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Can PTSD Be Effectively Treated with Benzodiazepines?

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When traumatic events happen, some people will not be able to move on from them. Instead, they will experience changes in behavior, thoughts, and sleep patterns, leaving them unable to function normally. This condition is known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and any recurring mental health symptoms may need to be addressed with medication and psychotherapy.

According to the National Center for PTSD, about 70% of U.S adults will have PTSD at some point in their lives. Women are also more likely than men to experience PTSD, according to the center. For people who go on to develop chronic PTSD, medication may be necessary.

Medications that may be prescribed for this purpose include benzodiazepines, potent medications that aid in relaxation so that people can find relief from anxiety, stress, panic disorders, sleeplessness, and other ailments that upset them. The most widely used benzodiazepines (benzos for short) include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)

The therapeutic use of benzos has helped many people manage the symptoms of PTSD, but these medications come with risks that are important to know about if you are considering this treatment.

Common PTSD Symptoms

Symptoms that are commonly experienced with PTSD include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Angry outbursts
  • Avoiding reminders of the event, including places or anything that triggers memories of the upsetting event
  • Avoiding thoughts or feelings about the upsetting event
  • Constant feelings of tension (feeling on edge)
  • Foggy memories or forgetting about key details about what happened
  • Negative feelings, thoughts toward oneself
  • Guilt or feelings of blame
  • Loss of life enjoyment

A person with PTSD may have any of these symptoms or others not listed here. Symptoms are also known to vary in severity and present in different time spans. Some people may not notice any effects until months later after the event has occurred. It is also possible for a person to experience symptoms years later after a triggering event happens.

benzodiazepine-treatment-for-ptsd

Treating PTSD: Are Benzo Medications Effective?

While benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed to help people relax and get sleep, they are highly addictive and habit-forming, even for people who take them as directed. 

They are usually prescribed for short-term use, which is usually no longer than two weeks. If taken for longer than that, a person could develop a dependence on them that is hard to end. The potent effects of this class of drugs are why many people abuse them. For people with PTSD, benzodiazepines could complicate their recovery efforts.

In recent years, misuse of benzos and opioids has played a major role in the overdose epidemic the U.S. has been battling to end. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) underscores that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that clinicians avoid prescribing benzodiazepines and opioids at the same time whenever possible.  

It also advises that both classes of drugs have “black box” warnings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the label to bring the dangers of using these drugs together to the public’s attention.

In general, side effects of benzodiazepines, as noted by RXList, include:

  • Sedation
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Unsteadiness

The medications can also cause feelings of depression, a loss of orientation, and confusion. RxList also lists these other side effects:

  • Headache
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Memory impairment
  • Aggression
  • Excitement

There is a possibility that a person with PTSD can have an adverse reaction to benzodiazepine therapy.  These adverse reactions can include making PTSD symptoms worse. Others include:

  • Increased aggression
  • Ongoing depression
  • Substance abuse

If a person abuses benzos in addition to other drugs and alcohol, the results can be life-threatening, and as expected, their PTSD symptoms likely will not improve. As RxList warns, “All benzodiazepines cause excessive sedation when combined with other medications that slow the brain’s processes (for example, alcohol, barbiturates, narcotics, and tranquilizers).”

A person who abuses benzos and other substances, whether together or individually, should seek treatment help from an accredited facility that treats substance use disorders.

A physician may recommend a benzodiazepine medication if a PTSD patient is experiencing constant feelings of anxiety or if they are having insomnia or other sleep disturbances, but as noted earlier, the medication may be recommended for short-term use for this purpose.

A person who needs to end their benzodiazepine use can see a physician and work on tapering off the medications. This involves weaning off the drug gradually so as to not upset the body and go into withdrawal. A doctor can determine the best tapering schedule to use for the patient receiving treatment.

For longer-term medication therapy for PTSD, antidepressants may be recommended.

