Benzodiazepines are effective medications for insomnia and anxiety. They influence GABA (the primary inhibitory transmitter of the CNS-central nervous system), causing the central nervous system to exhibit reduced neural activity. This brings a calming effect, and you may experience reduced emotional stimulation, slowed breathing, sedation, decreased overthinking, and anxiety relief. However, benzodiazepines, commonly known as tranquilizers, are typically prescribed for “as needed” or short-term use. Read on for six long-term effects of benzodiazepine abuse.
1- Benzodiazepine Dependence.
If you use benzodiazepines for an extended period, you develop tolerance to the drug. This results in taking a more significant amount of the drug to get a similar effect to the smaller doses. As the tolerance grows, you may develop physical dependence. When left untreated, dependence on the drug develops into benzodiazepine addiction. Below are signs that you are developing a benzodiazepine addiction;
- Taking more benzodiazepine than prescribed by your healthcare provider.
- Using the drug during hazardous situations like when driving
- Combining the medication with other drugs
- Craving benzodiazepine use
- Continuing to use benzodiazepine despite physical and psychological side effects caused by the drug
- Neglecting occupational and family responsibilities due to drug use
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug
- Spending most of your time thinking about acquiring and using the drug
2- Cardiovascular issues.
If you use benzodiazepine for an extended period or take more than was prescribed, you increase the risk of slowing down the heart rate. This deprives the heart of the exercise it needs, which could result in the development of blood clots. A benzodiazepine overdose or combining this sedative with other drugs could even cause your heart to stop.
3- Respiratory problems
Benzodiazepine also slows down breathing rate when used in high dosages. When breathing is severely suppressed, hypoxia, a condition characterized by a lack of blood in body tissues occurs. Improper blood flow also prevents body tissues from receiving nutrients, leading to tissue death. Lack of nutrients in the body tissues can also lead to death.
4- Liver damage.
The liver is often the most severely affected body organ during drug abuse. This is because the liver metabolizes drugs. Using benzodiazepines for an extended period damages liver tissues and could even cause liver failure.
5- Cognitive decline.
Taking high doses of benzodiazepine for an extended period causes impairment of cognition, including verbal learning and memory, sustained attention, visual-motor, visual-conceptual and psychomotor abilities. This is because benzodiazepine binds to the translocator protein (TSPO) on the microglia’s cell organelles. When the TSPO binds, it activates microglia, causing them to decay and recycle synapses (the connection between your body’s nerve cells.)
6- Self-harm and suicide.
Long-term use of benzodiazepines is often associated with an increased risk of suicide and attempted suicide. This is due to the psychiatric disturbance caused by adverse benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms or side effects.
While benzodiazepine is perfect for anxiety relief and sedation, its long-term use could result in dependence, cardiovascular problems, breathing problems, liver damage, cognitive decline, and suicide attempts. Be sure to consider alternative treatments for anxiety, such as antidepressants and psychotherapy. In cases of benzodiazepine addiction, seek immediate treatment and management options.