There are thousands of people in Florida that have been affected by addiction in the past several years. The rise of opioid addiction and overdose has taken a lot of the media spotlight, but there are other illicit and prescription substances that can cause substance use disorders. Many Floridians use prescription benzodiazepines to treat a variety of problems, but they can also be misused. Benzodiazepines can lead to dependence and addiction when they’re used for too long or when they’re misused. How can benzodiazepines addictions be treated? 

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that are used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and muscle tensions. They may also be used to treat muscle spasms that can be caused by epilepsy. Benzodiazepines are also in a wider category called central nervous system depressants, along with alcohol and barbiturates. Depressants work by slowing down activity in your nervous system, which helps you to relax and rest. More specifically, benzodiazepines work with a chemical in your brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This chemical is important in helping you to wind down and get sleep. 

People with anxiety disorders and insomnia may have psychological or biochemical problems that make it difficult to sleep or calm anxious feelings. Benzodiazepines can bind to GABA receptors and increase the efficacy of GABA. When you take benzos, GABA has a stronger effect on your body, allowing you to fall asleep. Its anxiolytic properties also help to ease the symptoms of anxiety disorders. 

However, benzodiazepines are also known to lead to chemical dependence and substance use problems when the drug is used for too long. Using several popular benzodiazepines for more than a few weeks can cause your body to adapt to the drug in a way that leads to tolerance and dependence. When you stop using a benzo after becoming dependent, you may experience withdrawal symptoms that are uncomfortable and even dangerous. Benzodiazepines can also be misused as a recreational drug, causing a high that’s similar to alcohol intoxication. 

Benzodiazepine Overdose Symptoms

High doses of a benzodiazepine can cause dangerous symptoms that are similar to severe alcohol intoxication. Benzodiazepines are associated with high rates of fatal accidental overdose when the drug is used on its own. However, it can cause some uncomfortable and potentially dangerous symptoms. High doses can cause drowsiness and a feeling of heavy sedation. In benzodiazepines with a long half-life, you may feel sedated the morning after you take the drug, which can lead to cognitive impairment and other issues related to intoxication. 

Like alcohol, benzodiazepines can make it dangerous to drive, especially in high doses. Very large doses can cause you to experience potentially life-threatening symptoms like respiratory depression, which can lead to coma, brain damage, and death. Benzodiazepines are thought to be safer during an overdose than other, more powerful depressants like barbiturates, but they do have some potential to cause life-threatening overdose symptoms. Benzos can also be deadly when they’re combined with other depressants, alcohol, or opioids. 

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms

Benzodiazepines can cause some uncomfortable and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms, especially when you quit abruptly after a long period of chemical dependence. The most common symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal are related to rebound symptoms. Benzos are used to treat insomnia and anxiety, but if you become dependent on them, you may need them to avoid those symptoms. Rebound symptoms involve the return of anxiety and insomnia-related symptoms during withdrawal. 

You may also experience tremors, nausea, vomiting, restlessness, jitteriness, and heart palpitations. More severe symptoms can include sudden confusion, panic, an irregular heartbeat, chest pains, seizures, heart failure, and stroke. Even though depressants can cause potentially dangerous symptoms when you quit cold turkey, going through withdrawal with medical care can significantly decrease your risk of fatal consequences. Medical treatment can help you avoid or address serious symptoms of withdrawal. 

Florida Benzodiazepine Misuse Statistics

Drug addiction, misuse, and overdose are significant problems in the state of Florida and all over the country. The state’s many seaports and high population make it a popular target for the illegal drug trade. However, it’s also relatively easy to obtain prescription drugs from both legal and illegal sources in the state’s metropolitan areas. 

Between 2018 and 2019, there was a four percent increase in the total number of drug-related deaths that were investigated by medical examiners in Florida. Between January and June of 2020, there was a 13 percent increase in drug-related deaths when compared to the same time frame in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic is thought to have increased the number of addiction and overdose through 2020. 

