What are benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines, also called benzos, are prescription medications, available in pill form, that act on the central nervous system. They have a calming effect and are used to relieve tension, anxiety and panic. They are also used to induce sleep or, sometimes, as a muscle relaxant. They are sold under product names like Ativan, Librium, Valium, and Xanax. Benzodiazepines are reasonably priced and widely available. People sometimes become dependent on them inadvertently, even when used as prescribed.
In a medical context, benzodiazepines are mostly used for short-term treatment. This is because the medicine causes tolerance and dependency if used for more than a few weeks. Tolerance means that people have to start using more and more of this drug to achieve the same effect. The increased usage accelerates their dependency on the drug. It also produces very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if consumption is suddenly reduced or stopped.
Benzodiazepine users are divided into two groups: Those who obtain it legally, as prescribed by their doctors, and those who procure it illegally. The first group is professionally diagnosed and requires the prescribed medication to cope with a problem. The second group is people who abuse it for recreation or have become addicted during the legal prescription period and need more than the usual dosage that a medical entity would willingly prescribe.
People, who abuse benzodiazepine, obtain excessive quantities by visiting a number of doctors and deviously getting a separate prescription from each doctor, thus enabling them to buy more than the prudent quantity from random pharmacies. They also coerce other people to misleadingly obtain prescriptions from doctors and then they buy it from those people. Alternatively, they buy it from drug dealers or order it illegally from online stores that do not require prescriptions.
Benzodiazepine addiction includes both physical and psychological dependencies. Long term use leads to increasing physical and mental health problems. Abrupt dose reduction or abstinence results in withdrawal symptoms. Abuse continues for years, because of fear of the withdrawal symptoms and the users’ doubts about coping with the emotions that made them use the drug in the first place. Benzodiazepine addiction has become a public health problem, as they are so widely used, yet potentially very dangerous.
Death and serious illness does not often result from the benzodiazepines themselves, but they do affect the nervous system – this alone can lead to accidents, serious injury and even death. They also cause health and social problems in the long term. Lastly, they are often taken with alcohol, other medications or illegal drugs and these combinations can be lethal.