Benzodiazepines are widely used for their sedative (sleep-inducing), anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), and amnesic (memory loss) effects. Benzodiazepines are also commonly prescribed as muscle relaxants, anticonvulsants, and premedication before various medical procedures. They can be illegal or legal but most widely unlawful.
These overdoses have become far more common as people have taken advantage of the large number of diverted drugs prescribed by doctors as well as illicitly produced substances such as “Valium.”
In addition, because users have been led to believe that benzos are non-addictive, many think they can stop taking benzos without medical supervision. This is especially common among people who have been “drug-free” for many years. Still, it also happens when a person with an addiction has not used it in some time and then begins using again after quitting with the belief that it will be acceptable.
How Widespread is Benzodiazepine Overdose?
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2008, over 36 million prescriptions were issued for benzodiazepines, making them one of the most prescribed medications in the United States. With this many being prescribed so frequently, it is easy to see how benzos have become popular with people who want to abuse them.
With all of this being said, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also reports that it is estimated that only 1% of those who abuse benzos receive treatment. This can be attributed to the idea that people believe benzos are not addictive and will not need treatment for their addiction.
When does Benzodiazepine (BZD) overdose occur?
Benzodiazepine overdose occurs when an individual takes more than the average or recommended amount of this medication. This can happen by accident or on purpose. Benzodiazepines are commonly used for their sedative (sleep-inducing) and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects, as well as for other medical reasons.
Benzodiazepine overdose can cause drowsiness, slowed or slurred speech, confusion, weakness, or instability. A person experiencing a BZD overdose may have symptoms of depression and irritability, and an inability to control body movements.
In some cases, panic attacks also occur with a BZD overdose.
Because this drug class has sedative effects, overdoses involving BZDs can lead to breathing issues (respiratory depression), coma, and possibly death.
Is Benzodiazepine overdose fatal?
Benzodiazepine overdose is potentially fatal because the individual’s breathing could slow or stop. Respiratory depression can occur because benzos bind to GABA receptors in the brainstem, which controls impulses involved with one’s drive to breathe.
Symptoms of BZD overdose include drowsiness, loss of muscle control, slurred speech, confusion, and unconsciousness.
What are the signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine toxicity?
In addition to the signs of overdose that include excessive muscle weakness, emotional instability, and depression, other physical effects of benzodiazepine toxicity can be experienced. These include high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, slow breathing, and shallow breathing.
What are the side effects of a benzodiazepine overdose?
Benzodiazepines have a wide range of side effects when the body takes high doses of this medication. These include slow thinking, muscle weakness, lack of coordination, irritability, memory impairment, confusion, and a decreased libido (decreased sexual desire).
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Treatment for Overdose
Benzodiazepine overdose requires immediate medical attention. The first step in treating a benzodiazepine overdose is to detoxify the body. Medications, such as flumazenil, are used in conjunction with other therapies to minimize withdrawal symptoms.
Psychological treatments are also employed when one abuses drugs recreationally. These include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET).
What is the antidote for a benzodiazepine overdose, and what are some of the considerations in using that antidote?
The antidote for benzodiazepine overdose is called flumazenil (Romazicon). This is a powerful drug that can counter the effects of BZDs in an individual’s central nervous system. However, this antidote cannot be used when ingest opioids or alcohol because it could lead to seizures and respiratory arrest.
Flumazenil is only used for benzodiazepine overdoses, not other forms of overdose. This drug should be administered slowly because it can produce side effects, such as dizziness or seizures.
Treatment typically involves supportive care in the emergency room (ER). The main goal of treating a BZD overdose is to revive an individual who has stopped breathing or whose heart has stopped beating. The treatment process includes the use of life support equipment, such as a ventilator.
What are dangerous signs and symptoms to look for during Benzodiazepine toxicities?
Some dangerous signs and symptoms to look for during Benzodiazepine overdose include seizures, coma, aggression, hallucinations, hypotension (low blood pressure), and respiratory depression.
Benzodiazepine overdose prevention
When benzodiazepines are taken as prescribed by a doctor, no overdose is likely to occur. However, in situations in which individuals take more than they’re supposed to, it is important to seek medical attention right away. A BZD overdose can be life-threatening and needs immediate treatment. However, benzodiazepines are rarely fatal if treatment is provided right away.
