Think of a time when you have felt extremely stressed out. What do you remember about that experience?
Maybe your heart kicked into a higher gear. Maybe you started sweating. Maybe it felt as though your thoughts were racing and you had no ability to slow them down. It was likely very difficult for you to function while you were feeling this high level of anxiety or panic. You no doubt wanted to avoid or resolve whatever situation or issue was causing these feelings.
And the good news is that in most cases, we can resolve stressful situations and reclaim our general sense of calmness. Once we have the stress under control, we can once again handle our various responsibilities. The feeling of relief from that level of anxiety is welcome and wonderful.
Now imagine that you always feel the way you felt during that stressful time. You’re always aware of your heartbeat as it pounds in your chest. You sweat or feel short of breath or even lightheaded all of the time. And your racing thoughts never slow down. Imagine how difficult it would be to live under these conditions. The desire for relief from these feelings of panic is extremely strong—and for good reason. Ongoing anxiety can upend everything about your life.
While many approaches can help reduce your overall levels of stress and anxiety, some anxiety disorders are best addressed via medication. Your doctor may prescribe a drug from the class of pharmaceuticals known as benzodiazepines—or benzos for short.
The good news is that benzos can be extremely effective. The bad news is that they can also be addictive.
Benzo Benefit & Badness
All of the benzos—Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and more—work in the same way. These drugs are known as central nervous system depressants, which simply means they slow the activity in the brain. So if your thoughts are like race cars going full tilt around the track, a benzo can apply the brakes and slow your thoughts to a more reasonable speed.
It makes perfect sense that a person with anxiety would want to keep feeling the relief that benzos bring. But benzos are for short-term use. So if someone is desperate to prevent their anxiety from returning, they may go to extremes to keep getting the drug when the prescription runs out.
For example, they may try “doctor shopping,” meaning they will make appointments with a number of different physicians in the hope of acquiring more than one prescription. Or they may steal the drug from other users (perhaps under the guise of “borrowing” a pill or two). Or they may seek out an illicit but reliable source to ensure they always have access to more.
None of these activities, it goes without saying, is a good idea. As a person continues to misuse benzos, the consequences become increasingly clear.
Benzo Battles: Caught Between Continued Use & Withdrawal Symptoms
Continuing to take a benzo longer and/or at higher doses than your prescription calls for starts to take a toll on your physical and mental health. Symptoms may include:
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Loss appetite, nausea, and/or vomiting
- Headaches and/or dizziness
- Excessive sweating
- Confusion and/or hallucinations
- Excessive sleeping and/or fainting
Faced with those symptoms, it is only natural that you would try to stop taking the drug. But the symptoms of withdrawal can make that very difficult. Withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Intense cravings for the drug that are difficult to overcome
- Increased feelings of anxiety and/or depression
- Abdominal cramps
- Increased blood pressure
- Increase heart rate and/or heart palpitations
- Seizures occur in rare cases
The Way Out Is to Get In to Treatment
Once you have found yourself caught between the dangers of ongoing use and the rigors of withdrawal, you may conclude that you have arrived in a no-win situation. It might be tempting to give into despair.
But happily, there is hope. And the place to find it is in a fully accredited residential treatment facility. Medically supervised detox will help you withstand the challenges of withdrawal, and a rehab program built around individual and group therapy will introduce you to the resources and strategies that can help you maintain your hard-won sobriety.
At Wooded Glen Recovery Center, we pride ourselves on personalized, compassionate, evidence-based care that will help you reclaim your sobriety. In addition, we’re committed to a continuum of care—which means that we offer resources and support after you leave treatment. We are here to help.