How Do Benzos Affect Your Brain Chemistry?

How Do Benzos Affect Your Brain Chemistry?

Due to their sedative properties, benzodiazepines have a high potential for abuse

There are many different types of benzodiazepine medications because these drugs perform many different drug actions: anxiety relief, hypnotic, muscle relaxant, anti-convulsant, or an amnesiatic. To learn more about the affect benzos have on your brain chemistry, you might want to get more information about the drugs, understand about the potential for abuse, and learn what treatments have been effective should you become addicted to benzos.

About Benzodiazepines

The Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland provides a thorough overview of benzodiazepines on their website. As mentioned earlier, benzodiazepines have certain distinct characteristics. However, due to their sedative properties, benzodiazepines have a high potential for abuse. This risk increases should you use the medication with other depressants such as alcohol. Because of this risk factor, the Controlled Substance Act classifies benzodiazepines as Schedule IV drugs.

Even with these risks, benzos are frequently prescribed because they affect a key neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA). This neurotransmitter acts on the benzodiazepine receptors in the nervous system and provides either an anti-anxiety effect or a sedative effect. Benzos enhance this activity of GABA and therefore are prescribed to promote relaxation, calmness, and relief from anxiety and tension.

Depending on the particular benzo prescribed, the dosage, and the individual taking the medication, people may experience side effects including the following:

  • Impaired motor coordination
  • Drowsiness, lethargy, fatigue
  • Impaired thinking and memory
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Altered vision
  • Slurred speech, stuttering
  • Vertigo
  • Tremors
  • Respiratory depression
  • Nausea, constipation, dry mouth, abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Mood swings
  • Hostile and erratic behavior
  • Euphoria

Because of these various side effects, it is important that you use your medication as prescribed and report any issues to your medical professional. Your doctor may provide alternative medications to avoid discomfort or the potential for abuse.

The Potential for Abuse

In their post Benzodiazepine Abuse the consumer health site eMedicineHealth.com provides insight on risk factors associated with abusing benzos. While there is no single cause for addiction, genetic tendency, biological issues, and social factors can all contribute. In the case of benzodiazepine abuse, it appears that women are at higher risk, which is disconcerting since women are more likely than men to be prescribed benzodiazepines.

While gender is one risk factor for developing addiction, another risk factor is age. Elderly individuals are at risk for several reasons including receiving a prescription for benzodiazepines for depressive symptoms, having a variety of other medications that may cause interferences, and being unable to manage their medication use as conscientiously as others.

In addition to gender and age, several environmental factors may play a role in abusing benzos, including low socioeconomic status, unemployment, and peer pressure.

Signs of abuse of benzos are similar to abuse of any prescribed or illicit drug and may include changes in physical appearance, a reduction of performance at work, ignoring responsibilities, and changes in moods. But when it comes to benzos, a tricky sign of abuse is that a person may develop symptoms that were the original cause for being prescribed the medication, including the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Anorexia
  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Tremors
  • Memory problems

To differentiate whether these symptoms are abuse-based or not, you may want to look at other abuse signs such as tolerance and withdrawal. Tolerance is present when you have to take more of the drug than is prescribed to achieve the intended results, indicating that your body requires more of the drug to get the desired effect. It is recommended that you never discontinue using this medication abruptly as you may experience severe anxiety or seizures.

Other classic signs of abuse include a persistent desire to take the drug, unsuccessful attempts to decrease the substance use, significant amounts of time spent either getting, using, or recovering from the effects of the substance, discontinuing participating in important social, recreational, work, or school activities, and continuing to use the drug despite recurring physical or psychological problems.

Treatment for Abuse or Addiction of Benzos

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) post, Treating addiction to CNS depressants provides information about an integrated treatment approach that deals with reducing the medication, receiving counseling to overcome the psychological aspects of addiction, and learning lifestyle skills that enable you to live free from addiction.

The post strongly advises that addicted patients should undergo medically supervised detoxification because the risks of immediate withdrawal could be severe. In a medically supervised detox, the dosage you take is gradually tapered. Once you are free of the physical addiction, you can benefit from inpatient or outpatient counseling which can help you develop skills for coping with various life stressors.

Some people started using benzos as prescribed but entered into an abuse state by combining their medications with alcohol or other medications that could lead to a polydrug abuse situation. In this case, focused treatment is recommended.

Get Help to Learn More About Benzos Affect on Your Brain

It can be frightening to realize that a prescribed medication may put you at risk for addiction. Therefore, it is important that you learn as much about your medications as possible. Please call our toll-free helpline today. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions.

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