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What is Benzodiazepine Addiction?
Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed drugs with a high risk of addiction. When individuals are addicted to BZD they will compulsively seek out the drug for recreational use, despite evidence suggesting that they have an increased tolerance level.
Side effects of benzodiazepine abuse can include insomnia, constipation, nausea, muscle weakness, memory loss, slurred speech, and depression.
Benzodiazepine Addiction: What Treatments Are Available?
Many people believe that simply going “cold-turkey” without medical supervision is safe and will not lead to any negative consequences, and this could not be further from the truth. Benzo withdrawal can be very dangerous and ultimately fatal.
In this case, many people turn either to a family member or friend for help. Unfortunately, undoing the effects of benzos is also very dangerous if done without supervision because suddenly stopping the drugs can lead to seizures or even death.
One method that has been used successfully in treating benzo addiction is through a slow taper-off process. This allows the brain to reset itself and slowly readjust to its drug-free state. This allows the individual to successfully detox without too many negative side effects or risks of death.
With this in mind, however, it has also been reported that only about 20% of individuals who go through a medically supervised detox program will still remain abstinent one year later. This shows how difficult it is to completely recover from benzodiazepine addiction.
How can one go about finding Benzodiazepine addiction treatment?
There are various benzodiazepine addiction treatment options available, such as inpatient or outpatient rehab, counseling therapy, and support groups. Treatment for those addicted to benzodiazepines usually consists of a detoxification program followed by a treatment plan of therapy and support group meetings, such as Narcotics Anonymous.
Although this may seem daunting to some, it is important to note that no one has ever died from addiction; the only way to live is to recover. If you or someone you know has been struggling with benzodiazepine abuse or addiction, help is available.
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Benzodiazepine overdose is a potentially life-threatening situation. Slowing or stopping of breathing, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, slowed thinking and muscle weakness are effects of an overdose on benzos. Furthermore, flumazenil can counter the effects of overdosing on BZDs; however, this antidote cannot be used when one has ingested opioids or alcohol. Therefore, treatment typically involves supportive care in the emergency room (ER).
Frequently Asked Questions
How to safely discontinue a prescription for benzodiazepines after taking it for an extended period of time?
If you have been taking benzos long-term, discontinuation does not have to be done all at once. It can be done gradually until you are off the drug. It is important that you use medications like clonidine or valium (Clonidine, Valium) to help your body get used to not having the benzos in its system before trying to stop taking them all at once.
How long does benzo withdrawal syndrome last?
Symptoms of BZD discontinuation typically do not last longer than a few weeks. However, for some individuals, especially those who have been taking benzos for an extended period of time, these symptoms can persist for months or even years after stopping treatment. Furthermore, the amount of time one has been taking benzos, as well as the dosage he or she has been taking, determines how long symptoms will last.
What are some ways to safely stop using benzodiazepines?
The best way to stop using benzos is by slowly decreasing the dosage over time. It’s important that you do not take more than your doctor prescribes, and it’s also very important that you work with a doctor or other healthcare professional to help ensure that your benzo use is safe.
It’s also important to remember that other substances may interact with BZDs, so it is essential to talk about other drugs you are taking before starting any kind of treatment plan.
How Long Does Treatment Take?
It depends on each individual’s circumstances, but more often than not it takes a few months to a year for an individual to complete a full recovery.
How long does it take for anxiety symptoms to start going away during benzodiazepine treatment?
It typically takes between six and 12 weeks of continued treatment before the individual should see relief from his or her symptoms. However, this will vary depending on each individual’s unique situation.
What should you expect after stopping the use of benzodiazepines?
Nausea, vomiting, fatigue, muscle aches, and pains, restlessness, irritability, and insomnia are all common side effects that can last for weeks or months after stopping benzo treatment. Furthermore, depression is also a possible side effect after discontinuation. It’s important to take medications like antidepressants and/or anxiolytics (Trazodone) if this occurs.
What are alternatives to benzodiazepines?
There are several alternative medications that can treat anxiety and insomnia. Some of the most common include antidepressants (Wellbutrin, Cymbalta), buspirone (Buspar), and beta-blockers (Inderal).
What is the most important step in reducing benzodiazepine use?
The most important step you can take to reduce your benzo abuse or addiction is to seek treatment. If you have been struggling with a problem with Benzodiazepines, get help immediately.