Benzodiazepines, commonly known as Valium or Xanax, are the most frequently prescribed drug in the United States. These tranquilizers are usually prescribed for the following conditions: anxiety, insomnia, alcohol withdrawal, seizure control, muscle relaxation, and the induction of amnesia before an uncomfortable procedure. Because they are prescribed so often, it is easier for people without a prescription to access and abuse the medication.
Perhaps part of the problem is the abundance of social knowledge of Valium as a sleep aide combined with the lack of common knowledge about the difference between over-the-counter and prescribed medications. There are over-the-counter sleeping pills; however, they contain a different active ingredient from Valium. They all contain a type of antihistamine called diphenhydramine. Since some pills are available to anyone, there is a belief that all tranquilizers are alike. Even over-the-counter sleeping aides should be taken for only a short period of time in order to prevent addiction.
Symptoms of a one-time overdose of tranquilizers may include drowsiness, confusion, dizziness, blurred vision, weakness, slurred speech, lack of coordination, difficulty breathing, and more seriously a coma. On a positive note, the abuse of benzodiazepines alone rarely causes death. Unfortunately, many people who do overdose on tranquilizers do so with the combination of alcohol or other drugs. Death is a true possibility in these cases. Death may actually be the intent in those cases.
Interestingly, when tranquilizers are abused overtime, the symptoms can imitate the original purpose of the drug. Anxiety, insomnia, and weakness are three of the symptoms of benzodiazepine abuse. The use of Valium or Xanax for long periods of time can lead to physical and/or psychological dependence. When used correctly, for short periods of time, dependence on the drug is rare.
What you can do to help someone that is abusing tranquilizers and treatment options:
- In acute cases:
- Seek medical attention.
- Bring the medication (or empty bottle) with you so that doctors are able to see the type (and potentially amount) of drug in the system.
- Depending on the amount of drug taken and length of time since ingested, doctors may choose to do one of the following: 1) a dose of activated charcoal which will help to prevent absorption of the medication, 2) a gastric lavage which pumps water into the stomach to flush out the tranquilizer as well as other drugs, 3) administer an antidote to reverse the effects of the drug.
- In chronic cases:
- Seek medical attention.
- Chronic cases can be difficult because people will hide or lie about their use of tranquilizers.
- Under outpatient medical care, the amount of benzodiazepine is slowly reduced over time in order to lessen the effects of withdrawal.
- The patient will also require support of friends and family.