Between 2014 and 2016, the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics reported that doctors prescribed benzodiazepines, which are sedatives used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, at a rate of 27 times per 100 visits annually. Also called tranquilizers, these drugs are highly addictive, and an overdose may be fatal. If you or a loved one wants to stop taking sedatives, our trained staff at The National Rehab Hotline (866-210-1303) offers guidance and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We can answer questions about mental conditions and how they’re treated or give suggestions for approaching a loved one about addiction.
How Does a Benzodiazepine Hotline Work?
On the hotline, we understand addiction to sedatives, especially common ones like Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), Librium (chlordiazepoxide), Klonopin (clonazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), and Restoril (temazepam). Less common are Tranxene (clorazepate), Prosom (elprazolam), and Dalmane (flurazepam). All work similarly. They work on the same “GABA” receptors as alcohol. Doctors prescribe them for anxiety or insomnia, as well as a few other problems, but for some people, they crave more and more pills and can’t stop without help. We keep your calls confidential, and we don’t charge for our services. This is a chance to find out what you need to know without being afraid of getting in trouble or being judged. Get information about topics like insurance coverage, detox, and treatment, or find out how to enter a rehab program right away.
The hotline works well for an ongoing crisis or a non-emergency situation. If someone is in immediate danger, call 911.
What Are the Warning Signs of a Benzodiazepine Overdose?
When you see these symptoms of a benzodiazepine overdose, it’s an emergency:
• Mental confusion
• Blurred vision
• Dilated pupils
• Severe fatigue or physical weakness
• Slurred speech
• Mental confusion
• Lack of coordination
• Slow or shallow breathing
• Slow heart rate and reflexes
• Pale, clammy skin
When benzodiazepines are mixed with alcohol or other drugs, the risk of death is much greater than when they’re taken alone. Taking them with opioids, tricyclic antidepressants, and barbiturates can be deadly.
What Information Does the Hotline Need?
Our hotline staff is well-informed about issues involving benzodiazepines, but we can also make referrals or recommendations to other resources. It may help to decide what you want to know before you call and keep a pen and paper handy to take notes. When you’re already stressed, it’s easy to forget. Be prepared to answer questions like these:
1. Is this an emergency? Is anyone in immediate danger?
2. Which benzodiazepine was taken and how much?
3. How long has the drug been used?
4. Are you or a loved one interested in rehab? If so, what kind of program?
5. Are there co-occurring conditions, such as PTSD or depression, that complicate treatment?
Although you are never obligated to follow through with information you receive on the hotline, we can help you get started right away if you’re ready.
Benzodiazepine Facts and Statistics
Benzodiazepines are prescription medications that depress the central nervous system to induce sleep, relieve anxiety and tense muscles, and prevent seizures. It’s not unusual for individuals who have a problem with the pills to get prescriptions from multiple doctors, forging prescriptions, or buy the drug illegally. “Downers” and “benzos” are common street names for the drug.
Doctors prescribe sedatives in pill form, while hospitals use pills, injections (“shots”), or IVs in intensive care, surgery, for seizures, or to calm an agitated person. Young adults and teens, especially those who use heroin and cocaine, sometimes crush and snort pills to get high. Side effects include irritability, aggression, hostility, amnesia, and vivid dreams or nightmares. Effects are similar to those of alcohol, barbiturates, sleeping pills, and “date rape” (GHB) drugs.
In 2018, Web MD reported that 1 in 5 people who took benzodiazepines misused the medication. Statistics also showed that sedative use among young adults is two times higher than reported, and almost 13% had used the drug within the previous 12 months. Studies in 2013 and 2014 suggested that 4% to 6% of adults were taking the medication. Use is highest among young adults between 18 and 25 years old, with prescriptions being written to treat conditions like depression and anxiety. For that age group, misuse of benzodiazepines was approximately the same as prescription use.
Although researchers know that older adults mostly use prescriptions, they don’t know how many misuse them. Doctors define misuse as taking medication in a way it was not prescribed, including taking too much, taking for too long, taking too often, or with painkillers or alcohol.
Benzodiazepine Overdose and Deaths
Approximately 1 in every 20 adults fills a prescription for sedatives each year. In 2013, there were 23,000 deaths from prescription drug overdoses, and 31% involved benzodiazepines.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the number of overdose deaths related to sedatives climbed from 1,135 to 8,791 between 1999 and 2015. There is also a connection between benzos and the opioid crisis in the U.S. The risk of overdose is high with just sedatives, but approximately 1 in 3 opioid overdoses also involve benzodiazepines. Mixing benzos and alcohol can be as risky as using them with opioids.
Mixing Benzodiazepines and Alcohol
Sedatives and alcohol affect the body and the brain in similar ways. Using them together increases each, making it more difficult for the individual to make good decisions. Two substances not only make the user sleepier, less inhibited, and more sluggish, but they also cause intoxication at a faster rate and raise the risk of an overdose.
