Veterans with PTSD and Benzodiazepine Addiction

You don’t have to be abuse alcohol or illegal substances to be an addict. Sometimes in the chase to escape a suffocating reality, something as simple as anxiety medication can create an addiction. PTSD and benzodiazepine treatment are common among veterans. Many times, when veterans search for help with their PTSD, Xanax is prescribed.

In recent years, there has been growing alarm of an opioid crisis. However, there has been little acknowledgment of the growing problem of benzodiazepine addiction. Another class of medication causing addiction and death. In 2015, there were 8,791 deaths from benzodiazepines. Just 16 years prior, in 1999, there were only 1,135 deaths from benzos.

For many people, quitting benzodiazepines is difficult. Some think it’s harder to quit benzos than it is to kick an opioid. However, this has been changing in recent years because of the known addiction rate to benzodiazepines. If you are a veteran struggling with PTSD and an addiction to benzodiazepines, give us a call today at 385-327-7418. We can get you started on a better treatment plan.

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Are you or someone you know suffering from addiction? Continue reading for more information about dealing with an addiction to benzos. Contact our specialists today for additional support.

Veterans with PTSD and Benzodiazepine Addiction

I Think I Have an Addiction

First, you need to know addiction is a medical problem. It is not a moral problem or a criminal problem. When a habit is acquired, there are physical changes in the brain. Every substance affects the brain differently.

With benzos, the feeling of being on edge is quickly replaced with a calm sense of wellbeing. This feeling comes from a rush of dopamine—the feel-good brain chemical—flooding your brain. This rush is caused by taking a benzodiazepine. When it comes to anxiety and PTSD, Xanax and other benzos can create this welcoming relief. This relief is so calming. It’s easy to become tempted to continue taking it.

People often believe they only need Xanax, Ativan, or another benzodiazepine to make it through an event or get a full night of sleep. You don’t notice the anxiety is slowly building throughout the day like a tsunami. You only see when it feels like it’s too much. Instead of taming it early on, you wait until it makes sense for you to feel this way. It makes sense for large crowds and noisy places to be triggered. So you think it’s those specific moments. It’s hard to realize it started earlier in the day when you heard the garbage truck going down your street.

Using one of these medications occasionally isn’t overly concerning. However, the more you use it, the more likely you become physically and psychologically addicted to this medication type. Over time, your brain and body crave this drug. The brain enjoys how the rush of dopamine and begs for more. You’ll have a more challenging time resisting impulsive urges. Practicing self-control becomes more difficult. Eventually, you’ll experience withdrawals when you stop using these drugs or lower the dose.

PTSD and Benzodiazepine Addiciton

Living with PTSD is like being stuck in a scary movie. You’re always waiting for something to jump out at you. Constantly thinking anything may trigger an intense feeling of fear or anxiety. Even though you feel hopeless, helpless, and trapped, remember there are treatment options. There are more treatments available than Xanax, Ativan, or Valium.

Benzodiazepines make it hard to see you’re fighting a 24/7 mental health problem. They make it easy to hide a more in-depth mental health problem. It can be hard to recognize you need to take an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication daily instead of “as needed.” No one is ever genuinely excited to be on a full-time medication regimen for mental health. With the culture we’re in, you’re tricked into believing a mental health issue is a sign of weakness.

However, having PTSD, anxiety, or any other mental health issue does not make you weak. In reality, you might be healthier than those without a mental health issue because of all you go through!

Common Triggers

When it comes to PTSD triggers, anything and everything is possible at any time. Sights sounds, and smells often trigger those with PTSD. Especially for veterans who experience combat. Holidays that include fireworks are especially triggering since the fireworks involve all the senses.

Sometimes hearing people say certain words can bring up a painful past. Other times, it’s the date on the calendar. Doctor’s appointments or hospital visits can trigger PTSD symptoms. There is often physical discomfort when we are started. Like something is tearing you apart from the inside. This sensation is often why you’re offered benzos in the first place. Having this sensation disappear so quickly is why you kept reaching for the bottle.

