Benzodiazepines are a commonly prescribed medication for anxiety, seizures, and a myriad of other medical conditions. However, this medication doesn’t come without its faults, of which there are many serious ones. Benzodiazepines such as Ativan and Xanax are potentially addictive after only a short period of time, and are highly sought after by drug addicts and even patients who aren’t psychologically addicted but are physically dependent on the medication.
“Benzos have stolen the best years of my life.” – Neil Evans
To understand why benzodiazepines (benzos) are addictive so quickly understanding what the experience of withdrawal from a benzo is necessary. The only medication prescribed where the withdrawal symptoms are commonly referred to as being either comparable or worse than heroin, it’s a truly tortuous experience. After daily use, a patient can experience chills, cold sweats, shaking, hallucinations, vomiting, delirium, seizures and even death. This experience can last for an extended period of time, frequently wearing a person down into feeling like they would rather take benzos their whole life than continue withdrawals.
Benzos are not a life-long medication or even a suitable long-term medication for most people. These medications have a reputation for losing efficacy quickly, requiring patients to ingest more to achieve the desired effect. Eventually, a patient can take an incredibly high dose and feel absolutely no effect from the medication but will need maintenance doses, or to be weaned off their medication to avoid the risk of death from sudden withdrawals.
Due to the addictive nature of medications like Xanax, there’s a booming black market that’s contributing to a record number of deaths this year. Xanax has a street value ranging from $3 to $15 for a single pill. In addition, a large amount of fake pills are available, also known as “pressed bars,” because there is not enough legitimate Xanax in production to supply the demand from addicts and dependent patients.
Fake Xanax bars first entered the market in 2015; these knockoff pharmaceuticals are both illegal and deadly. Counterfeit Xanax can contain a number of deadly ingredients, including fentanyl, the current leading cause of overdose deaths in the United States. Fentanyl is only safe for use in micro-doses, but the people pressing Xanax at home are not capable of measuring out a safe and consistent dose to put in their imitation drugs. However, the dependent patient will frequently either be unaware of the risks posed by fake Xanax, or they will choose to take the risk out of desperation. Complicating the matter is the fact that determining the validity of pills purchased off the street can be difficult. An image showing legitimate and fake Xanax is shown below–could you tell the difference?
Even when taken as prescribed, benzos have inherent risks. Some of the most common reported side effects of all medications in the benzodiazepine group include temporary amnesia and permanent memory damage, in addition to blackouts and fugue states if a patient accidentally overdoses. If this medication is prescribed for daily use, patients may unintentionally drive under the influence of benzos.
Benzos can also be linked to feelings of depression, as one of the moderate side effects, which is concerning, considering their reputation of utility to treat severe anxiety. Anxiety can often worsen when patients quit the medication and find themselves saddled with crippling long-lasting effects on their mental functions and ability to function in their daily life. Tapering off benzos properly and safely can take several months, which allows the medication time to worsen the long-term effects even after a person has decided to stop taking it. These medications are especially dangerous for the elderly because they impede brain function and for anyone with a history of substance abuse due to the widely recognized fact that they are one of the most addictive medications prescribed today.
There’s no denying that benzos have legitimate medical uses, but should they be prescribed for long-term medical conditions such as anxiety, or anything less than serious medical conditions and end of life care?