Benzodiazepines and Teenagers

Last Updated: Feb 26th 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

Benzodiazepines and Teenagers

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are psychoactive drugs. They are the most prescribed drug in America. These drugs are especially common in the senior population. Still, the popularity of teenagers on benzodiazepines has exploded. Benzodiazepines have been around since the 1960s and they work to help manage sleeping disorders, seizures. People also use them to reduce anxiety and help with alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These drugs are prescribed because they can prompt a tranquil chemical in the brain and they produce tranquilizing effects. They work on the central nervous system and block the excessive activity of the brain.

Also known as benzos, benzodiazepines are prescription drugs. People can certainly use them for medical reasons. However, many individuals use benzos recreationally, which can be extremely harmful and dangerous. Some even mix benzodiazepines with other drugs or alcohol. While they produce “pleasurable” effects, these combinations can be lethal. If your teenager is battling anxiety and uses benzos (whether medically or recreationally), please contact us at 1st Step Behavioral Health.

More About Benzodiazepines

Benzos are thought to be effective in treating psychological and neurological disorders. This is due to the way benzodiazepines help the neurons that trigger stress. People use benzos to treat the following disorders:

Anxiety

This type of medication is used for anxiety disorders. This is not for the natural stress of life. It is for a person who struggles with anxiety and the debilitating effects associated with it. Benzodiazepines are used for anxiety because it induces a relaxed state. Some common drugs for this condition are: Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan, Librium.

Insomnia

Another disorder this drug is used for is insomnia, which is the inability to sleep. These strong medications have a sedative effect which helps the individual get more sleep. These are only to be used under the care of a physician. Some common benzodiazepines used for insomnia are Halcion and Restoril.

Seizures

Seizures are another medical disorder that benzodiazepines are prescribed for. Seizures are when your body shakes uncontrollably. Some benzodiazepines that treat this condition are Clozepate and Tranxene.

Alcohol Withdrawal

This drug may help with the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol. The benzodiazepines used to help with the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol are Clozepate and Tranxene.

Panic Attacks

People may also use benzos for panic attacks. Clonazepam is a common form of benzodiazepines used for panic attacks.

Stress and Teenagers

Being a child, especially a teen, can certainly be very stressful. Some teenagers suffer from anxiety; some kids worry obsessively. Some common symptoms teens experience include sleeplessness, trouble with social situations, and negative thoughts.

There are so many stresses in a teenager’s life today. One of these stresses is social anxiety. Some teens who have anxiety receive a prescription for benzodiazepines to help with their symptoms.

Over 10% of Americans use benzodiazepines. One study shows that 5 out of 10 of the most abused drugs are benzodiazepines. When benzos first came out, people thought that they were safer and less addictive than barbiturates. But, the truth of the matter is that benzos can be very dangerous, especially when individuals use them outside of their proper usage. Unfortunately, this misuse can occur in the lives of teens who use benzos.

Are Benzodiazepines Addictive for Teenagers?

Many of the teenage population develop both physical and psychological dependency while taking benzodiazepines. The danger that presents itself for teenagers is that they think it is better for you since it is prescribed by physicians. Many younger individuals have no understanding of the addictive qualities of the drug. So, if your teenager is using benzodiazepines for any reason, it can lead him or her to depend on these drugs.

Benzodiazepines and Teenagers: The Dangers of Early Use

There is a common problem with teenagers and children sharing drugs with their peers. Benzos have the potential of being very addictive and they can have qualities of physical dependency. If a preteen or a teenager starts using the drug early, they can experience long-term effects like depression and memory loss. It’s important to remember that benzodiazepines are for short-term use only; the recommendation is only from 2 to 6 weeks. 

Long-term Effects of Benzo Use in Teenagers

Long term use of benzodiazepines can have side effects such as:

  • Sleepiness
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Trembling
  • Confusion
  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Sweats
  • Suicide
  • Muscle cramping
  • Vision impairment

Other Medications for Teenagers

When a teen suffers from anxiety, it is very serious and can have lasting effects on that child. Some of the physical effects of anxiety include the following: nausea, aches, pains, and extreme tiredness. It’s important to seek professional help in dealing with anxiety.

