Benzodiazepines (benzos) are a class of drugs that are known as central nervous system (CNS) depressants. In other words, they slow down the functions of your CNS, which includes your brain. Xanax is one such drug, and it is often prescribed for treating anxiety and panic disorders.
Benzos are not meant to be taken long-term. Xanax, for instance, is only recommended for a maximum of six weeks. Beyond that, the drug can cause dependence, or worse, addiction.
In fact, benzos are regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). These drugs are classified as Schedule IV controlled substances, meaning they have a low potential for abuse. For this reason, Xanax and other benzodiazepines cannot be bought without a prescription.
Benzos should never be taken for a really long time. Here are a few things that can happen to you when you do.
You could become addicted to benzos.
Xanax and other benzos work by increasing the production of a molecule in your brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is responsible for blocking nerves from sending electrical signals to each other, and this has a calming effect. Thus, by causing an increase in the amount of GABA in your brain, Xanax helps you relax.
It’s exactly these effects that become habit-forming. Once your body becomes used to the relaxing effects of Xanax, you will continue seeking that feeling. It doesn’t take very long to develop a dependence on it.
If you continue using it, you can become addicted soon. At that point, you can’t function normally anymore without taking Xanax. Drug seeking will take the place of the more important things in your life as well.
Long-term benzo use has many serious side effects.
Just like many other habit-forming drugs, benzos like Xanax can trigger withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to quit. These symptoms make it hard to stop using the drug. Long-term withdrawal symptoms include:
- Blurry vision
- Muscle pain
- Numb fingers
- Loss of appetite
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Heart palpitations
Seizures can be particularly dangerous if not addressed promptly. Call for immediate medical help if you know someone having a seizure as a result of benzo abuse.
Aside from these withdrawal symptoms, there are also other side effects of using benzos in the long term. These include:
- Slow heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Suicidal behavior
These can also become medical emergencies if not treated right away. Consult your doctor immediately if you feel any of these symptoms.
Why are benzos addictive?
Benzos like Xanax are thought to exert an influence on your body’s natural production of GABA. When you take these drugs for a long enough time, your body may no longer be able to produce GABA on its own. With that, you will always need Xanax or other benzos to feel calm and relaxed. At this point, your body has become dependent on the drugs.
As you continue using these drugs, your behavior and lifestyle will change as well. Drug cravings become stronger, and soon enough, drug-seeking behavior will take over much of your time.
What are the signs of addiction to benzos?
You may end up ditching work or school just to have time to take benzos. When you do show up, you won’t perform as well as you did before. You can’t function properly when the drug cravings take hold.
Your social circle will change, too. Instead of your usual friends, you may have new “friends” who are also drug dependents. You’ll choose to hang out with them more often because they have the same lifestyle. You may also end up distancing yourself from your old friends and family, especially when they constantly show concern for your drug habits.
Isolation is another common sign of drug addiction. When you don’t want anyone to know about your drug habits, your tendency is to find a secluded spot where you can take benzos on your own.
Soon enough, though, your friends and family will notice the signs of drug abuse. You may be able to hide yourself when taking drugs, but you can’t hide the changes in your behavior.
Since benzos are prescription drugs, one clear sign of addiction is when you keep going back to your doctor for a refill of your prescription. Other times, you may even go to different doctors and fake illness just to get more prescriptions. This is called “doctor shopping,” and this behavior is common among people addicted to prescription drugs.
Eventually, you may have the desire to quit taking benzos. But then, withdrawal symptoms often derail any attempt to quit. The symptoms can get so uncomfortable that your only recourse is taking benzos again. Even if you really do want to quit, the compulsion to make the withdrawal symptoms go away is usually stronger.
Over time, you will be aware of the negative consequences of long-term benzo use. Despite that, if you have become addicted, you will still find it hard to quit using the drugs.
How do I avoid benzo addiction?
The best way to prevent benzo addiction is to follow your prescription religiously. If your doctor tells you to take, for example, 0.25 milligrams (mg) of Xanax twice daily, then take no more than that. Also, make sure not to miss a dose. That way, you can maximize the effects of your medication.
If you do miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember. But if it’s close to your next dose, skip it. It’s never a good idea to double your dose.
Also, avoid requesting your doctor to extend your medication beyond six weeks. If he tells you to stop the medication much sooner, do so. Extending your intake of benzos unnecessarily is risky, and this is what may lead you to addiction.
If you’re under benzo medication, chances are you don’t intend to get addicted. But just a few instances of misusing the drug are enough to trigger dependence and addiction. Use your medications properly to keep yourself safe.