Benzodiazepine Dependence

Benzodiazepine dependence is when one has developed one or more of either tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, drug seeking behaviors, such as continued use despite harmful effects, and maladaptive pattern of substance use, according to the DSM-IV. In the case of benzodiazepine dependence, however, the continued use seems to be associated with the avoidance of unpleasant withdrawal reaction rather than from the pleasurable effects of the drug. Benzodiazepine dependence develops with long-term use, even at low therapeutic doses, without the described dependence behavior.

Addiction, or what is sometimes referred to as psychological dependence, includes people misusing or craving the drug not to relieve withdrawal symptoms, but to experience its euphoric or intoxicating effects. It is necessary to distinguish between addiction and drug abuse of benzodiazepines and normal physical dependence on benzodiazepines. The increased GABAA inhibition caused by benzodiazepines is counteracted by the body’s development of tolerance to the drug’s effects; the development of tolerance occurs as a result of neuroadaptations, which result in decreased GABA activity and increased excitability of the glutamate system; these adaptations occur as a result of the body trying to overcome the central nervous system depressant effects of the drug to restore homeostasis. When benzodiazepines are stopped, these neuroadaptations are “unmasked” leading to hyper-excitability of the nervous system and the appearance of withdrawal symptoms.

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