Physical and Mental Effects of Benzodiazepines
All psychoactive chemicals of this class have both antianxiety and sedative effects, the former being the most prominent. They are thought to act on two specific receptors within the central nervous system, one that mediates the antianxiety effects and the other the sedative effects.
Tolerance develops quickly (1 to 3 weeks) to the sedative effects, but does not develop to the antianxiety effects. This latter quality makes the effects of Benzodiazepines useful even when taken for very long periods of time, and it differentiates them from sedatives which reduce anxiety only until tolerance develops to their sedative effects.
Side Effects of Benzodiazepines
Though effects of Benzodiazepines are very useful, they are not without their drawbacks. Two common problems are initial sedation, mentioned above, and impairment in short-term memory. Neither of these is considered serious under most conditions because tolerance develops rapidly to the sedative effects, and the effects on short-term memory last only 1 to 2 hours after the psychoactive chemical is taken.
Dependence; Effects of Benzodiazepines
One problem resulting from long-term (greater than 4 months) use of Benzodiazepines is the development of physical dependence from therapeutic doses. Withdrawal effects of Benzodiazepines in people who abuse them by taking very high doses are similar to those that occur in people who abuse sedative-hypnotics. These problems are described in the preceding section. However, another type of withdrawal syndrome has been identified consisting of anxiety, restlessness, sweating, dysphoria, hypersensitivity to stimuli such as lights and sounds, muscle twitches, and paranoid ideation. This occurs in people who abruptly stop therapeutic doses of Benzodiazepines. Though seizures and toxic psychoses have been observed during withdrawal from very high doses (such as in Benzodiazepine abuse), these severe reactions are rarely seen during withdrawal from therapeutic doses. Nevertheless, withdrawal from therapeutic doses can produce uncomfortable and persistent symptoms, and some persons have been unable to completely discontinue taking Benzodiazepine’s as a result.
Withdrawal Effects of Benzodiazepines
It is sometimes difficult to determine whether symptoms of anxiety and restlessness following discontinuation of Benzodiazepines are the result of withdrawal or the re-emergence of the symptoms that the Benzodiazepines were originally intended to treat. One clue to the cause of such symptoms is their pattern for a period of 2 to 3 weeks after stopping the Benzodiazepines. Withdrawal symptoms from high doses occur suddenly and immediately after stopping the psychoactive chemical, are usually very uncomfortable, and diminish rapidly within 1 to 2 weeks. Withdrawal symptoms from therapeutic doses and reernerging anxiety typically occur with less intensity and gradually increase in severity for 1 to 2 weeks. At this point, symptoms gradually decrease if they represent withdrawal but persist if they represent anxiety.
It is important to understand that withdrawal symptoms from therapeutic doses of Benzodiazepines do not signify abuse or dependence. They are a form of physiologic dependence, but they result from taking the psychoactive chemicals as medically prescribed. A person having this problem without other chemical addictions or psychological dependence should not be labeled a psychoactive chemical addict. Current research information indicates that the likelihood of withdrawal varies according to the time over which the Benzodiazepines were taken. Forty to forty-five percent of people who take a Benzodiazepine regularly for longer than 4 months will develop withdrawal symptoms upon abrupt cessation of the psychoactive chemical. That percentage increases to 80-85 percent in people who have taken a Benzodiazepine regularly for 2 or more years. A gradual reduction of the psychoactive chemical can usually prevent these symptoms from developing, and most physicians are familiar with the procedures necessary to complete such a withdrawal.
An Interventionist Can Help End the Addictive Effects of Benzodiazepines
Intervention Services can guide, educate or be a resource to you, the one who is reaching out. Essentially, Intervention Services is on hand 24 hours a day to help you to help your loved one who may be abusing drugs or alcohol. If you have questions or need to speak with someone, understand that most of our employees are recovering professionals who can speak with you as someone who once abused drugs themselves.