In Florida, prescription drugs are found in more drug-related deaths than illicit drugs. These prescriptions include benzodiazepines and common prescription opioids. In the first half of 2020, there were 2,182 deaths where benzodiazepines were found by medical examiners. Of these, 833 were related to alprazolam, which is a benzodiazepine that’s sold under the popular brand name Xanax. In the first half of 2020, benzodiazepines were thought to be the chief cause of death in 595 cases. 

Xanax-related deaths were most common in West Palm Beach, followed closely by Miami and St. Petersburg. Xanax was the ninth most common drug that was found in descendants after alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, meth, and several opioids. 

Does Florida Have a Benzodiazepine Problem?

Benzodiazepines are frequently used and misused in Florida, which leads to a high degree of exposure to potential dependence, addiction, and overdose. In Florida, alcohol and opioids are the most common drugs to be found in drug-related deaths. 2020 was the first time alcohol wasn’t the most frequent substance that was associated with drug-related deaths. It was surpassed by fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. Plus, it’s important to note that benzodiazepine-related deaths typically involve other drugs as well. From July to June of 2020, in West Palm Beach, the Florida city with the highest rate of alprazolam-related deaths, only four deaths involved just alprazolam and no other drugs. Of those four, alprazolam was thought to be the cause of death in only one case. 

However, when benzodiazepines are combined with the most common dangerous drugs of abuse in Florida, like alcohol and fentanyl, it can be deadly. Mixing benzos with opioids or alcohol can quickly lead to respiratory depression, unconsciousness, and a slow heart rate, even with relatively moderate doses of each drug in the mix. 

How Does Benzodiazepine Treatment Work?

Substance use disorders that are related to benzodiazepines can be treated in several ways. The treatment you get will depend on your specific needs. Your first step is to assess your needs with professional help. You can start by speaking to your doctor, who can help you assess your current needs. If you’ve only been using benzodiazepines for a short time in moderate doses, you may be able to taper off the drug with your doctor’s help. Tapering involves gradually lowered doses of the drug to help avoid serious withdrawal symptoms. It’s important to ask your doctor about tapering before attempting it on your own. While you’re tapering, if the dose is too low, you could experience potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. 

If your dependence is more severe, if you’ve become addicted, or if you have a history of substance use problems, you may need more robust addiction treatment. Addiction treatment is available in Florida for a variety of substance use disorders, including benzodiazepine addiction. Rehab and substance use disorder treatment is a form of health care, and you can find it through both private and federally-funded sources. Most treatment centers accept private healthcare insurance plans, and insurance providers are required by law to offer coverage for addiction and mental health services.  

When you enter an addiction treatment program, you’ll go through an assessment process to find the right level of care for your needs. You’ll meet with medical and clinical professionals. You may go through a medical examination and a psychological assessment. Clinicians often use the ASAM Criteria, a list of six important factors in treatment, to determine the right level of care for you. 

Since benzodiazepines can cause some potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms, treatment may start with medical detox, the highest level of care in the treatment of substance use problems. Detox typically lasts between five and ten days, but it’s not enough to effectively treat a severe substance use disorder. After detox, you may continue in addiction treatment in inpatient or outpatient treatment, depending on your needs. Inpatient and residential treatment involve 24-hour access to care, which can include medical monitoring or clinical care. Residential treatment can involve apartment-style housing with more independence while you still have access to round-the-clock care. 

Outpatient Treatment in Florida

Outpatient treatment allows you to live independently while you attend addiction treatment services during the day. It’s reserved for people that have a low risk of serious medical or psychological problems that require higher levels of monitoring and care. It’s also ideal for someone that doesn’t have a high risk for relapse or continued active addiction. Outpatient treatment is separated into three levels: partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient services. Each level is separated based on the amount of time you spend in treatment. Partial hospitalization involves 20 or more hours per week, intensive outpatient treatment involves nine or more hours, and outpatient treatment involves fewer than nine hours of treatment per week.  

Through each of these levels of care, you will be able to live at home while you attend individual and group therapy sessions during the day. You may also go through behavioral therapies and other treatment options depending on your needs.

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