The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
Benzodiazepine addiction affects thousands of people today, even after this once all-time highest prescribed drug on the market became known as a highly abusive substance. But it’s not only that this wave of abuse has continued moving since the dawn of prescription benzos. Instead, one particular benzo has led to a newly coined diagnosis. Here’s what it is and how it affects working-class people.
Dependence and Addiction
The Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) coined a new term in June 2022 to explain the ongoing complications of benzodiazepine abuse: complex persistent benzodiazepine dependence (CPBD). Physicians developed this diagnosis to differentiate from the kind of addiction associated with job loss or personal and relational instability. Instead, people with CPBD are everyday employees, friends, and family members. Rather than struggling with chronic addiction, these people have a benzo dependence, which is typically experienced only during an attempt to discontinue taking the drug. For some people, trying to quit substance use can last for years.
The doctors say that while this condition is not the same as a chronic addiction, it can be just as serious. This is because people who have been benzo users for years or even decades find themselves stuck in an endless cycle of abstinence, withdrawal, and recurrence. While they are not abusing or using the drug recreationally, benzo withdrawal symptoms make it difficult to come off the drug.
While people can experience CPBD after taking various benzos, the three most prevalent mentioned in the report include Xanax, Valium, and Ativan. These drugs collectively represent the most commonly prescribed benzos that treat anxiety, panic disorders, sleep disorders, and other conditions. These drugs work very well in treating people’s symptoms, which is why doctors prescribe them. Many medical professionals are trying to help spread information about benzos so that users and potential users are better educated about the risks of this medication.
However, many unsuspecting people don’t realize they have a benzo dependence until it is too late. Often, this results in experiencing rebound anxiety, which occurs after the medication is no longer taken. Our brains learn to tolerate and depend on the effects of benzos, so it is an unwelcome wake-up call when the drug is no longer being used to manage how the body copes with anxiety and other emotional dynamics. This can be a rude awakening for people involved in high-stress jobs.
Anxiety prescriptions have increased, particularly for young adults starting their careers after college. Many of these people are in a difficult position, as their bodies will learn to depend on benzos to deal with workplace stress. If they try to come off the drug, they could easily risk experiencing CPBD.
The point here is not to decide whether dependence or addiction is worse but to highlight that the grip of benzos is not always experienced stereotypically. As medical professionals are learning this and trying to improve treatment methods, they remind us that benzo abuse can be a struggle for people in a cubicle, a boardroom meeting, or a construction site.
If you have had a hard time describing your relationship with benzo use because it doesn’t fit into the addiction category, maybe CPBD is a better way to put your experience into perspective. If so, you can be encouraged that treatment strategies are moving in a direction to better understand your struggles and get you the specific help you need.
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Guide to Benzodiazepine Addiction and Treatment. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/benzodiazepines/
OHSU. (2022 June 2). Dependence on Xanax, Similar Sedatives Lead OHSU Physicians to Coin New Diagnosis. Retrieved https://news.ohsu.edu/2022/06/02/dependence-on-xanax-similar-sedatives-lead-ohsu-physicians-to-coin-new-diagnosis
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Addiction vs Dependence. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/addiction/dependence/
NBC News. (2018, July 27). Dangers of Rising Benzo Prescriptions Raise Alarms of Next Drug Crisis. Retrieved https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/dangers-rising-benzo-prescriptions-raise-alarms-next-drug-crisis-n895361
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Xanax Withdrawal. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/benzodiazepines/xanax/withdrawal/
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Xanax Addiction Treatment Guide. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/benzodiazepines/xanax/
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Valium Abuse- Side Effects, Treatment, and Detox Help. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/benzodiazepines/valium/
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Ativan Addiction: What Side Effects Do You Need to Look Out For? Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/benzodiazepines/ativan/
Yale Medicine (2019, December 11). Are Benzodiazepines the New Opioids? Retrieved https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/benzodiazepine-epidemic
Healthline. (2021, Sep, 26). Understanding and Coping with Rebound Anxiety. Retrieved: https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/rebound-anxiety
Medical News Today. (2022 Apr 5). Anxiety Prescriptions on the Rise Among Young Adults. Retrieved https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/anxiety-prescriptions-on-the-rise-among-young-adults
FDA. (2020, October 2). FDA Requiring Boxed Warning Updated to Improve Safe Use of Benzodiazepine Drug Class. Retrieved fromhttps://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-requiring-boxed-warning-updated-improve-safe-use-benzodiazepine-drug-class