Despite its tropical weather, wide range of activities, and most places being only minutes away from the beach, the Sunshine State isn’t exempt from the addiction crisis plaguing the entire country. Florida is notorious as a landing point between South America, where tons of cocaine are imported, but also in the past decade, “pill mills” popped up, creating a crisis the state was not equipped to handle.
While the focus has largely been on combating prescription opioids and cocaine, benzodiazepine drugs have quietly seeped into the everyday lives of Floridians. It’s a common misconception that because it was prescribed by a physician that it’s safe. Ingesting these drugs in small doses as your doctor prescribes can treat your ailments, but like anything, even sugar or caffeine, overdoing it can be dangerous. Let’s take a deeper look at benzodiazepines and rehab in the Sunshine State.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines belong to a class of drugs known to treat muscle tension, seizures, anxiety, and in severe cases, insomnia. They fall under the umbrella of a broader category of drugs known as central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which slow down overactive nervous systems and produce anxiolytic feelings, allowing you to achieve relaxation and sleep. More specifically, this medication interacts with naturally occurring chemicals in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This is how our body naturally relaxes or falls asleep.
Those dealing with insomnia or anxiety disorders typically have issues in their brain that won’t allow them to fall asleep or calm down under duress. Their bodies don’t produce enough GABA, causing them to need medication to counteract the chemical imbalance. Benzodiazepines bind to GABA receptors to increase the efficacy, and when you ingest the drug, GABA has a much more intense effect on the body. In doing so, you’ll have no trouble relaxing or falling asleep. Although it’s effective in helping these disorders, it also causes euphoria.
If you first start using the drug, you might feel as though your problems have disappeared. Although, over time, continued use of benzodiazepine drugs can lead to chemical dependency and substance use disorder (SUDs). Benzos aren’t usually prescribed for more than two weeks at a time for this reason because your body will immediately adapt to its presence in your system and cause you to become tolerant. Abrupt cessation of a benzo you’ve become dependent on will lead to withdrawal symptoms that are either uncomfortable or dangerous. Benzodiazepines are routinely misused recreationally for tier effects that are similar to alcohol.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms
As was mentioned above, benzodiazepines have the potential to produce severe withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, they’re known to be fatal, especially if you stop without tapering or under the care of medical professionals. If you’ve been using benzos for a prolonged period, even as prescribed, you should expect to encounter withdrawal symptoms in one form or another. You should always speak to your primary care physicians prior to quitting to determine the safest route moving forward. During withdrawal, you could also experience “rebound symptoms,” which is a more severe return of your insomnia or anxiety that you were treating.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms might include a combination of the following:
- Feeling jittery
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pains
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart failure
Although depressant drugs produce severe withdrawal symptoms, seeking professional medical help will position you to have a more pleasant experience. No matter how you spin it, benzodiazepine withdrawal will be a painful and forgettable period in your life, but doing it right will safely mitigate the dangers and get you through to the other side.
Florida Benzodiazepine Misuse Statistics
The state of Florida is dealing with a significant issue relating to drug addiction, misuse, and fatal overdoses. One such reason Florida is at the center of it all is because of its several major ports and growing population. With that said, it’s also easy to get prescribed medication in the Sunshine State as well from both legal and illegal sources in one of its many major cities.
From 2018 to 2019, the state experienced a four percent increase in the number of drug-related deaths investigated by medical examiners. In only six months between January and June, there was a substantial increase of 13 percent in drug-related deaths compared to the previous year. The overdose figures increased dramatically in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
More people die in the state from prescription drugs than illicit drugs, which include common prescription opioids and benzodiazepines. The first half of 2020 found 2,182 deaths where benzodiazepines were present in a person’s system. Examiners describe 833 of these were alprazolam-related, known better by its prescription name Xanax. The reports found 595 people died solely due to benzodiazepine overdose.
West Palm Beach is where Xanax-related deaths were most prevalent, followed by Miami and St. Petersburg. Xanax was the 9th most common drug found in a person’s system, behind marijuana, meth, various opioids, alcohol, and cocaine.
How Does Benzodiazepine Treatment Work?
Those dealing with substance use disorders must seek out professional care to overcome their affliction. Even if they are against long-term treatment, they must at least consider medical detox to get through withdrawal symptoms. With that said, while medical detox is a sufficient means of getting the drug out of your system safely, it does nothing to treat the core of the problem and help you understand why you abused benzos in the first place. Without this knowledge and learning new ways to cope, you’re bound to relapse and fall right back into benzodiazepine abuse.
The first step to getting help is speaking with a doctor that can assess your current and most pressing needs. If you’ve taken benzodiazepines for a short period in moderate doses, they can help you by gradually reducing the dose until it’s safe to stop. Tapering off benzos can significantly reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms, and you should speak to your doctor first before tapering without guidance. If you do it alone and use a dose too small, it could also cause severe withdrawal symptoms like seizures.
If you’re severely dependent on the drugs and you’ll likely relapse without long-term care, you’ll probably need to stay in a residential treatment facility following medical detox. During this time, you’ll live on-site with other individuals on the same journey to getting sober. You’ll learn how to cope with triggers and get to the root of your addiction.
If you’re in the Sunshine State or living somewhere else but want to attend addiction treatment in Florida, the options for care are among the best in the world. Don’t put it off another day and enroll yourself in care that changes your life.