Anxiety disorders can severely affect the quality of life for people suffering from them. Medications to treat these disorders, from selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors to fast-acting tranquilizers, can help these people function and lead happier and healthier lives. Unfortunately, these drugs aren’t without their pitfalls– prescription anxiety medications can be just as dangerous as other drugs.
Anxiety Medications and Serotonin Syndrome
Some medications for depression and anxiety impact how the body handles neurotransmitters like serotonin. When the dosage is increased, or patients are placed on more than one medication that impacts serotonin levels, “serotonin syndrome” can develop. This syndrome occurs when the body’s serotonin levels get too high, and it can be fatal if left untreated. Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include:
- Agitation and restlessness
- Extremely high fever
- Irregular heartbeat
Serotonin syndrome isn’t the only potential danger of some prescription anxiety medications, however; other medications also have a very high risk of abuse.
The Potential for Abuse
Some people with anxiety will be placed on tranquilizers, including benzodiazepines like Xanax, Ativan, or Valium. These drugs are used for treating panic attacks because they are both quick and efficient. Unfortunately, tranquilizers can be habit-forming, and benzodiazepine abuse and addiction are widespread.
In fact, benzodiazepine abuse is so common that a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that they account for 35% of all drug-related emergency room visits. This number is on the rise, too; that study also found that the number of benzodiazepine-related emergency room visits jumped by 36% between 2004-2006 alone, while a separate study found that patient admissions to substance abuse treatment facilities for primary tranquilizers increased by 79% from 1992-2002.
Recognizing the Signs of Addiction
The first step to treating an illness is recognizing the symptoms, and addiction is no different. Much like patients seek out anxiety medications for relief from the symptoms of their anxiety disorder, they need to find treatment for relief from the symptoms of anxiety medication abuse.
Someone currently on high doses of tranquilizers can exhibit symptoms that include:
- Drowsiness or lethargy
- Impaired judgment
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty breathing
If it is left unchecked, an overdose can also progress to a coma and death.
Long-term tranquilizer abuse can be tricky to detect because patients can develop a dependency on their medication, and this dependency can mimic the reasons they began taking it in the first place. Without it, they can experience:
- A lack of appetite
When these drugs are abused over an extended period of time, patients may also find that they develop a tolerance and require more and more of the medication to achieve an effect. They may begin to neglect things like work, school, social activities, or even proper grooming habits, and spend significant amounts of time experiencing or recovering from the drug’s effects.
One of the other hallmarks of drug addiction is that patients often make several attempts to quit, and are unsuccessful. They might feel defeated and even decide to give up. Many of them may not want to stop out of the fear that their anxiety disorder will flare up again. Few people can recover from a full-blown drug addiction on their own, but there’s help. Inpatient drug treatment facilities can help break the cycle of anxiety medication abuse, while non-drug strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy can contribute to reducing patients’ dependency on medications to manage their stress.
Inpatient drug facilities are staffed by professionals that have experience in helping to treat drug addiction. They are safer than attempting to quit without treatment because they know how to recognize and deal with the symptoms of withdrawal. Since patients are also kept away from the environmental factors that may have encouraged their addiction, they are also more likely to be successful.