A substance use disorder is defined as the recurrent use of drugs and/or alcohol that causes clinically significant impairment, including disability, health problems, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, home, or school. Addiction is a complex brain disease manifested by compulsive substance use or the inability to stop using substances despite any harmful consequences.
Benzodiazepine and Opioid Addiction
Both addiction and substance use disorders are generalized when it comes to what type of substances. Most people have a specific drug of choice that got them to this point. Regardless of their particular drug of choice, they have a condition that causes their brain to crave drugs and alcohol. It is a chronic dysfunction of the brain that involves memory, motivation, and reward. Drugs and alcohol ignite the dopamine receptors in the brain which makes the addict lose control and want more. Once a person has developed an addiction, it never goes away. The concomitant use of opioids and benzodiazepines is very high. A lot of opioid addicts have high levels of anxiety, so they are either prescribed a benzodiazepine or they buy them off of the street and take them to achieve a certain high. Even though it is seen all of the time, mixing opioids and benzodiazepines is one of the most dangerous drug combinations. This combination has killed more people than any other 2 drugs together. The Journal of Addiction Medicine “Concurrent Use of Opioids and Benzodiazepines: Evaluation of Prescription Drug Monitoring by a United States Laboratory” reports that:
Since 2000, the rate of opioid deaths in the United States has tripled (Rudd et al., 2016). Drug overdose deaths rose to the highest level ever recorded in 2015 and may have risen since. Over 63% of the 52,404 drug overdose deaths in 2015 involved heroin and opioid pain reliever medications (Rudd et al., 2016), and nearly half of these deaths involved prescription medications (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2017). A number of risk factors have been identified that increase the risk of adverse events related to opioids, including concurrent use of benzodiazepine medications and other central nervous system depressants (Zedler et al., 2014). The cumulative and synergistic drug effects from combining benzodiazepines and opioids depress the central nervous system’s medullary controls for respiration; benzodiazepines through the gamma-aminobutyric-acid receptors and opioids through mu and delta receptors. (NIH)
Benzodiazepines for People Recovering from Opioids
Thus far we have discussed substance use disorders, addiction, and the commonality of mixing benzodiazepines and opioids. We know it’s not safe to take benzodiazepines and opioids together, but what about a person who has recovered from opioid addiction. Is it safe for them to take benzodiazepines? Benzodiazepines are said to be one of the most effective drugs for treating anxiety and are safe and well-tolerated for most people, however, benzodiazepines are highly addictive sedatives. They should only be used short-term in all cases and for someone who is recovering from opioid addiction, in most cases, it’s just not safe to take them. As we’ve already discussed above, once a person develops an addiction it never goes away. Addiction is a disease that can be treated, but giving a euphoric drug to a person recovering from addiction can ignite the addiction and turn the disease back on full throttle. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fading fire. Some prescribers will evaluate a person’s situation and consider treatment using benzos after carefully weighing the benefits and harms, but most prescribers won’t even consider it if you’ve had any kind of problem with substances or addiction.
Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders
Evoke Wellness offers a safe and comfortable environment for medical detoxification. Our patients are treated extensively so that minimal discomfort is experienced during the detox process. We provide residential treatment in a structured environment and then provide you with after-care support which is very important when being treated for addiction. Our treatment centers offer a comprehensive approach to treating substance abuse with multiple levels of care. Evoke Wellness is here to help you! We want to get you on the road to long-term recovery.