Antidepressants and PTSD Treatment

For long-term treatment of PTSD, a physician may prescribe antidepressants to help a person manage their symptoms. Because everyone is different, a doctor will have to look at an individual’s unique factors to determine which antidepressant to prescribe. It is possible that they will use a combination of medications that could work. 

All medications and combinations of medications should be taken as directed under a doctor’s care. Patients who notice troubling side effects or other problems with their medication should contact their physician immediately. 

A word of caution: If you do experience adverse effects while taking antidepressants or benzodiazepines, do not stop taking them abruptly without consulting with your doctor first. Doing so can cause harm, and you could go into withdrawal, which can be uncomfortable at best and life-threatening at worst. 

Alternatives to Benzodiazepines for PTSD Treatment

Medications are one way to manage PTSD symptoms. People living with the condition have the option of using other methods to treat it. Alternative methods to supplement their PTSD therapy can include:

  • Exercise daily. Moving your body can help you cut down on stress and release endorphins that increase your sense of well-being.
  • Get your rest. We need sleep to repair our bodies and our emotional and mental states. Getting enough sleep helps us manage our moods and stay in tune with what we need.
  • Following a healthy diet plan. We are what we eat, as the saying goes, so eat foods that promote nutrition. If you are not sure what you should eat, a nutritionist or dietitian can help you find the right foods for you. Organic foods may help as well as natural supplements.
  • Spend time outdoors. Sunshine and fresh air can help you connect to nature and give you peace of mind.
  • Avoid substance use. Abstain from alcohol, drugs, or any mind-altering or mood-altering substances as they can worsen your PTSD or cause adverse reactions with any medications you are taking.
  • Consider holistic or meditative practices. This can include yoga, meditation, tai chi, and other techniques that promote self-awareness and your ability to control your response to outside influences. Some people find relief with aromatherapy or acupuncture.
  • Join a supportive community. Staying in touch with people who understand PTSD and your unique needs can give you the boost you need to move forward with your life. It also gives you an opportunity to help others who are going through similar experiences.

You can also get therapy treatment for PTSD while using medication for it. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a widely used approach to helping people recognize distorted thinking that leads to self-defeating behavior. This therapy can help PTSD patients face their trauma and process it with professional guidance. This short-term therapy can run anywhere from five to 20 sessions, and it can occur one-on-one with a therapist or in groups. Family members can also attend CBT sessions if needed.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is also another therapy that helps PTSD patients reframe traumatic events in their minds. Patients work with a therapist as they reprocess distressing memories about a disturbing event and neutralize them so they can move forward with their lives.

Get Help for PTSD at Vista Pines Health

Thousands of people live with PTSD every day and struggle to manage their symptoms. The stress and fear are often overwhelming, making it difficult for people with the condition to find any peace or mental and emotional stability. If this is your situation or that of someone you know, there is help, and you can find it at Vista Pines Health.

We offer clinical treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and have mental health professionals on staff who know and understand the unique challenges people with PTSD face. Vista Pines Health is a full-service mental health treatment facility based in  Pembroke Pines, Florida.

Here, we put clients first and offer personalized treatment plans that address their needs, no matter where they are in recovery.

We offer privacy and comfort with a 20-bed facility, and our low client-to-staff ratio ensures the focus stays on you and that you get the help you need. We care about each person who comes to us, and we want to help them live their best life. 

Give us a call today to learn more about our programs and services that promote health and wellness. Let us help you live the life you deserve.

Sources

National Institute of Mental Health. (2019, May). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

VA.gov: Veterans Affairs. (2018, September 13). from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_adults.asp

RxList. (2018, Feb. 6). Benzodiazepines Drug Class: Side Effects, Types & Uses. from https://www.rxlist.com/benzodiazepines/drug-class.htm

NIDA (February 2021) Benzodiazepines and Opioids. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids/benzodiazepines-opioids

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. (n.d.). Psychology Today. from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/cognitive-behavioral-therapy

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