4 tips for the safe use of benzodiazepines
When used correctly, benzodiazepines are a safe and effective option for several health problems, including anxiety disorder and sleep disorders. However, some people may abuse or become addicted to these medications. If your doctor has prescribed you a benzodiazepine, here are four precautions you should be aware of:
1. Follow your recommended dosage to the letter
If you stick to the recommended dose by your doctor or pharmacist and only use the lowest effective dose, then you will at lower risk of addiction.
Taking overly high doses for your actual needs, or prolonging your treatment for no valid reason, increases the risk of your body becoming used to the effects of the medication. This is known as addiction. People in this situation need to take ever-larger doses of the medication to feel the same effects as at the beginning of their treatment.
If your treatment is not providing you the relief you hoped for, do not adjust the dose yourself. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist first.
2. Talk to your doctor about your alcohol consumption
It is important to be honest with your doctor and pharmacist about your alcohol consumption, as people who drink in excess are at greater risk of developing an addiction to benzodiazepines. What’s more, both substances can slow breathing, which can be very serious in the event of an overdose of either one.
It’s best to avoid alcohol while you’re taking benzodiazepine as both substances have a similar effect on the nervous system, causing drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion. When both are taken at the same time, their effects are cumulative, which increases the risk of an accident or fall.
3. Plan treatment discontinuation from the outset
The Canadian Pharmacists Association, as part of its Choosing Wisely Canada campaign, recommends that benzodiazepine discontinuation be planned and discussed with the doctor at the time of prescription.
This will help give you a better understanding of the treatment plan and reduce the risk of it being prolonged without good reason. It will also help avoid the medication being discontinued in less-than-ideal circumstances.
4. Discontinue benzodiazepine use correctly
When it’s time to come off benzodiazepine, it’s important to taper off gradually. The tapering process depends on the specific characteristics of the benzodiazepine (e.g., effect duration), the dose being taken, and the duration of the treatment. Your pharmacist, in collaboration with your doctor, will draw up a personalized discontinuation schedule for you.
Each person responds differently to discontinuation. Consult your pharmacist without delay if symptoms appear during the discontinuation process. Sometimes just tweaking the schedule slightly can be enough to make them go away. If not, your pharmacist can recommend ways to relieve them.
The information contained herein is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide complete information on the subject matter or to replace the advice of a health professional. This information does not constitute medical consultation, diagnosis or opinion and should not be interpreted as such. Please consult your health care provider if you have any questions about your health, medications or treatment.