It all started with a single prescription. You felt overly anxious and depressed. Everything was difficult—sleeping, eating, and even just waking up in the morning was a chore. This went on for months before your doctor gave you a prescription.
Suddenly everything changed. Life was enjoyable again. You were able to sleep and you felt calm, relaxed, and capable. You were no longer buried under anxiousness and darkness. Life was good and you didn’t want that goodness to fade, so you started popping a few more pills to keep those good feelings going.
Eventually, you figured out that having a drink or two with your pills made you feel even better. Getting more pills quickly became all you could think about. Your doctor refused to write you another prescription so you stole some from a friend’s medicine cabinet. You wanted a stronger high so you started taking your anxiety medication with these pain pills you bought off a friend of a friend.
One day, your boss caught you doing the drugs at work and he fired you. Now your days consist of selling anything and everything you can find to buy more pills and get high. You never thought this could happen to you, but you’re utterly miserable, depressed, addicted and alone.
Drug abuse and addiction don’t always display themselves in the ways we expect. Many people are addicted to drugs and continue to go to work, raise children, pursue an education, and carry on with a successful life and career. This may go on for a brief time, but despite outward appearances, the addiction will eventually become unmanageable and cause serious physical, emotional, and relational damage.
Prevalence of Addiction to Prescription Drugs
One in six adults in America takes a psychiatric drug, with antidepressants and anxiety relievers being the most common.1 The increasing use and abuse of benzodiazepines (anxiety-relieving medications) is perhaps most alarming because overdose deaths associated with them have soared in recent years.2
Benzodiazepine addiction is common because many people become dependent on their anxiety medication(s) to deal with stress, depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions. Long-term use of benzodiazepines and other prescription medications can lead to tolerance and addiction, especially if they are not taken as prescribed. The road to addiction is a slippery slope, and you may not even realize you’re slipping until you reach the bottom. Many people who regularly take anti-anxiety medications may be at risk of developing an addiction.
Unfortunately, stopping all benzodiazepine use suddenly can be very dangerous and may result in severe withdrawal. For this reason, it’s best to enroll in a medically assisted benzodiazepine detox program before starting rehab.
Commonly Prescribed Anxiety Medications
Benzodiazepines are some of the most commonly prescribed antidepressant medications in the United States. There are more than 15 different types of these medications and they all have a high potential for abuse, especially when consumed with alcohol or other depressant drugs.3 Here are a few of the most commonly prescribed anxiety medications.4
- Xanax (alprazolam) – Doctors typically prescribe Xanax to patients who are suffering from anxiety and panic disorders. It is a fast-acting benzodiazepine, meaning the effects are felt very quickly. Xanax is especially addictive when abused.5
- Librium (chlordiazepoxide) – Librium is also used to treat anxiety disorders but it can be habit-forming. Many people abuse this drug by taking it with the intention of getting high. In these instances, people snort the contents of the capsules or combine it with opioids or alcohol for a stronger effect.6
- Valium (diazepam) – Valium is typically prescribed to patients who are suffering from anxiety, panic disorders, or depression. It’s highly addictive when taken at higher doses and can result in effects similar to that of alcohol abuse.7
- Ativan (lorazepam) – Ativan is yet another common anxiety medication but it can also be used to treat seizure disorders like epilepsy. It’s a fast-acting, highly addictive benzodiazepine that is meant to be used on a short-term basis. Ativan is frequently used for suicide attempts, so long-term use and abuse of it is highly discouraged, especially for those who are suffering from depression.8
- Klonopin (clonazepam) – Using Klonopin for more than four weeks, even as directed by a doctor, can lead to dependence and addiction. This drug is frequently prescribed to treat social anxiety, generalized anxiety, phobias, and panic disorders, but it’s also highly addictive. Most people who abuse Klonopin also abuse another type of drug.9
Despite the fact that each of these benzodiazepines is commonly prescribed by doctors, they are all very addictive and carry a high risk for abuse.
Who Is Most at Risk?
Anyone could potentially develop an addiction to benzodiazepines, but some people may be at higher risk than others.
- Veterans – Many veterans with PTSD, depression, and anxiety are given benzodiazepines by their doctors. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for veterans to abuse these prescription medications in an effort to cope with environmental stressors and the effects of trauma.
- People diagnosed with anxiety disorders or depression – These people are more likely than others to have easy access to benzodiazepine prescriptions. This may put them at higher risk of developing an addiction.
- Teens and college students – Teens and college students may be more likely to abuse benzodiazepines to handle the stresses of high school and college life. This is especially true if their parents or friends have been prescribed benzodiazepines in the past.
- People with high-stress jobs – Lawyers, firefighters, airline pilots, corporate executives, and people with other types of high-stress jobs may suffer from extreme stress in the workplace and may be more inclined to use drugs and alcohol to cope.
- People who are abusing opioids (especially methadone) – According to an article published by the American Family Physician, 80 percent of benzodiazepine abuse is polydrug abuse, most commonly involving opioids. Anyone abusing opioids or other drugs may be more likely to also abuse their anxiety medication.
Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse
Drug abuse rarely goes unnoticed by family members and friends. There are many signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse that may signal a need for addiction treatment. If you believe that you or a loved one may be addicted to anxiety medication and/or other drugs, the following behaviors may be warning signs.
- Being overly secretive.
- Frequently appearing disoriented or confused.
- Acting depressed on most days.
- Talking about self-harm or suicide.
- Neglecting friends, family, and hobbies.
- Displaying sudden changes in personal appearance and hygiene.
- Being irritable, aggressive, and frequently very tired.
- Withdrawing from others.
- Abusing other substances, such as alcohol.
- Having difficulties with interpersonal relationships.
- Declining performance at school or work.
Getting Help for Prescription Drug Abuse
If you or a loved one is addicted to your anxiety medication, you are not alone. Many people start with a single prescription and end up with a full-blown addiction, yet they go on to live fulfilling, sober lives after completing rehab. But before you can address the issues of the mind and the heart in rehab, you must first address the physical dependence and addiction of the body. This is what detox is for.
Drug detox is the first step to overcoming drug abuse and addiction. Suddenly stopping all benzodiazepine use is very dangerous, especially if you are abusing multiple substances, but a medically assisted drug and alcohol detox program can help you safely withdrawal from all substances and achieve a stable, sober state of being.
At a medical detox center, a team of nurses, doctors, and therapists will work with you to help you overcome your addiction and treat any uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal along the way. Then, when you are ready, they will provide individualized recommendations for ongoing treatment to help you maintain your sobriety.
Although you may feel like your situation is hopeless, it’s not. The addiction treatment professionals at Briarwood Detox Center are here to help. Call for more information about our drug detox programs or to enroll today.