Data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2010 reported that many emergency room visits for benzodiazepine overdoses also involved alcohol. Alcohol played a role in 1 in 5 fatal sedative overdoses. Signs of overdose related to both substances are like those for either alcohol or sedatives, but overdose is not the only danger involved with the mixture.
The odds of having an accident, getting an injury, or being a crime victim go up with levels of intoxication. Besides, risky behavior increases the chances of getting an infectious or sexually transmitted disease. Because sedatives and alcohol both change the brain’s chemical balance, they affect the way a person acts, thinks, and feels. When both substances are combined, the chances of becoming dependent or addicted are even higher than with just one.
Mixing Benzodiazepines and Opioids
Over 136 adults in the U.S. overdose on opioids every day. In 2019, 16% of those overdoses involved opioids and benzodiazepines, a combination that represses breathing and impairs thinking skills. Some doctors prescribe both drugs simultaneously, raising the risk of hospital admissions and emergency room visits. Many studies have established a link between the two categories of drugs.
One study reported that people who took both medications were 10 times more likely to die than those taking opioids only. In research of non-cancer patients who received opioids for pain, 6 in 10 also tested positive for sedatives. Among U.S. military veterans who received both opioids and sedatives, overdose deaths were higher than those with only one of the two.
The CDC recommended that doctors prescribe opioids and benzodiazepines together only when medically necessary. Labels on both drugs now carry warnings about their concurrent use. This is one reason everyone should tell their doctors about all medicines they take.
Getting Treatment for Benzodiazepine Use Disorder
Benzodiazepine use usually starts with a prescription for anxiety or insomnia, but dependence can develop quickly. Sometimes, there is a legitimate need for the medication. Still, in most cases, people should take benzodiazepines only temporarily for a specific purpose (prescribed by a doctor), or other medications or treatment are started. Although it’s easy to go into denial or blame outside situations for stress, it’s far more helpful to admit that there is a problem and learn how to deal with anxiety. Developing an addiction only makes matters worse.
Treatment for an overdose differs from a long-term addiction. Acute toxicity is a medical emergency. The treatment depends on the type of drug(s) and the size of the dose. If someone is intoxicated, seek help immediately. Too many sedatives, especially when combined with opioids or alcohol, depresses the central nervous system and may cause death.
Chronic use of benzodiazepines usually requires tapering the dose gradually to minimize withdrawal symptoms and seizures. A detox center provides medical supervision to keep the patient safe and offers counseling, medication, and other services. The detox phase is usually simpler than going through rehab and learning to live without drugs. The support of family and friends is crucial, and many programs include family counseling. For many users, doctors advise inpatient detox because some people have seizures, even taking detox medications. Also, many people quitting benzodiazepines, who may have originally taken them for insomnia, will have more trouble sleeping than before. Psychiatrists sometimes prescribe other, non-addicting medications instead.
12 Natural Ways to Manage Stress
One of the most effective ways of managing stress is living a balanced lifestyle, and that means planning daily routines that nourish physical, mental, and spiritual needs. Stress management also requires foreseeing stressful situations and focusing on healthier ways to react.
These 12 practices help to prevent or reduce stress and anxiety:
1. Eat a healthy diet. A nutrient-rich diet can lower stress by strengthening the immune system and lowering blood pressure.
2. Get plenty of exercise. Exercise lowers stress hormones and stimulates the release of endorphins, brain chemicals that naturally improve mood and decrease pain. Even a short walk can help.
3. Balance your schedule. If you’re spending too many hours in the office, make room on your calendar for activities that are relaxing and fun.
4. Limit alcohol and stimulants. Alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine offer temporary relaxation, but they take a toll on the body over time. (People who needed help to quit taking benzodiazepines should avoid alcohol, too.)
5. Spend time in nature. Research shows that just having a green plant in a hospital room helps to relieve stress. Spending time outdoors improves positive feelings and improves mood.
6. Get enough sleep. Stress makes it harder to sleep, and lack of sleep makes stress worse. Practicing good sleep hygiene reduces anxiety and reduces sleeplessness.
7. Learn to meditate. Meditation has been around for thousands of years, and it still works. Mindfulness, body scan, and guided meditation are three of the most common types.
8. Keep a journal. Keeping a record of your thoughts and feelings, especially the things you’re grateful for, aids healing.
9. Sign up for yoga class. Yoga is a practice for the mind and body. Poses are good physical exercise, and they put frayed nerves in a meditative state.
10. Help others. Whether it’s volunteering at the soup kitchen or cutting a neighbor’s lawn, making the world a better place for others also helps the giver.
11. Spend time with others. Being part of a community, regardless of the size, improves mental and physical health.
12. See a mental health therapist. Sometimes, someone else can provide support and guidance when other efforts fail. Getting help is a sign of strength.
Benzodiazepines serve an important role when doctors prescribe them under the right circumstances, and patients take them as instructed. Both medical professionals and patients, however, should be aware of the danger of addiction and work together to avoid misuse of medications. Using sedatives illicitly is always dangerous. If you or someone you love needs help with benzodiazepine use, call The National Rehab Hotline at 866-210-1303.