What’s worse, PTSD brings up strong emotions. Many times these emotions center around being trapped or feeling helpless. Now that you are forming an addiction to medication, this feeling might be intensifying. Which is making you reach for the medicine again. You want this intensity to calm down, and the medicine is calming you down. But only for a short while. Wouldn’t it be better to get treatment for PTSD? Wouldn’t it be better to have a full-time solution?

When to Be Concerned

The most common reason someone gets addicted to Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, or another benzodiazepine is when these drugs are used differently than prescribed. Often, the thought “if a little is good, more must be better” becomes the belief.

Taking a benzodiazepine at a higher than the prescribed dose or more prolonged than four weeks significantly increases addiction risk. If you are drinking alcohol while taking benzos, the risk for addiction also goes up. In general, it is not wise to take any medication with alcohol. Because of the way benzodiazepines and alcohol work in the body, drinking alcohol with this medication increases the chance of an overdose. There is also an increased risk of organ failure and death. Less scary, but still significant, is the lack of control over your body, mood, and thoughts.

If you feel like alcohol and benzodiazepines are the only way to live with what you’ve experienced, it’s time to find help. PTSD and benzodiazepines are not the way to live. There are much better treatment options available to you.

Getting Treatment

You might be wondering if Xanax can be used to treat PTSD. The answer is both yes and no. Xanax and other benzodiazepines are useful in the short term. They can provide relief in a short time for anxiety, panic attacks, or insomnia. However, in the long run, they are addictive. When you rely on benzos to get through the day, you stop learning how to manage your triggers. This makes it harder to recover from PTSD and anxiety-related problems.

Treatment for PTSD comes in many forms. It’s often a combination of medication and therapy. Depending on the severity of your addiction to benzos, you may need some treatment to help with addiction. The benefit of receiving therapy is in the skills you learn. Learning how to respond to the stress you’re feeling from PTSD will also help you react to other stressful moments.

Waiting for Treatment

Because of the long wait times with the VA, you might find yourself googling, “what does the VA prescribe for anxiety?” You might be hoping to find another doctor who will give you the same medication without the wait. In general, we cannot say what the VA—or any healthcare provider—might prescribe. Everybody has their own unique set of challenges: different medical histories, different experiences, and different lifestyles. The providers at the VA will look at your medical history and take what you tell them about your symptoms into consideration when deciding which treatment option is best for you.

What we do know is the Department of Veteran Affairs stated in 2017, “The VA/DoD 2017 Practice Guideline for the Management of PTSD strongly recommends against the routine use of benzodiazepines in Veterans with PTSD. The recommendation was based on the unproven efficacy of benzodiazepines and well-known risks for abuse and dependence.”

To sum it up, they recommend not using benzodiazepines to treat PTSD because they cannot prove the harm it can cause—addiction—is worth the benefit of taking it, especially when they have many other medications and treatment options.

Next Steps

As the old saying goes, the first step is admitting you have a problem. If you think you have an addiction to benzos, or if you are concerned about becoming addicted, there are many things you can do.

First, take the time to make an appointment with a qualified professional. Treatment centers such as ours have highly trained specialists ready to help you. It’s also worth calling your prescribing doctor. Discuss your options and concerns of addiction to Xanax, Ativan, Valium, or other benzodiazepines. As with any medication, it’s essential to know the risks and voice your concerns.

You should also create a support system for yourself. A support system doesn’t need to be a large group of people. Sometimes, just having a handful of people is enough. For many addicts, their support system consists of their primary care doctor, a therapist, and a couple of close friends or family members.

Paths to Help

The hardest part of dealing with an addiction to benzos is understanding this isn’t your fault. You were trying to treat your symptoms. You weren’t looking to get high; you were looking for relief.

The hardest part of living with PTSD and benzodiazepine addiction is reliving your worst moments over and over. PTSD will not go away on its own. However, there are many ways to treat PTSD without benzodiazepines. Even better, there are many options to treat PTSD. As research progresses, our possibilities become better.

If you’re a veteran struggling to manage anxiety, depression, or PTSD, reach out to us at 385-327-7418. We have access to countless resources. Our goal is to help guide you through this challenging transition and get you the help you so desperately need. We want to help you take control of your PTSD and benzodiazepine addiction.

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