Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy Benzos Should Get More Attention in the Battle Against Opioid Overdoses

Benzos Should Get More Attention in the Battle Against Opioid Overdoses

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It can be difficult to differentiate between treating patients for opioid addiction and benzodiazepine addiction because the crossover is so frequent. Many people with the opioid problem are also dependent on anxiety medications, and benzodiazepines are even used to help with the detox from opioids.  

The slang “benzos” refers to a class of medications developed to reduce anxiety, and they are frequently referred to as Xanax, which is the most popular brand of benzodiazepine. The rectangular Xanax tablets are referred to as “bars” “xan bars,” or “zans.” Both opioids and benzodiazepines are highly addictive, and benzos can lead to a dangerous detox that requires medical supervision.  

Anxiety medications have their place

Anxiety is a message from the body to the brain saying “something is wrong”.  While Xanax, and other benzodiazepines, can reduce the symptoms of this anxiety, a better intervention is to address the source of anxiety.  However, in many situations, taking a pill that quickly reduces anxiety has its benefits.

The problem is that benzos, like opioids, backfire. As your tolerance and dependence on them grow, they can make you more anxious, not less. Doctors ideally should prescribe benzodiazepines for a short period, and work with patients to taper down the use. 

Mixing opioids with benzos increases the risk of an overdose

Taking benzo alongside opioids bumps up the chances of a fatal overdose by nearly four times, according to a 2015 study published in the British Medical Journal. Making matters worse is the frequency with which fentanyl is now being mixed in with counterfeit Xanax pills, heightening the risk of accidental overdose, with many unsuspecting benzodiazepine users overdosing on fentanyl when it is mixed in with their medication.

Mindfulness is a better solution to managing anxiety 

Mindfulness activities, like meditation and breathing exercises, have been shown to reduce anxiety. Meditation helps you learn to stay with difficult feelings without analyzing, suppressing, or encouraging them. When you allow yourself to feel and acknowledge your worries, irritations, painful memories, and other difficult thoughts and emotions, this often helps them dissipate.

Helping someone with a substance use disorder (SUD)

If someone in your life is using benzos and growing dependent on them, you’re right to be concerned. Keep in mind that benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms are quite severe, and it may make it very difficult for your loved one to agree to address the problem. 

A good starting point is to talk with a drug and alcohol counsellor, who will be trained to diagnose the severity of the addiction and the danger.  Then, that counsellor, or perhaps an interventionist, will be able to help you approach your loved one.  

Getting treatment for a benzodiazepine addiction

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, plenty of resources are available, but not all treatment programs and methods are created equal. Knowing which programs and resources are backed by science and data is vital to ensuring you get the best help possible for you or your loved one. This is why we recommend seeking out comprehensive programs that use an array of evidence-based practices. We also recommend undergoing a benzo detox only under medical supervision. To see what resources are available in your area, contact SAMHSA’s confidential, 24/7 National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357. 

If you or your loved one are in California, you can also contact Confidential Recovery at 1-619-452-1200.

Scott H. Silverman is one of the nation’s leading experts on addiction and recovery.  He’s made countless public speaking engagements and appearances on television to raise the alarm about the opioid epidemic. He is the founder and CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient drug rehab program in San Diego that specializes in helping Veterans, first responders, and executives achieve long-term recovery.

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