Oxazepam is a benzodiazepine, a central nervous system depressant. It is sold as a prescription medication, often under the brand name Serax, to treat the symptoms of various anxiety and sleep disorders.
Before benzodiazepines, barbiturates were the drugs of choice when it came to treating these disorders. However, the many health complications and high risk of abuse and addiction associated with barbiturate use caused them to fall out of favor and be replaced by benzodiazepines, which were hailed as the safer alternative.
Unfortunately, that turned out to not be the case, as benzos soon gained a similar reputation for abuse and addiction. Oxazepam may not be as widely known as big-name benzos like Xanax, Valium, or Ativan, but it carries the same addictive potential and dangers when it is misused and abused.
How Does Oxazepam Work?
Oxazepam works in the same way as benzos like Xanax and Klonopin as it increases the levels of a neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical responsible for regulating feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety. GABA does this by inhibiting nerve impulses responsible for sending the signals that carry these feelings through the central nervous system and block them from reaching the brain.
Oxazepam mimics the GABA naturally produced by the body to bind with the brain’s GABA receptors, activating them and then stimulating them into overproduction to flood the brain and nervous system with GABA, creating strong feelings of relaxation and sedation, often inducing sleep.
Part of the reason that oxazepam is considered safer than benzos like Xanax is that it has a slower onset of action and takes longer for the body to metabolize. However, this can be bypassed if oxazepam is taken in unintended ways, such as crushing it up and snorting it, which creates a quicker and more intense high.
What are the Signs of Oxazepam Addiction?
Because oxazepam is a prescription medication that’s on the lower end of the spectrum of abuse and addiction, as compared to other benzodiazepines, signs of oxazepam misuse and abuse tend to fly under the radar. People may not think of oxazepam as a potentially dangerous and addictive drug and, therefore, not recognize signs of a growing addiction, even if they’re the one that’s misusing it.
Unfortunately, this means that signals of atypical mental and physical changes consistent with substance abuse, while they may seem unmissable in hindsight, can often be difficult to spot. But, like all benzodiazepines, regular, long-term abuse of oxazepam comes with some noticeable side effects, including:
- Impaired coordination
- Slowed reaction time
- Memory problems
- Chronic drowsiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Noticeably altered sleep patterns
- Bouts of vertigo
- Frequent headaches
As someone progresses from substance abuse to full-blown addiction, the critical turning point is a total loss of control over their mistreatment of oxazepam, resulting in obsessive, compulsive use. Their priorities and decisions will now revolve around obtaining and using oxazepam no matter the adverse effects, including financial issues, job loss, deteriorating relationships, and even legal problems. This mindset will manifest as abnormal behaviors that conform with not just oxazepam addiction, but substance use disorders in general.
Some Common Signs of Oxazepam Addiction Include:
- Using oxazepam more often or in larger doses
- Taking oxazepam in unintended ways
- Forging prescriptions or “doctor shopping”
- Using oxazepam without a prescription
- Increased tolerance to oxazepam’s effects
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
- Unable to function without Oxazepam
- Becoming socially withdrawn and isolated
- Lying about or hiding oxazepam use
- Unable to quit using oxazepam
Whether you are experiencing these behaviors yourself or have noticed them in a loved one, do not wait to take action and seek help from a professional addiction treatment center as soon as possible to avoid further mental andphysical damage, as well as a potential overdose.
What is Involved in Oxazepam Addiction Treatment?
As with all benzodiazepines, it is vital that oxazepam addiction treatment begins with a carefully monitored medical detox to flush every trace of oxazepam from the body and physically and mentally stabilize someone as well as treat acute intoxication.
Oxazepam detox should never be attempted alone without at least some level of professional medical supervision. Benzo withdrawal is among the most dangerous and unpredictable withdrawal experiences with potentially life-threatening symptoms, including hallucinations and delirium, thoughts of suicide and behavior, seizures, and sometimes psychosis.
An experienced medical detox team is well-prepared to handle any possible complications that can arise during the oxazepam detox process, including the onset of a worsening of symptoms known as benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome.
After withdrawal symptoms have subsided and detox is complete, the next step in the process of oxazepam addiction treatment is checking into ongoing care in an addiction rehabilitation program. Detox will get someone sober, but it does not give them any of the knowledge and tools they need to stay that way.
The underlying issues behind an individual’s oxazepam addiction must be properly addressed to manage addiction effectively in the long-term. This is done throughout a treatment program through different therapies that help provide the guidance and support needed to recover successfully.
Depending on factors such as the severity of someone’s addiction, their general health, and if they have a history of addiction and relapse, oxazepam addiction treatment can take place in either an inpatient or outpatient setting. With either option, a client can expect to participate in treatments such as:
- Behavioral therapy
- Individual and group counseling
- Addiction education workshops
- Stress management
- Relapse prevention planning
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Holistic therapy
How Dangerous is Oxazepam?
Even though oxazepam is less toxic than many of the more popular benzodiazepines, that does not mean it is safe to misuse and that doing so carries no danger of addiction, overdose, or other serious health complications.
On the contrary, if oxazepam is used for too long, even at the prescribed dosage, it is possible to become addicted in just a few weeks, or even faster if it is taken in very high doses.
Abusing oxazepam also can cause what is known as rebounding. Rebounding is what happens when someone’s tolerance and dependence on oxazepam have grown to the point where it doesn’t work as well anymore.
The symptoms of anxiety or insomnia return, usually significantly worse than before.
Benzodiazepines like oxazepam are also frequently mixed with other depressants, most commonly alcohol, to increase their sedative effects. This only increases the risk of overdose as well as potentially fatal side effects such as a stoppage of breath, heart or lung function. Some cases can result in coma, and major organ shutdown and death can follow.
But it is also possible to overdose on oxazepam all on its own.
The Symptoms of an Oxazepam Overdose Include:
- Blurred vision
- Rapid lateral eye movement
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dangerously slow and shallow breathing
- Loss of coordination
- Weakness in limbs
- Inability to remain conscious
If someone is experiencing these symptoms, it is essential that they receive emergency medical attention as soon as possible to prevent a fatal overdose as well as permanent brain and organ damage due to a lack of oxygen.
Oxazepam Abuse Statistics
- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), in 2015, nearly 9,000 overdose deaths were attributed to benzodiazepines, including oxazepam.
- More than 30% of opioid-related overdoses in the U.S. also involve benzodiazepines like oxazepam.
- A survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association found that between 11% and 15% of Americans have at least one bottle of benzos in their medicine cabinets.