Benzodiazepines are a class of sedative-hypnotic drugs that inhibit the central nervous system when taken at high doses. They also boast calming, anticonvulsant and immobilizing effect when taken at low doses.
The world learned about benzodiazepines in the 1960s. Before they were discovered, doctors used to treat anxiety and insomnia with alcohol and barbiturates. Benzodiazepines have a lower risk of addiction, and they can be described as emotionally normalizing in contrast to the emotionally choking effect caused by antipsychotics.
Benzodiazepines help patients to pay less attention to their misfortunes. Benzos reduce motor activity and increases immunity to emotional aggravations. Even small doses of certain benzodiazepines can lift up the spirits and improve motivation in addition to the calming effect.
Benzodiazepines can treat neurasthenic disorders by removing the symptoms of irritability and exhaustion. This leads to a behavior-in-order, deeper, and more productive night sleep, which occurs much faster. Benzodiazepines have a significant effect on treating psychasthenia disorders. The feeling of constant doubts, anxiety, indecision fades if it does not disappear completely.
Benzodiazepines are also effective against phobias and obsessions. Some drugs, especially Alprazolam, even have a mild antidepressant effect in patients with neurotic depression, treating their anxiety and sleep disorders.
Types of Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines are usually divided into short-term and long-term drugs by their elimination half-life. The short-term medication’s half-life lasts from 2 to 6 hours. The long-term drugs have a half-life of 20-150 hours.
Such short-term benzodiazepines as Alprazolam, Triazolam, Midazolam, Lorazepam have a high risk of developing addiction. It is because the drug effects are short, which can lead to early withdrawal symptoms.
For example, patients with panic disorders, who are prescribed Alprazolam, can suffer from relapses of anxiety between doses. This can cause them to increase the frequency of taking drugs to 4-5 times daily. Patients who take Lorazepam for insomnia might awaken early or get the feeling of anxiety.
It is possible to resolve such problems by prescribing a long-term benzodiazepines. For example, it could be better to take Clonazepam instead of Alprazolam to treat chronic anxiety and to switch Lorazepam to Diazepam to treat insomnia. Patients can take benzodiazepines once to relieve stress quickly or repeatedly to treat chronic disorders.
Situations that require single benzodiazepines use:
* Insomnia during a change of time zones
* Emergency assistance with agitation or severe anxiety
* Anesthesia before surgery
* Rapid sedation
Disorders that require repeated benzodiazepines use:
* Long-term treatment of anxiety
* Chronic insomnia treatment
* Neuroleptic akathisia treatment
* Prescription as an addition to antidepressants
If benzodiazepines are used to treat insomnia, it is best to go with the short-term drug if a patient has difficulties with falling asleep. However, if the sleep is interrupted in the middle of the night, it is best to take the long-term drug, which has fewer withdrawal symptoms but might cause daytime sleepiness.
Benzodiazepines Side Effects
Benzodiazepines have a muscle relaxant effect. It appears same day after the treatment starts, and a patient can feel heaviness in arms, legs, and eyelids. It can be challenging to go upstairs. A patient can get asthenia, lethargy, lack of strength, and quick tiredness. Some severe side effects can rarely include involuntary urination and bowel movements.
Somatic side effects may include facial swelling, nausea, headaches, dry oral mucous membranes, as well as arterial hypotension disorders. Other side effects can include impaired speech articulation, ataxia, episodes of amnesia, problems with memory.
Still, the main side effect caused by benzodiazepines is addiction and withdrawal. Addiction can appear after a long course of treatment, which can be prescribed to patients with panic and generalized anxiety disorders for several months.
Addiction to benzodiazepines is a combination of behavioral, cognitive, and physiological signs indicating an intense craving for benzodiazepines and an inability to control its consumption. At the same time, benzodiazepines are much less addictive than cocaine, opioids, alcohol, barbiturates, and nicotine. Benzodiazepine addiction is often observed in alcoholics because the drug and alcohol affect the same parts of the brain.
Doctors fear the addictive effect of benzodiazepines so much that they often prescribe lower dosages, which may not fully reveal the therapeutic potential of this drug. Laws that restrict the use of benzodiazepines have affected the frequency of prescription. At the same time, prescription of more dangerous and less effective medications such as barbiturates, meprobamate, and methiprilon has increased.
Benzodiazepines develop psychological addiction mainly in patients with psychotic and neurotic disorders, which are accompanied by increased suggestibility and form spiritual comfort while taking the drug. Benzos addiction can be considered non-pathological if a patient does not increase the dose.
It is possible to trace the history of benzodiazepines back to Nazi times. Back in 1941, the Germans threatened to occupy Switzerland. Basel-based pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd began to lay off its Jewish employees to the U.S. Chemist Leo Sternbach was one of them. He was the head of Roche’s headquarters and laboratory in New Jersey, U.S.
In 1955 in New Jersey, another medical researcher Dr. Frank Milan Berger accidentally synthesized a drug called Miltown while studying muscle relaxants in his laboratory. It can be considered the predecessor of Xanax.