Usually, benzodiazepines are not the first course of action for teenagers. The first line of defense for anxiety for a child or a teenager is antidepressants. Antidepressants work for 24 hours and have a lot less risk for addiction than benzodiazepines. The side effects of the antidepressants go away within a few weeks. The antidepressants that are usually used and are safer than benzodiazepines are:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors also known as SSRI is an antidepressant usually given to teenagers. This medication improves mood. The common side effects include the following: sleep issues, stomach issues, and headaches. These can last from a few days to a few weeks. When getting off this medication, it’s important to do so under a physician’s supervision. Abrupt discontinuation can lead to flu-like symptoms (withdrawal). Some common medicines prescribed are Prozac, Paxil, and Luvox. These medications help teenagers with obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation anxiety, and the fear of social situations. 
  • Another antidepressant is serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors or SNRIs. These may take up to several weeks to work. Some of the side effects are sleep issues, stomach issues, and headaches.
  • A less common antidepressant prescribed is tricyclic antidepressants. The common tricyclic antidepressant is Clomipramine. Side effects for this drug are cardiac issues, bowel issues, and heavy sedation. People on this medication may require EKG’s on a steady basis.

Even if your teen is not using benzos to treat anxiety, remember that there could be negative side effects when using other medications. In some teenagers, antidepressants may increase thoughts of suicide and thoughts about harming oneself. So, it’s important to communicate with your child’s physician to prevent any problems from occurring when your child is taking medication for anxiety.

Precautions for Benzo Use

There are some precautions you should be aware of before using benzodiazepines, even for medical reasons. Tell your teen’s physician if your child has any of the following:

  • Glaucoma
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Seizures
  • If they are battling depression
  • If they have thoughts of suicide

Benzodiazepines, Alcohol, and Teenagers: A Dangerous Combination

As we mentioned earlier, some people “experiment” with various combinations when using benzos. Mixing benzodiazepines with other substances, such as alcohol, can heighten or intensify the drug’s effects. So, many people, including teens, may attempt to experience these effects by mixing benzos with other drugs or alcohol. But, this is not only a harmful practice, but it can also lead to fatal results.

If your teen has to use benzodiazepines for medical purposes, it’s important that you have a conversation about the effects of the drug. They need to know it can be an addictive substance. Explain the dangers of sharing this drug with their peers. Of course, you should also mention that they should avoid mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol as this can be a lethal combination.

Alternatives to Medication Use

There are other natural alternatives to help with anxiety. For some teenagers, these might be a help instead of starting on a drug like benzodiazepines. Some of these natural alternatives are:

  • Exercise is a great alternative to using substances in treating anxiety. Exercising naturally releases endorphins and helps with mood. It helps you feel good about yourself.
  • Meditation is another natural alternative. It has been used for thousands of years and in a variety of countries to help ease the pain of anxiety and to calm the brain.
  • Muscle relaxation is another way to help manage anxiety. You can do muscle relaxation through stretching or even massage therapy. Either way, it will help ease the individual’s anxiety and help them feel relaxed.
  • Music therapy is another way to relax and is also known to help with anxiety.
  • Aromatherapy is another natural alternative to drugs. This has also been done for thousands of years in several areas of the world.

The Dangers of Abruptly Ending Benzo Use

It is very dangerous to stop benzos abruptly, or “cold turkey”. This needs to be stressed to the teenager who is taking benzodiazepines. Stopping abruptly can cause life-threatening seizures, cramping of the muscles, tremors, emotional stress and even death. Make sure when your teenager is ready to get off benzodiazepines, medical advice and supervision are in place. With benzodiazepines, it is necessary to come off the drug slowly. Also, have a doctor or psychological professional explain some of the withdrawal symptoms that may be about to happen. 

Questions to Ask Your Teenager’s Physician

Before putting your teenager on benzodiazepines, here is a list of questions you may want to ask their physician:

  • When will the medicine be effective?
  • What are the common side effects?
  • How long do the side effects last and will they eventually stop?
  • What will happen when discontinuing the substance?

In some instances, your teenager’s physician may want your teenager to get a genetic test to see which medication would be the most effective. Some physicians feel that this would provide a generalization of which medication would be the best option for them. It would have some indication if the teenager is prone to addiction and other qualifying markers that can help determine the right course of action. 

Finding Help and Hope at 1st Step Behavioral Health

If your teenager or a teenager you know is in need of help with substance abuse, here at 1st Step Behavioral Health we provide a caring environment to help them through recovery. You may contact us by calling our professional and compassionate team today.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.