What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Benzodiazepine Use
Benzodiazepines are a class of psychoactive drugs that are prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, seizures, muscle spasms, and other medical conditions. Common benzodiazepines include Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, and Ativan. While these drugs can provide short-term relief, long-term use carries significant risks. Some of the long term effects of benzodiazepine use are described below.
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One of the most troubling long-term effects of benzodiazepines is the potential to become dependent on them, both physically and psychologically. With regular, daily use over an extended period, the brain adapts to the presence of the drug. Over time, more of the drug is needed to achieve the same effects, a phenomenon known as tolerance.
Additionally, stopping long-term benzodiazepine use abruptly can trigger difficult withdrawal symptoms, including increased anxiety, insomnia, tremors, and seizures. This is why medical detoxification under the care of professionals is highly recommended for quitting extended benzodiazepine or other prescription drug use. Benzodiazepine withdrawal treatment regimens and tapering plans can ease the transition and reduce the risks.
Cognitive Side Effects
Numerous studies have linked the cumulative, long-term use of benzodiazepines to cognitive decline and impairment. Issues include short-term memory loss, confusion, lack of concentration and focus, and even amnesia of events. For some long-term users over age 65, benzodiazepines have also been associated with an increased risk of dementia.
The reasons for these cognitive effects are complex, but likely involve changes benzodiazepines trigger in the brain over time with regular use. For those already at risk for cognitive decline, like the elderly, benzodiazepines may accelerate and worsen issues like memory problems.
Increased Risk Of Accidents & Injury
The sedative properties of benzodiazepines include slow reflexes, reaction times, and coordination. As a result, activities like driving become much more dangerous after taking these medications. With long-term use, benzodiazepines put their users at higher risk for motor vehicle crashes, falls in the elderly, household accidents, and other unintentional injuries.
Paradoxically, instead of ensuring safety, benzodiazepines significantly increase threats to one’s health and well-being when taken persistently over months or years. The cognitive impairments they frequently cause only heighten injury risks further.
Emotional Blunting & Depression
Benzodiazepines work in the brain by enhancing the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA. But chronic, high levels of GABA activity induced by long-term benzodiazepine use begin to hamper other important brain chemicals over time. Studies show persistent benzodiazepine use often leads to declining dopamine and serotonin levels.
Dopamine and serotonin help regulate mood, emotional experiences, and motivation. Thus, long-term benzodiazepine use can start to negatively impact mood and emotions. Many former benzodiazepine users report noticeable personality changes – emotional blunting, apathy, loss of libido, irritability, and anhedonia. Additionally, long-term benzodiazepine use may increase susceptibility to mood disorders like depression.
In light of the many consequences, doctors caution benzodiazepines are only intended for short-term, intermittent use. The longer one takes benzodiazepines, the higher the risks of dependence, withdrawal, cognitive and motor impairment, and mood changes. If considering long-term benzodiazepine use, these severe health tradeoffs must be carefully weighed.