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CNN’s This is Life With Lisa Ling Examines Benzo Crisis in the United States

CNN’s This Is Life with Lisa Ling examined the scope, origins and impact of the benzodiazepine (benzo) crisis in America. The piece takes a raw, unflinching look at the benzo withdrawal experience that thousands of people go through each day, the rampant prescribing rates in the United States, benzo withdrawal and the path to dependency and overdose that has ensnared so many. It also highlighted the enormity of use across all populations in the country and how easy it can be to get hooked.

One of the most alarming elements of the Lisa Ling benzo episode is its examination of the medical community’s role (and apparent negligence) in the escalating crisis. The American Psychiatric Association data indicates that young adults ages 18-25 are most vulnerable to benzo addiction.

What are Benzos?

Benzodiazepines, known as “benzos,” are a class of drugs with psychoactive qualities that help calm the brain and central nervous system. They work by enhancing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) on the GABA_A receptor, resulting in a range of effects such as sedation, sleep promotion, anxiety reduction, seizure control, and muscle relaxation.

Medical practitioners often prescribe benzos to address various issues like anxiety, insomnia, epilepsy-related seizures, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Some widely recognized medications in this category are Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), and Valium (diazepam).

Despite their benefits when used correctly and for short periods, benzos are associated with considerable risks. These medications have a high addiction potential, and extended use can lead to physical dependency and withdrawal symptoms upon cessation. Moreover, benzo overdoses can lead to severe health complications or even death, particularly when combined with other substances.

What are the Side Effects of Taking Benzodiazepines?

The use of benzodiazepines can lead to several common side effects, such as:

  • Tiredness: Feeling excessively tired or sleepy is a frequent side effect as benzodiazepines decelerate brain function.
  • Dizziness: These medications can disrupt balance and coordination, causing a sensation of unsteadiness or an increased risk of falling.
  • Cognitive Impairment: Benzodiazepines can affect mental functions, resulting in confusion or memory disturbances, especially in the elderly.
  • Speech Problems: Some people may struggle to speak while on these drugs.
  • Mood Fluctuations: Although benzodiazepines are prescribed to manage anxiety, they can occasionally induce feelings of sadness or mood alterations.

Extended use of benzodiazepines can give rise to more severe consequences, including developing a physical addiction and dependency. Abrupt discontinuation of the medication can lead to intense withdrawal symptoms such as heightened anxiety, restlessness, sleeplessness, and in extreme cases, convulsions.

It is essential to note that medications affect individuals differently, so not everyone will encounter these side effects. Nevertheless, if you or someone you know is using benzodiazepines and exhibits any concerning symptoms, it is vital to seek medical assistance. It is always recommended to consult a healthcare professional before initiating or discontinuing any medication.

Impact of Benzo Addiction

The National Institute on Drug Abuse[1] reports that over 11,500 Americans succumbed to overdose involving benzos in 2017. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that benzo overdose fatality among women has increased by over 830 percent in the past two decades.

Along the way to these tragic overdose deaths are sickness, withdrawal, mental illness and the painful exacerbation of the very conditions these drugs were initially formulated to treat. Some of the most extreme withdrawal symptoms include severe pain, hallucinations, psychosis, severe anxiety and depression and more.

Many doctors and clinicians in the addiction treatment industry are drawing parallels between escalating rates of benzo addiction and the rise of the opioid crisis that started in the early 1990s.

Effectively Combatting Benzo Overdose

Part of combating benzo addiction[2] and benzo overdose is ensuring that users have access to non-pharmacological means of treating their anxiety disorder. Recovery Unplugged uses music to help patients overcome their acute anxiety and more readily embrace the treatment process. Music has been found to alleviate anxiety in many different therapeutic contexts. Recovery Unplugged leverages this healing power to pave the way for world-class evidence-based treatment from experienced and qualified doctors, nurses and therapists. We have helped thousands of people overcome their benzo addiction, reduce their anxiety, cultivate healthy sleep habits and improve their quality of life.

As the benzos crisis is poised to threaten more and more Americans, and benzo overdose becomes more and more frequent, it’s time to examine more viable alternatives to treating long-term anxiety, while providing an accessible avenue to treatment for those who are struggling.

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