The daily ritual began about four decades ago when Keith started taking tranquilizers four times a day to cope with extreme stress. His wife, Joan, says the drugs turned her husband into a “zombie.” The truth is, Keith, now retired, says, he wouldn’t know. He remembers very little from the past 40 odd years.
Keith is among the millions of adults who are addicted to benzodiazepines, a class of drugs prescribed to treat anxiety and mood disorders, such as depression and insomnia. Initially designed for short-term use, benzodiazepines like Serax are often prescribed to the same people decades later, but at increased dosages than ever before.
Although Serax promises a good night’s sleep, there is evidence that long-term abuse of high doses of the benzodiazepine is not only ineffective but may also cause substantial harm, including falls, pneumonia, and dementia. Because some of the debilitating side effects include memory loss, many of the people – especially the elderly – who are hooked on Serax are the last to know they have a problem.
Serax is the brand name for oxazepam, a prescription benzodiazepine that sedates the central nervous system to treat anxiety, relax tense muscles, and relieve alcohol withdrawal symptoms and insomnia. Benzos were initially welcomed back in the 1950s as a safe alternative to older, more dangerous drugs like barbiturates. Even though Serax is considerably weaker than most benzodiazepines, its sedative properties present a high risk for addiction and overdose when abused.
The most common causes of oxazepam addiction are extending use beyond the initial course of treatment and using larger doses than directed. Factors leading to addiction include:
Serax is a benzodiazepine, which means it works similarly to other drugs classified this way. It binds to GABA receptors in our central nervous system (CNS). GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter designed to calm our nerves naturally, and it allows someone to feel more relaxed. It slows down the central nervous system and the brain and induces anxiolytic feelings.
Oxazepam is an active metabolite of diazepam. It is believed to be safer than other benzos due to its metabolic process. The drug is less likely to accumulate in the system of someone using the drug.
Any benzodiazepine that is prescribed is meant to be used as a short-term option. Unfortunately, benzo drugs have the potential for misuse, which can lead to addiction. Serax and other benzodiazepines affect the brain, resulting in users feeling euphoria.
The reward response that is triggered leads to an uncontrollable desire to take more Serax. When someone misuses the medication, the risk of addiction is more significant. Behavioral signs of Serax addiction and abuse include:
These signs won’t always indicate that someone is dedicated to misusing Serax. What it can mean, however, is that they are at risk for uncontrolled obsessive behavior. Devoting your life to obtaining drugs and continued misuse is a disease, and it will cause the brain to change over time.
Substances that alter the mind, even short-term, can be habit-forming and cause dependence.
Like other benzodiazepines, Serax attaches to the neurotransmitter GABA. Once connected to the brain’s GABA receptors, Serax suppresses the messages sent to the brain and nervous system to produce a relaxed state of mind.
Eventually, the brain becomes conditioned to expect Serax. When the brain isn’t satisfied with enough Serax, unpleasant reactions or oxazepam withdrawal symptoms may include:
Serax addiction is more likely to occur in individuals with certain disorders, such as anxiety, sleep, and mood. These individuals may find the relaxing effects of oxazepam and other benzodiazepines helpful and will pursue larger and more frequent doses to amplify or maintain the euphoric feeling.
Eventually, this type of physical dependence will create a need to fend off withdrawal symptoms with a vicious cycle of the same more frequent and higher doses.
That said, when taken appropriately, Serax can be an effective method for dealing with anxiety disorders and their associated sleeping problems. Like any benzo, there are guidelines.
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For example, if a doctor prescribes Serax daily, the sedative shouldn’t be taken for longer than two to four weeks. And long-term use should be regulated to no more than two or three times a week. When patients fail to follow the advice of a doctor or medical professional, the potential for complications from Serax, including physical dependence and addiction, will mount.
Patients who have a history of substance abuse, including alcohol, should take Serax with extreme caution. As depressants, both alcohol and Serax have similar effects. If used together or with other benzodiazepines, their misuse can result in serious consequences, including death.
Serax – in 10 mg (milligrams), 15 mg, and 30 mg tablets – can be effective in decreasing the time it takes to fall asleep while increasing the length of sleep. The benzo acts immediately to ease the insomnia that often accompanies anxiety. Levels in the blood system generally peak after three hours but may remain for upward of 28 days, depending on the dosage, and an individual’s age, health and metabolism.
Abrupt reductions from benzodiazepines can result in seizures, psychotic reactions, and agitation. A decision to seek treatment for Serax addiction begins with a slow detoxification process that involves tapering an individual off the sedative. The process usually takes place at a hospital or residential facility. By no means should Serax use be stopped abruptly.
Effective treatment for Serax addiction begins with detox under the supervision of a medical professional. Detox is a process that removes oxazepam along with any other drugs from the body. The intensity of the detox will depend on the severity of the addiction, and the individual’s physical and mental health.
A decision to stop abusing Serax is the first and most difficult step toward liberation from addiction. The good news is you do not have to take this journey alone. Highly trained medical professionals are on-site to help remove you from your dependence on benzodiazepines gradually, monitor your progress to prevent complications, and provide the therapeutic support you will need to gain a safe and sustained recovery.
Your body may need up to 28 days to eliminate all traces of Serax from your system. What you do during this time after detox is extremely important. It can make or break you.
Patients who educate themselves about the issues and triggers that made them rely on Serax in the first place have been found to have a greater chance at sustained recovery.
You can follow their path with continued treatment at a residential substance abuse facility, where the unique issues and circumstances surrounding your addiction can be addressed.
During this stay, you will be exposed to group therapy, one-on-one counseling, educational lectures, and workshops as part of a comprehensive recovery program.
University of California at Los Angeles Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Retrieved from https://www.semel.ucla.edu/dual-diagnosis-program/Conditions_Treated/Benzodiazepine_Addictions
U.S. National Library of Medicine (September 2015). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553644/
Olsen, R. W. (1999, January 1). GABA Receptor Physiology and Pharmacology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK28090/
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-use-addiction-basics