How Do Benzodiazepines Impact A First Responder?

By Safe Call Now Admin Staff

Prescription medications may not seem like much of a risk for first responders. After all, your doctor prescribed this treatment to help you with an issue. Benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin and others can provide relief from anxiety, insomnia, social anxiety disorders and even alcohol withdrawals.

However, even following your doctor’s orders carefully can put you at risk for dependence or addiction. Let’s take a look at some of the effects benzodiazepines can have on the body.

How Do Benzodiazepines Work?

Benzodiazepines (sometimes called benzos or downers) are designed to depress the central nervous system. By calming nerve impulses, they can reduce anxiety. However, a rush of endorphins much like those released with the use of opioids and other powerfully addictive drugs also takes place. These good feelings can cause a person to seek out this state more often than his prescription dictates. Long-term use builds tolerance, which can also lead to experimenting with higher doses.

Benzo Addiction & Tolerance

What makes benzos so addictive in the first place has to do with something called “half-life.” In simple terms, the “half-life” of drugs like benzodiazepines refers to the amount of time it takes for the body to eliminate 50% of the starting dosage of the medication. For example, Xanax typically has an elimination half-life of 9-16 hours. So, for a healthy person, that means the substance should be entirely out of their bodies after about four days.

The problem arises when people begin to take more than the recommended dosage or take the medication more frequently than prescribed. This behavior has a compounding effect on the elimination half-life and can quickly increase the user’s tolerance, leading to more and more medication needed to achieve the same effect.

Benzodiazepine Side Effects

In addition to the intended effects, people using benzodiazepines may also experience:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Constipation
  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Lowered sex drive
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight gain

More severe side effects can develop—particularly with long-term use of six months or longer. These can include:

  • Addiction
  • Dangerously low blood pressure
  • Drastic changes in heart rate
  • Fainting
  • Forgetting things or how to complete tasks
  • Increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Trouble breathing

Withdrawal Symptoms Associated with Benzodiazepines

Because benzodiazepines are chemically altering your brain every time you use them, giving them up can be quite a challenge. Those who try to quit cold turkey have a high rate of relapse. A doctor or treatment program may recommend slowly weaning yourself off the medication to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Typically, longer periods of use can bring more intense withdrawals when trying to quit. You might encounter some or all of the following:

  • Changes in perception
  • Dry heaving or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Increased anxiety or instances of panic attacks
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Sore or stiff muscles
  • Sweating
  • Tremors

If you, someone you love or know needs help, call:

Safe Call Now:  24 Hour Confidential Hotline:  206-459-3020

For more information on the First Responders program:  Click here

Or call Shannon Clairemont at 661-466-6352 or Vanessa Stapleton at 304-651-3008