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Benzodiazepines (aka benzos; like xanax, ativan, valium, librium, and more) are prescribed often, and for a variety of different symptoms, such as anxiety, insomnia, seizures, alcohol dependence, et cetera. It’s likely that you know someone who has a prescription, or have even taken these drugs yourself. What is unlikely is that many who take these types of drugs understand the consequences of doing so. While these drugs may be helpful in the short-term for some of the above-mentioned issues (although it could be argued that they’re not… but that’s for a different conversation), there is no reason to use benzos long-term.
Benzodiazepines are highly addictive and cause dependence, meaning that the longer they are taken, the more one will require in order for them to have any effect… and if the dosage continues to be increased, eventually the person taking the benzo might find themselves overdosing. In that same vein, getting off of benzos is difficult and needs to be done with extreme caution, under the guidance of a professional, as the body will adapt to the drug and discontinuation without the proper plan for tapering down on the dosage could result in a seizure and even death. And most people don’t know that benzos are already linked to a variety of serious problems such as impaired cognition, issues with sleep architecture and worsening of sleep disordered breathing (aka you might be “sleeping” on a benzo, but won’t get the actual benefits of sleep, and could even stop breathing!), cause weakness, dizziness, vertigo, and syncope, deplete various neurotransmitter levels, deplete cortisol, negatively interfere with endocrine and immune functioning, increase suicide and self-harm, and are even considered carcinogenic (aka cancer-causing!).
So, it is well-known that benzos are dangerous in general. And now new, human research examining the use of these drugs has linked it to dementia in the 65+ population. From this study, many questions remain… Like, what about benzo use in younger years? Is it possible that use before the age of 65 causes long-lasting damage that contributes to dementia in later years as well? Considering what we know about the brain damage associated with taking these drugs, my guess would be yes. Check out this article for more information. And if you or a loved one are taking this type of prescription drug, understand that there are a variety of alternative methods for addressing the types of symptoms for which conventional medicine prescribes benzos. Do consult with an integrative, holistic physician who can help!