what if my son is addicted to benzos

Is My Son Addicted to Benzos?

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

You’re a parent with only one child, a 19-year old son. Over the past several months, you’ve noticed some troubling changes in his behavior. Increasingly, he’s been withdrawing from you and other family members. He’s also been skipping college classes and his grades are dropping.

Even more concerning are the physical changes. He seems tired most of the time and his speech is slurred. He seems confused much of the time, and on one occasion, he appeared to have trouble breathing. But today was the worst: he began violently shaking as if he were having a seizure.

You urge him to see a doctor, but he refuses. You wonder, what could be causing these physical and behavioral changes?

It Could Be a Benzodiazepine Addiction

One cause many families and loved ones don’t consider in circumstances like these is addiction to benzodiazepines, or “benzos.” An increasing number of Americans are using benzos, often to treat anxiety. For example, from 1996 to 2013, the number of prescriptions for benzos increased by 67%, taking total benzo prescriptions to more than 13 million.

This increase in usage has resulted in many more benzo addictions and benzo-related overdoses and deaths. For example, between the years 1999 and 2015, deaths caused by benzos increased sevenfold.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines include several drugs. According to Stat:

“‘Benzos’ is shorthand for benzodiazepines, a class of drugs often used to treat anxiety and insomnia. The dozen or so different types include Ativan, Klonopin, Valium, and Xanax. Most people have heard of them. More people than you might think are taking them (three benzodiazepines are in the top 10 most commonly prescribed psychotropic medications in the United States). Yet few people realize how many people get addicted to and die from them.”

Why Are Benzos So Dangerous?

Benzos can be an effective treatment for anxiety and insomnia—if, that is, they’re taken as prescribed by a doctor. The problem is that benzos are so powerful that the people who take them often can’t stop. Like many other drugs, benzos are intended to be used for short spans of time.

When people take them for a longer period than prescribed—and, at that point, without a doctor monitoring their usage—they stop working and can actually make the user’s anxiety or insomnia worse. That means taking more and more of the drug, setting up the vicious circle so common to drug addiction.

What Should You Do If You Suspect Someone Has Overdosed on Benzos?

First, you need to be aware of the signs of benzo overdose (also known as acute benzodiazepine toxicity) since such cases are on the rise and can be dangerous, in some instances even fatal). The typical signs of an overdose include:

  • respiratory problems (breathing could stop completely, in which case you should immediately call 911)
  • extreme drowsiness
  • clumsiness (often mistaken for drunkenness)
  • disorientation
  • erratic eye movements (called nystagmus)

In the emergency room the attending physician might want to pump the stomach of the overdose victim, particularly if the overdose occurred within the previous hour. If the drugs were taken within the previous 4 hours, the doctor might use a single dose of activated charcoal, which reduces absorption of the drug into the bloodstream. Finally, in cases of severe poisoning, the doctor might use flumazenil, which is an antidote for benzodiazepine toxicity.

What’s the Best Treatment for Chronic Benzo Addiction?

Recovery from benzo addiction typically begins with detox, which can take place at home under a doctor’s supervision (so-called outpatient treatment) or in a rehabilitation and recovery center. In either case, treatment entails slowly reducing the amount of the drug of choice over time.

In addition, benzo addicts generally require therapy and counseling to reduce the risk of a relapse. Counseling is of many kinds (such as individual, group, couples and family counseling) and can take place in an outpatient of inpatient setting. So-called 12-step programs (one of the hallmarks of Alcoholics Anonymous) are also effective for many people.

Get Addiction Treatment in Clovis, California

It’s important to bear in mind, especially if you are part of the support group who are there to help the addicted person, that addiction to benzos, like other drug and alcohol addictions, is a disease. No one wakes up one morning thinking, “I think I’d like to be a benzo addict.”

Although the root causes of addiction are not fully understood, what we do know is that people who suffer from addiction need help and support, not judgment and abandonment.

To learn more about our drug and alcohol addiction recovery services and receive a free consultation from one of our addiction specialists, call First Steps Recovery today: 844-489-0836.


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