In the past, Benzodiazepines or benzos (slang) were the most commonly prescribed sedative-hypnotic drugs. The history of benzodiazepines dates back to the late 1800s when opioid helped soldiers combat fatigue and elevate their mood during the civil war, this resulted in many of them being addicted to the drug and until now the opioid pandemic is a relentless global health crisis. Since then, pharmaceutical companies were on the lookout for safer alternatives.
Barbiturates were then offered as a substitute and it gained popularity during the 1930s Great Depression. This drug class was available over-the-counter to help ease troubled Americans by depressing their central nervous system. In the long run, barbiturates were also deemed to be too addictive. So, in the 1950s a chemist by the name of Leo Sternbach experimented with what was then an unknown compound, called benzodiazepines.
The compounds were ineffective until he added a colourless gas derived from ammonia called methylamine -- this new product, Librium, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960. Three years after the first-ever benzodiazepine was available in the market, Valium was the go-to drug and until now is still prescribed by physicians.
The Science Behind Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepine, like barbiturates, is also central nervous system depressant that produces a sedative-hypnotic effect. The specific receptors in the brain where benzodiazepines attach to are the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which acts as a modulator for central nervous system (CNS) activities. When benzodiazepine attaches to the GABA receptors, this results in the inhibition of excitatory impulses. Benzos slow down brain activity, therefore, relieving anxiety, seizures, muscle spasms, and similar health conditions.
The first dose of benzodiazepine puts you at higher risk for accidents. You should not drive a car or run machinery while you are taking a benzo especially if you’re still not familiar with how your body reacts to the drug. People who take benzos without a prescription may experience serious side effects.
The Uses of Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines have many therapeutic applications. The most common uses are:
Benzodiazepines virtually have the same uses as barbiturates and although they function similarly, benzos are now more preferred than barbiturates for a variety of reasons. The key one being that benzos have a better safety profile. Benzos have a wider therapeutic window than barbiturates, meaning an overdose rarely causes fatalities. In fact, the lethal dose for benzodiazepine is 100 times its therapeutic dose, compared with barbiturates’ lethal dose of 10 times its therapeutic dosage.
This means that barbiturates have a narrower therapeutic window and an overdose from this drug is more likely to lead to severe complications and fatalities. However, benzodiazepines may still result in toxicity and the symptoms are drowsiness, confusion, diminished reflexes, and coma. An overdose of benzodiazepines alone rarely results in death.
Warning Signs of Benzodiazepine Addiction
Since benzos belong to the sedative class of drugs, they are also easily addictive. Recognising symptoms of abuse is the first important step in having those you care for the support they need. Some of the signs of benzodiazepine abuse include physical, psychological, as well as behavioural.
Common symptoms are:
Long-term abuse of benzos can show the following symptoms:
Interventions For Benzo Addiction
Benzo addiction or any form of addiction work at the subconscious level. One needs to understand that people who are addicted to benzos don’t willingly seek out the drug - the damage in their brain cells are controlling their actions to take more benzos. If you or your loved one is addicted to benzodiazepine, what are your treatment options?
The Arden Centre and its medical staff are highly trained to deal with addictions including benzodiazepine addiction. Different treatment modalities are offered and are tailored to suit the needs of the individual. The environment at The Arden Centre is warm, compassionate, and supportive. We place confidentiality and privacy high on our list so you can focus on your road to recovery.
Contact us now and learn more about our flexible rehabilitation programs.
I am an energetic and committed Senior Health Care Manager with a passion for developing staff through education and mentoring.