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The Dangers Of Using Heroin With Benzodiazepines

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

March 13, 2019

Heroin is a well-known illicit opioid drug that puts individuals at risk for a number of side effects, including addiction. Abusing heroin with other drugs like benzodiazepines, however, enhances side effects and increases the consequences. To understand why it’s dangerous to abuse heroin with benzodiazepines, it is important to know what each drug is, how it works, and how it affects the body.

Heroin: Definition, Effects, And Abuse

Heroin is an opioid morphine derivative, which means it’s a substance that occurs in the opium poppy plant. The commonly abused form of heroin appears in a white powder or as a black, sticky substance called black tar heroin. Common street names for the drug are dope, horse, junk, and smack.

When people abuse heroin, they may snort the powder, inject it as a solution, or smoke it in solid form. It has long been abused with other substances, especially cocaine (a combination known as a speedball). As heroin enters the brain, it binds to opioid receptors, altering the way you respond to the perception of pain and the feeling of pleasure.

This “rush” feeling experienced with heroin abuse is immediate, and followed by short-term effects, such as:

  • Confusion
  • Dry mouth
  • Flushed skin
  • Weighted feeling of limbs
  • State of intermittent consciousness and semi-consciousness

The immediate effects of heroin may be moderate, but abuse of heroin changes you. As soon as you use it for the first time, your brain communication pathways are changed. Essentially, this means that your brain adapts to the way it felt during heroin use, and causes you to crave that feeling. It’s this change that causes you to compulsively seek the drug.

With prolonged abuse, you can suffer major consequences, including the following according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

  • Abscesses, or pus-filled tissues
  • Collapse of veins
  • Constipation
  • Infection in heart lining and/or valves
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Stomach cramps
  • Troubles with lungs, such as developing pneumonia

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Benzodiazepines: Definition, Effects, And Abuse

Benzodiazepines (commonly called benzos) are central nervous system (CNS) depressants, meaning they decrease brain activity. This produces a state of calm and relaxation. But this calm makes this group of drugs popular in substance abuse.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) explains that benzodiazepines present risk of addiction, “particularly by individuals with a history of multi-substance abuse.” In other words, people who have already abused other drugs are at a heightened risk for abusing benzodiazepines.

Some of the most prescribed, and commonly abused, benzodiazepines include:

  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Halcion (triazolam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)
  • Restoril (temazepam)
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Xanax (alprazolam)

Benzodiazepines are widely prescribed medications, used to treat a number of conditions. People take these medications for the anti-anxiety and sedative effects for conditions like panic attacks and alcohol withdrawal treatment, and most typically for anxiety and sleep disorders.

However, benzos can have some adverse side effects, including:

  • Aggression
  • Delirium
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Restlessness
  • Slurred speech

So, why are benzodiazepines abused? The calm, relaxing effects can produce a state of euphoria. But, as with heroin, continued abuse can lead to addiction. With addiction, you often develop tolerance, which means you no longer feel the effects of the drug after taking it.

Tolerance is what pulls you with addiction. Trying to achieve the same high often contributes to overdose. Abusing two drugs together greatly enhances this risk.

Dangers of Using Heroin With Benzodiazepines

Why do people abuse heroin with benzodiazepines? As the DEA explains, people abuse benzos with other drugs because of the euphoric effect benzos produce. Also, benzos may be used to relieve certain side effects that follow a heroin high (feelings of anxiety or depression, etc.).

After years of abuse, when you abuse heroin you may begin to abuse drugs like benzodiazepines and taper use of heroin. But mixing the two drugs can have dangerous consequences. This is because both heroin and benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants—both work to slow brain activity and body functions, like breathing rate.

In other words, both drugs produce similar effects, like decreased breathing and heart rate. Combining the drugs means these effects are greatly enhanced, and so is your risk of overdose. Overdosing on heroin and benzodiazepines can increase the risk of:

  • Cardiac arrest, or heart failure
  • Coma
  • Respiratory depression, or extremely slowed breathing
  • Respiratory failure
  • In extreme cases, death

Consequences Of Drug Abuse And Addiction

If you’ve struggled with drug abuse for years, you may already know the toll it can take on your life. Not only can abuse of drugs affect your health, both short- and long-term, abusing heroin is risky. Each time you buy it in the street, there’s no guarantee of what you’re getting. Street heroin can be mixed with any number of dangerous substances, and often is.

According to the NIDA, some of these substances can clog blood vessels, and lead to permanent damage to organs. For those who abuse heroin by injecting, which is common, sharing needles or reusing needles increases risk of infection and contraction of diseases like Hepatitis and HIV.

Abuse of heroin and benzodiazepines can also have an impact on your personal and social life. Both are highly addictive drugs, and once you fall into the cycle of addiction, it’s hard to get out. This means addiction takes over. You begin compulsively seeking the drug(s), and may have a hard time concentrating on anything else.

With time, this can mean strain on your relationships, trouble at work, loss of job, criminal activity, stains on your permanent record, and financial ruin. Addiction is a disease that infects every part of your life, but it doesn’t have to.

Even if you struggle with abuse of more than one substance, and have for years, we can help. At RehabCenter.net, we have access to rehab centers that provide outstanding care and support. Evidence-based research and a variety of treatment methods are key components of successful healing from addiction, and our rehab centers provide both.

Treating Heroin and Benzodiazepine Abuse

Recovering from both heroin and benzodiazepine abuse requires detoxification, a necessary process that allows you to get rid of the harsh chemicals in your body. During this time, you’ll likely experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be highly uncomfortable.

Managing withdrawal and detoxification may be the hardest part of physical healing from addiction, but it’s necessary and with medication-assisted treatment this process can be made much easier. The best rehab centers are staffed by licensed, experienced members who will closely watch and monitor your progress during detox to help you manage safe levels of withdrawal.

After detox, you enter your treatment program. The best approach to healing from years of abuse requires a multidisciplinary method. This means you’ll utilize several methods of treatment for a well-rounded healing experience. Some of the evidence-based research methods offered by our rehab centers include:

Find Hope In Healing Today

If you’ve been struggling for years with heroin abuse, or even several drugs of abuse, you may feel like there’s no way out. Prolonged abuse of heroin and benzodiazepines can leave you feeling isolated and with depression, which can make it hard to seek help.

You’re not alone in your struggles, though, and entering inpatient rehab is one of the best ways to overcome years of substance abuse. If you’re ready to enter a program that will change your life and help you get through addiction to the other side of life, we would love to help. Contact us today at RehabCenter.net to learn more about treatment options and our renowned rehab centers.

U.S. National Library Of Medicine - Polydrug Abuse: A Review Of Opioid And Benzodiazepine Combination Use

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