Sleep is an essential factor in healthy living. But anxiety and sleep disorders can get in the way of you getting the recommended seven to eight hours. Because sleep is so important, and sleep disorders are so prevalent, doctors have been using psychoactive substances to promote sleep for centuries.
In the 1960s, benzodiazepines (or benzos) gained popularity as a prescription sleep aid. One such benzo, called estazolam, was created in the 1970s and sold for its anti-anxiety, anticonvulsant, hypnotic, sedative, and muscle relaxant properties.
Though estazolam is still used as a short-term insomnia remedy today, we’ve come to realize that it has some serious adverse effects, including chemical dependence, addiction, and dangerous withdrawal.
If you or someone you know has been prescribed estazolam, it’s important to learn about this potent drug, the signs and symptoms of addiction, and how it can be treated.
Estazolam is a prescription drug that’s sold as a sedative-hypnotic drug in the United States. It’s in the benzodiazepine class of drugs that gained popularity in the 1960s. Benzos are used to treat insomnia and anxiety disorders by promoting sleep and calming anxiety and panic disorders.
Estazolam is also part of a broader category of psychoactive substances called central nervous system (CNS) depressants. Depressants work by affecting a specific neurochemical in the brain called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), and its receptor.
The GABA receptor is designed to regulate excitability in the nervous system. When GABA activates its receptor, it can calm you down and promote sleep.
However, people with anxiety and sleep disorders may have an issue regulating excitability.
Estazolam is GABAergic, which means it can increase the effectiveness of GABA by binding to the GABA receptor. However, long-term use of this drug can cause your brain to become dependent on estazolam, needing it to maintain normal brain function.
If you stop using the drug after becoming dependent, you may experience potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
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Estazolam is a benzodiazepine that can be a helpful treatment for those who have anxiety and sleep disorders. However, it comes with some serious risks, including dependence, addiction, overdose, and dangerous withdrawal. Benzodiazepines like estazolam can cause chemical dependency if they’re used consistently for more than a month, give or take a week depending on your individual needs. Doctors typically avoid prescribing the same benzodiazepines for long periods to prevent addiction.
Benzodiazepines can also cause alcohol-like intoxication that includes a release of inhibitions and loss of motor control. These side effects can lead to accidents, especially when behind the wheel of a car. The intoxicating effects of estazolam may be more pronounced in older people, which can cause more severe accidents and injuries. Doctors often look for alternatives for older patients with insomnia, but estazolam has shown to be effective and safe in small doses.
Estazolam becomes much more dangerous when it’s abused. Abuse or overuse of the drug can lead to chemical dependence. If you stop using abruptly after becoming dependent, you can experience unpleasant and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms, including insomnia, anxiety, panic, irritability, tremors, seizures, and delirium tremens. Seizures can be dangerous, especially if they occur when you are alone.
They usually aren’t life-threatening on their own, but they can happen suddenly, causing serious injuries. Without treatment, delirium tremens can be fatal, but medical attention greatly lowers your chances of life-threatening complications.
Benzodiazepines are most dangerous when they are mixed with other drugs. When benzodiazepines are combined with opioids, alcohol, or barbiturates, their central nervous system suppressing effects are potentiated. This can lead to respiratory depression, which can slow or stop your breathing.
Estazolam addiction can be a serious disease that’s difficult to overcome on your own. Addiction is considered a severe substance use disorder. Though addiction can come on suddenly, especially when benzodiazepines are abused, it can be preceded by signs and symptoms. Learning to recognize these symptoms can help you get the treatment you need before experiencing some of the more severe consequences of addiction.
A substance use disorder often starts with the overuse of a particular drug. In many cases, the drug is used recreationally, beyond what is advised by a prescription. However, not all estazolam addictions start with abuse. If the drug is used consistently for too long, you may start to become dependent on it.
The first symptom of a substance use disorder is usually tolerance, which is when your body starts to adapt to the presence of the drug in your system. If you start to feel like a standard dose of estazolam is getting weaker, you might have a growing tolerance.
If you continue to use, you might start to develop a chemical dependence, which is when your brain integrates the drug into your normal brain functioning. It may adapt your neurochemicals to the presence of the drug, meaning that you will experience imbalance if you stop using. Withdrawal can cause your nervous system to become overactive, leading to seizures and tremors.
Estazolam addiction can also have behavioral signs and symptoms that you can recognize in yourself or someone else, including:
A substance use disorder becomes severe when drug use becomes compulsive. Addiction affects the reward center of the brain in a way that encourages powerful cravings that are difficult to control. Addiction is identified by the continued use of a drug despite serious consequences. If you have become addicted to estazolam, you may need addiction treatment to achieve sobriety safely.
Estazolam addiction can be dangerous, but with help, you can safely achieve and maintain sobriety. However, since addiction can both cause and come from a variety of factors that need to be addressed, addiction treatment needs to be tailored to your individual needs.
When you first enter addiction treatment, you will go through a process of intake and assessment so that clinicians can help you find the best possible level of care for your needs. After your immediate needs are accessed, you may be placed in one of the four main levels of care based on the ASAM criteria, a six-dimensional assessment provided by the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
ASAM. (n.d.). What is the ASAM Criteria? Retrieved from https://www.asam.org/resources/the-asam-criteria/about
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, August 09). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, March 15). Benzodiazepines and Opioids. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/benzodiazepines-opioids
Thomas, R. E. (1998, April). Benzodiazepine use and motor vehicle accidents. Systematic review of reported association. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2277821/
Vogel, G. W., & Morris, D. (1992, July). The effects of estazolam on sleep, performance, and memory: A long-term sleep laboratory study of elderly insomniacs. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1640005