More Americans are suffering from anxiety today than ever before. In fact, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the US or 18.1% of the population, as anxiety is the most common form of mental illness. About half of the individuals diagnosed with anxiety are also diagnosed with depression. Since treatment for anxiety often includes prescription medications, the US has seen a significant rise in the use and abuse of anti-anxiety medication addiction over the past several years.
The drug most often prescribed for anxiety is benzodiazepine, often referred to as benzo. The number of prescriptions as well as the number of addictions and overdoses has risen steadily since the late 1990s and in 2020, the market for benzos is expected to reach $3.8 billion. Benzos are prescribed for anxiety, for insomnia, and for pain, including back pain and chronic pain.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, benzodiazepines work to calm or sedate an individual by increasing the level of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. The Institute states that over 30 percent of overdoses that involve opioids also involve benzodiazepines, which include brand names such as Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin.
Long-term Use, Addiction, and Withdrawal
Benzos are designed for short-term relief but the trend toward long-term use is increasing. The medication works well for the treatment of anxiety, but patients tend to quickly develop a tolerance to the drug and then require higher doses to get relief from their pain or anxiety. Even when the original prescription was intended for short-term treatment, the patient can quickly become addicted.
Withdrawal must be tapered, as stopping “cold turkey” could cause seizures and even death. Going through tapered withdrawal can be challenging also, with symptoms that can be quite painful even after just a few weeks of use.
Benzo Numbers Increasing
While prescriptions for opioids and other addictive medications has leveled off, and in some cases even decreased, the number of prescriptions for benzodiazepines continues to increase. Although awareness about addiction and the sometimes devastating withdrawal symptoms are also increasing, physicians continue to prescribe benzos because of their proven effectiveness in treating anxiety.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that the number of adults filling a prescription for benzodiazepines increased by 67 percent from 1996 to 2013. The Institute also reports that there were 8,791 overdose deaths in 2015, almost eight times the number recorded in 1999.
Not only has the number of prescriptions increased, but the amount of each prescription is also on the rise. The median quantity filled over the course of a year more than doubled from 1996 to 2013. Patients can quickly become addicted and therefore need more of the medication to feel its effects. Prescription amounts may also be increasing because of extended treatment days. Many patients continue to use benzos beyond the original short-term intentions of the prescription because of their addiction.
Women and Benzo Numbers
A recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the number of overdose deaths for women between the ages of 30 and 64 increased at an alarming rate. The CDC report shows that from 1999 to 2017, overall drug overdose deaths among women in that age group increased by 260%.
Specifically, the increase for deaths involving synthetic opioids was 1643%, heroin 915%, and benzodiazepines 830%. Deaths from prescription opioids increased 485%, from cocaine 280%, and from antidepressants 176%.
The CDC study also found that the average age of death as a result of benzo addiction increased three years between 1999 and 2017. In 1999, the average age was 44.1 and in 2017 it was 47.1.
Addressing the Issue
The CDC recognizes that although middle-aged women seem to be especially affected, targeted efforts are needed to reduce the number of addictions and resulting deaths in the evolving epidemic involving benzodiazepines and other prescription medications throughout all populations in the US. Likewise, patients who attempt to withdraw from benzos may need professional assistance in a medical detoxification program.
Contact Recovery Without Walls for Help with Benzo Addiction
At Recovery Without Walls, we recognize the challenges of anti-anxiety medication addiction. We offer insightful solutions to promote a deep and lasting recovery from benzodiazepine dependence. We personalize every treatment program with ongoing treatment that may include therapy for anxiety, meditation, acupuncture, therapeutic massage, exercise, and nutritional supplements, whenever appropriate. Contact us today to learn how we can help you.