Veterans and Benzodiazepine Abuse: What You Need to Know

Benzodiazepines are a classification of medication most commonly prescribed for the treatment of anxiety disorders and insomnia. In the case of anxiety, benzodiazepines are most frequently prescribed on an as-needed basis. That is, rather than taken daily, the medication is prescribed for use when acute symptoms of anxiety strike. When given for insomnia, however, benzodiazepines may be prescribed for use every night at bedtime.

In most cases, as with all addictive medications, use of these drugs can be safe and effective when that use is managed by a doctor and kept to a minimum. Medications should only be used in these cases as a “stop-gap” measure to assist patients so they can manage their symptoms well enough to engage actively in behavioral therapy and lifestyle changes that decrease their symptomology.

In some cases, however, the use of benzodiazepines can be problematic and cause an addiction disorder that becomes crippling. Especially for veterans who are frequently face anxiety disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and experience insomnia as a result, the use of these medications can be the first step to an addiction.

Here’s what you need to know:

· Use of benzodiazepines without a prescription is considered abuse. In fact, use of any prescription medication without a prescription from a doctor who has seen you recently and prescribed them for your active use is considered abuse. This means that taking a friend’s benzo to manage a stressful time is far riskier than if you were prescribed the drug by your own physician. Why? You may have underlying disorders or medical conditions that compound the effect of the pill, and your physician will have access to your medical history and be able to accurately prescribe the type of medication and dose that is right for you.

· Alcohol use can amplify the effects of benzodiazepines. It is rare to die of a benzodiazepine accidental overdose unless the mediation is mixed with alcohol or other addictive drugs with a depressant effect, such as painkillers. Drinking alcohol while taking benzodiazepines is a dangerous choice and, if repeated, can contribute to the development of an addiction disorder.

· There are better ways to treat insomnia. It is recommended that veterans who are currently prescribed a benzodiazepine to manage insomnia ask their doctors about non-addictive alternatives, especially if the problem is associated with PTSD or depression. An antidepressant that has the effect of causing drowsiness may be a better option, especially if coupled with positive lifestyle changes, such as healthy diet, regular workouts, and avoiding “stimulating” behaviors before bed.

· Benzodiazepine addiction is treatable. If addiction to benzodiazepines has become an issue, there are treatment services that have been proven effective in helping veterans to regain a sense of balance in their lives. A comprehensive treatment program that is designed based on the needs of veterans who may have experience traumatic brain injury (TBI) or be living with PTSD and/or depression can provide veterans with new coping mechanisms that do not include addictive benzo use.

Does a veteran you care about need treatment for benzodiazepine addiction? Are you concerned that your use of benzos has become a problem? Find out about treatment services designed to help veterans heal.

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