Did you know that Benzodiazepines and alcohol are the only two substances that have withdrawal symptoms that can directly cause death? This is due to the potential for severe seizures during withdrawal.
Withdrawal from other substances such as methamphetamines or opioids may make you feel like you are dying, but withdrawal from these substances won’t directly kill you. (The exception being in the case of dehydration caused by flu-like symptoms associated with withdrawal.)
To clarify, we are specifically referencing death due to substance withdrawal, not overdose deaths, which can be caused by a wide range of substances.
What are Benzodiazepines (Benzos)?
Benzodiazepines (Benzos) are in the family of drugs known as mild tranquilizers and are some of the most commonly prescribed medications in the Unities States.
Valium, Xanax, Ativan, and Librium are all examples of a benzodiazepine. Physicians will prescribe these medications for anxiety, insomnia, alcohol withdrawal, seizure control, muscle relaxation, and sometimes before anesthetics used before surgeries. These are all legitimate conditions to be medicated for, and benzos produce sedation and muscle relaxation that can help with each of these conditions by acting on the central nervous system.
Are Benzodiazepines addictive?
Despite their many helpful uses, benzos are highly addictive and can lead to dependence even when taken as prescribed. Once your body is physically and psychologically dependent on a benzo, stopping can be a great challenge.
Even if you are able to stop abruptly, that too can be dangerous to your wellbeing as it may be accompanied by withdrawal symptoms such as:
- sleep disturbance,
- increase tension and anxiety,
- panic attacks,
- hand tremors,
- difficulty concentrating,
- weight loss,
- muscular pain,
- psychosis and/or seizure (which can be deadly).
It is often more difficult and more dangerous to withdraw people from benzodiazepines than it is from heroin. Why?
Heroin withdrawals are usually over within a week, and heroin withdrawal symptoms do not directly result in death (only indirectly through dehydration, as mentioned previously). However, benzo withdrawals can sometimes last for months, and can result in seizure and death.
This is a conundrum faced by many doctors who prescribe benzo medications. On one hand, these medications can be extremely helpful in treating a wide range of conditions. On the other hand, as with many other medication, the use of benzos doesn’t come without risks.
What should you or your family members do if you’re prescribed a Benzodiazepine?
If and when you or a loved one is prescribed a benzo (or any other medication), be sure to understand the risks. Read about the drug’s risks online and talk with your doctor about your specific circumstances and medical history, since you may have a heightened risk for negative side effects or addiction.
If you or a loved one are struggling with benzodiazepine dependence, please reach out to our professionals at Healthy Minds for help. Do not attempt to go it alone!
Remember, benzo withdrawals can be so dangerous that experts recommend you should not stop taking any benzos abruptly nor should you attempt to taper off the medication without first consulting a professional.
For more information about benzo withdrawal, please visit withdrawal.org.