription medication with the potential for addiction and abuse before agreeing to a treatment plan with your doctor.
If you are thinking of taking a prescription benzodiazepine to help control your anxiety, consider other tools or skills you could develop to help alleviate your suffering. Find a psychotherapist you can trust and build a robust portfolio of hobbies and favorite pastimes that help you feel more relaxed, confident, and at ease in the world. Reach out to friends even when you’d rather not. With more social connections, support, and healthy ways to deal with anxiety when it arises, you might not need that prescription after all.