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Senior Benzodiazepine Abuse

Benzodiazepines and analgesics (pain medications) are the most commonly abused medications by older adults. At the same time, many physicians see no harm in prescribing these on a long-term basis and believe seniors do not easily get addicted to psychotropic medications. Many feel that the patient will turn to another doctor if they refuse to prescribe what the patient thinks they need. Medication dependence is steeped in denial, yet the daily and long-term consequences of benzo abuse are alarming realities.

The broader class of benzodiazepines include brand names Valium, Ativan, Serax, Dolmas, Clozan, Anxon, Rests, Domar and many others. Benzos are sedative/hypnotic, skeletal muscle relaxant, anxiolytic and anti-convulsant. Their half-life also makes them dangerous to mix with alcohol many hours after a drink has been consumed.

Older adults may be prescribed these drugs because of agitation due to dementia, depression, multiple medical conditions and history of depression or chronic pain. Social isolation often keeps them hooked, and denial is a factor for many, including families of seniors.

Side effects of benzos may include:

  • Shakiness
  • Slow reactions
  • Confusion/cognition loss
  • Automobile accidents
  • Falling
  • Medical complications such as renal failure
  • Breathing difficulties during sleep
  • Apathy

Medical detox is necessary for medication dependence, so anyone, including older adult patients, should not attempt it alone because this can be dangerous.

Withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Tremors, delirium
  • Tachycardia
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Seizures

Older adults who suffer from benzodiazepine dependence will find that, with age-specific rehab, their chronic pain and other issues can be holistically treated, and most important, underlying issues will be addressed for successful life in recovery from alcohol and drugs.