Andrea Tone wrote in his book titled “The Age of Anxiety: A History of America’s Turbulent Affair with Tranquilizers.”
It allowed patients to work well and earn money. It also allowed playing a social role, such as making decisions, staying confident, and having self-control
During the Cold War, when children were hiding from the Soviet atomic bombs under desks, their fathers were taking Miltown before going to work. The pills became famous among women as well. Tiffany & Co even released a diamond-encrusted pillbox.
In 1963, Roche invented its response to the famous drug Miltown. It was Valium. Roche launched an advertising campaign aiming primarily at women. They were proposed to forget about stress, mood swings, and romantic torment by taking a single pill. A commercial was released in 1970. Its heroine was teacher Miss Raymond who suffered a lot from menopause but recovered after taking Valium.
Valium became a real hit. It was the first drug in history to bring $100 million in sales. Nevertheless, as time passed by, people began to talk about the side effects of taking Valium. In 1975’s article published by Vogue, Valium was called an enemy-pill. The article talked about an addiction a new trendy drug could cause, which could be worse than heroin side effects. The same year, U.S. authorities restricted Valium sales and punished for illegal drug sales. As a result, the drug was prescribed twice less than before.
Valium indeed had dangerous side effects. That drug slowly passed out of the body. Its traces could be detected even several days after usage. Patients who were taking Valium often acted like zombies.
You feel no warmth, love; you cannot cry, taste and smell
Barbara Gordon wrote in her book titled “I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can,” devoted to recovery from drug addiction.
Xanax changed everything. Chemists succeeded in inventing a drug formula that had similar properties as Valium but passed out of the body in a few hours. It was planned that the new medicine would help to fight with panic attacks. However, consumers soon discovered that it was perfect for everyday tasks such as surviving a family dinner, meeting with a boss, or going to an important interview. One pill could often replace a visit to a therapist.
And nothing was wrong with that. Professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, Ronald C. Kessler, believed that a pill of alprazolam could indeed help a person facing serious problems such as bankruptcy or sending a child to war. He said:
It is no longer a field of science. Still, sometimes a pharmacological solution is just what you need.
However, there are multiple things to worry about in modern life. Mass media and self-made experts who love sensations predict a deadly threat from the wireless Internet, cell phones, and genetically modified products. And no one cares that the entire scientific community recognizes the safety of GMO products. Why? A five-letter pill helps to cope with all these problems.
Steven C. Hayes, a clinical psychologist at the University of Nevada, believes that benzodiazepines perform an essential function. They compensate for the flaws in the evolution of the homo sapiens. The world develops too fast, and a man cannot handle all its challenges. It is when the achievements of modern pharmaceuticals come handy.
Still, Hollywood celebrities are not the primary victims of anti-anxiety drugs. Ordinary Americans are.
Anxiety helps me to better cope with my duties. A little anxiety makes me a good employee and a less happy person too. I fear that I would be lazy if I were not constantly afraid to be a loser or get fired
one employee of a prestigious PR company once told NYMag.
For many residents of the U.S., it is an upright habit to take well-recognized pills. It is similar to drinking a glass of wine at dinner or enjoying a bottle of beer with friends. With regular antidepressants, it is necessary to follow the prescription for 2-3 weeks before you can see any results. With Xanax, it is a lot easier and faster. When you are worried, you take a pill and calm down. Xanax can be compared to a cup of coffee, and its cost is pretty much the same.
Interestingly, passion for taking Xanax and Valium often develops in Americans who eat organic food, run in the mornings, try vegetarianism, and, in a moment of madness, refuse to vaccinate their children.
Doctors also play their roles. When they see how patients suffer, they are willing to prescribe increased doses of alprazolam. According to medical workers, more than five percent of U.S. adult population takes benzodiazepines today. It is more than 12 million people.
At the same time, from 10 to 25 percent of these people are addicted to the drug. They cannot stop taking it. An attempt to reject leads to terrible panic attacks, and statistics does not sound encouraging. Between 1996 and 2013, the number of regular prescriptions increased by 30 percent, and the number of prescribed drugs doubled.
According to the U.S. authorities, more than 9 thousand people (24 people per day) died from a benzodiazepine overdose in 2015.
More often, modern anxiety specialists, for example, Steven C. Hayes, use a new method called “acceptance and commitment therapy.” They believe that it is necessary to take anxiety for granted to suppress it, without giving it full control over emotions. It is a must to stay calm and move on.
In the end, stress motivates us to move forward, seek, and achieve, instead of sitting still. By suppressing the first signs of anxiety with uncountable Xanax pills, a person risks joining a list of unlucky people who die because of drug addiction.
Meanwhile, you should not be afraid of Xanax. These affordable and effective pills are excellent for treating panic attacks, which cannot be ignored by doctors. The abuse of benzodiazepines carries a shadow over Xanax as another semi-legal drug to get high. But firstly, this essential medicine can help tens of thousands of patients. And secondly, it is safe when taken under control.