Rise in Teens Taking Benzos Like Xanax® is Dangerous
What You Don’t Know About Benzos Could Kill You
By Brian McAlister
There’s a dangerous nationwide trend among teens and young adults. It’s the abuse of the addictive prescription drug, benzodiazepine, a.k.a. benzos. You know the drug. It’s commonly prescribed to treat anxiety and panic attacks, and sold under such brand names as Valium®, Xanax®, Klonopin®, Librium® or Ativan®. Its danger, however, is less well known. For starters, when mixed with alcohol, it could be deadly.
Kyle Lawson explores the dangers of this growing epidemic in the article, Dangerous party drug could plague teens scarred by opioid epidemic. I’ll add my perspective from my direct experience as an addict in recovery, as well as a treatment center owner in the hope that parents, educators, medical professionals and legislators increase awareness and seek to stem this tide before it becomes the next opioid crisis.
Here’s what you need to know about benzodiazepines to help protect your loved ones.
The Basics of Benzos
Benzodiazepines are central nervous system (CNS) depressants. They inhibit brain activity, creating a calming, drowsy effect. Specifically, benzos increase gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a tranquilizing chemical in the central nervous system. GABA blocks nerve impulses in the brain to create a sedative effect.
A Schedule IV controlled substance, benzodiazepines are among the most prescribed drugs in America, despite their addiction rates. They are prescribed to treat anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, seizures and neurological disorders. Surprisingly, benzos are sometimes prescribed with opioids for chronic pain, a potentially lethal combination.
This drug also comes with side effects that include memory loss (e.g. “blacking out”), depression and mood swings. Over time, the body builds up a tolerance for benzodiazepines and “needs” it to establish normalcy.
The Rise of Benzos Among Young Adults
In his article, Lawson noted that “about 13,000 high school students in New York City used the drug recreationally in 2017, which was about the same as 2015, according to the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey.” He cautions however that “current data hasn’t caught up with reality.”
The reality is that getting benzos is fairly easy for teens and young adults. They don’t even have to sneak them from their parents, though some do. In some cases, a psychiatrist visit, with a diagnosis of anxiety or depression, is enough to gain access.
While this trend is new, it’s important to note that the “in” drugs are cyclical. I experimented with benzos decades ago as an addict. At the time, they were perceived as less risky than other types of drugs. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Importantly, there is a lack of communications about the dangers of benzos directed toward young people. While opioids land in the headlines, benzos are the secret epidemic that is also extremely dangerous.
Medical Help is Needed for Benzo Withdrawal
When I was in treatment in 1990, I knew a valium addict who went through detox with me. We kept in touch, and as it turned out, he would go through several more detoxes. It’s not that he would relapse and take more valium; it’s that his body stored the substance and as a result, it threw him into detox again months later.
But that’s not the only danger with benzos. Those who are addicted must seek medical help to wean away from the drugs. Stopping “cold turkey” could result in life-threatening seizures and post cardiac complications. (As a side note, alcohol is the only other drug that can kill you in the detox process.)
Why Benzos Are Dangerous
According to the article, “medical experts say ‘benzo’ use alone places users at risk of withdrawal and seizures, in addition to a higher risk of suicide. The biggest concern, however, is the mixture of ‘benzos’ with opioids and other depressants.”
To me, taking benzos with opioids and other depressants is like loading a gun, spinning the chamber and pointing it at your head. You may not die then, but eventually your luck will run out. Unfortunately, too many of our young people have no idea that mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol or opioids is a potentially lethal combination. That speaks to the fact that “more than half of the fatal overdoses reported on Staten Island in 2018 involved the presence of multiple depressants including ‘benzos,’ opioids and alcohol,” according to the article.
There are Non-Drug Options
As a society, we tend to look toward medication to “fix” our issues, whether it’s to “cure” a cold or to help with mental and emotional challenges. Lifestyle changes and other non-drug options are often effective and long-lasting, though they may take more time and effort to implement. I encourage all medical professionals and patients alike to consider all alternatives for depression, anxiety and other disorders. Counseling or talk therapy, meditation, nutrition and exercise are just some of the additional tools that can be effective.
There’s a great misconception that benzos are less risky because they are more pervasive. Don’t let their availability fool you into thinking that they’re not as dangerous as opioids. Make it a point to share the information in this blog with your teens and the young adults that you know. The conversation may just save their lives.
• Opioids and Fentanyl eluded the public consciousness for so long. Don’t let Benzos share the same fate, growing to epidemic proportions.
• Parents: start the conversation today with your kids and loved ones of any age.
• Educators: know what this drug is, and communicate about its dangers.
• Medical professionals: educate your patients about it.
• Legislators: keep your eye on it.
Together, we can prevent senseless, unnecessary deaths and curb addiction.
About the Author: Brian McAlister’s sober date is August 2, 1990. He is now the CEO and president of the Full Recovery Wellness Center and Freedom 365 Virtual Recovery System™. He is also the best-selling author of Full Recovery: The Recovering Person’s Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Power. Brian recently created Freedom 365 to put 24/7, secure addiction recovery support in the palm of your hand, anywhere and on any device.