4 Hidden Risks of Anti-Anxiety Drugs

Published on March 7, 2019

Canaan, CT – In the shadow of the opioid crisis, another threat is looming: benzodiazepines – sedatives that include popular brand names such as Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin. Known as “benzos” for short, these drugs are often prescribed to treat anxiety, seizures, and insomnia but can have adverse effects when misused. Here are four reasons benzos are becoming a growing cause for concern:

  1. They alter the mind. Though many Americans use benzos to improve their sleep patterns and relieve anxiety, over time these drugs can have a damaging impact on mental state, prompting changes in mood as well as cognitive decline. A 2017 journal study found that long-term benzo users suffered from memory loss, lack of concentration, and difficulty processing new information. Other psychological symptoms of benzo use include aggressive behavior, irritability, and disturbing dreams, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
  2. They are addictive. Benzodiazepines are generally prescribed for short-term use. If people take these medications frequently or continue to use them for longer than recommended, they face an increased risk of addiction. Users can build a tolerance to these drugs after just three to four weeks, meaning they have to take higher doses to experience the medication’s original effects. The New England Journal of Medicine discovered that nearly 50 percent of people who use benzos longer than one month become dependent on them.
  3. They can cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Abruptly discontinuing benzo use can result in withdrawal symptoms that range from uncomfortable to life-threatening. Harmful side effects may include panic attacks, anxiety, depression, and seizures. “Benzodiazepine detox can be especially challenging to navigate because some withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety and seizures, may have been the reason users began self-medicating initially,” says Carolee Paruta, Regional Director of Outpatient Services at Mountainside treatment center. “This leaves benzodiazepine users in a cycle that can be difficult to break.”
  4. They are deadly when combined with opioids. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, benzos factor into more than 30 percent of opioid overdoses. Because opioids and benzos are both sedatives that can suppress breathing, mixing these drugs can have lethal consequences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the combination of benzos and opioids claimed the lives of over 11,500 individuals in 2017.

Because anti-anxiety medications are generally prescribed by a doctor, many people underestimate their dangers. Those who are worried about their use should share their concerns with a doctor, who may be able to recommend other alternatives. People suffering from benzodiazepine addiction are encouraged to slowly taper off of these drugs in a clinical setting.