Oxazepam is a prescription medication in the benzodiazepine class that is used to treat anxiety and insomnia. As a benzo, it works in the brain and nervous system to produce hypnotic, sedative, and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects. Oxazepam is also in the central nervous system (CNS) depressant category of psychoactive substances along with barbiturates and alcohol. Depressants work by suppressing excitability in the nervous system.
Learn more about oxazepam addiction and how to can be treated with safe detox and addiction therapies.
Oxazepam works in the brain in a way similar to other benzodiazepines. The drug is GABAergic, which means it interacts with a natural brain chemical called gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA. This neurochemical attaches to GABA receptors to regulate excitability in the brain and calm you down when it’s time to rest and relax. People who have sleep and anxiety disorders may have a problem in their neurochemistry that makes excitability difficult to control.
Oxazepam can help by attaching to a different binding site on the GABA receptor and increasing the efficacy of the GABA chemical. However, if you take the drug for too long or in excess, your brain might become used to the foreign chemical, causing it to rely on it rather than producing its own depressant effects.
Abuse can also produce euphoric intoxication that’s similar to alcohol. Prolonged use can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Benzodiazepines all but replaced barbiturates in the 1960s because they aren’t as toxic when taking a high dose. However, benzos can lead to overdose if you take extremely high amounts or if you mix the drug with other substances, especially opioids, alcohol, other benzos, or barbiturates.
Because of its potential for adverse effects, oxazepam is recommended for short-term therapeutic use. Using the drug for longer than two to four weeks can increase the likelihood of experiencing dangerous effects.
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It’s often assumed that a drug is safe as long as it’s prescribed by a doctor. But the reason a drug is a prescription only, typically means that it comes with certain risks. Oxazepam can lead to addiction, withdrawal, and overdose if it’s not used carefully. However, a substance use disorder involving a benzo like oxazepam usually comes with certain warning signs and symptoms. If you are worried your oxazepam use is becoming a problem, some telltale signs of a substance use disorder can alert you to a potential issue.
The first sign you may encounter is a growing tolerance to oxazepam. Tolerance occurs as your brain begins to get used to a substance and attempts to balance brain chemistry. Your nervous system may even start to counteract the drug. To you, this will feel like your usual effective dose is starting to get weaker. If you increase the size of the doses you take, you may be risking physical dependence.
Dependence occurs when your brain is not only used to the drug, but it starts to rely on it. If you stop using or cut back, you may experience withdrawal symptoms, which can include:
Oxazepam withdrawal symptoms can be potentially deadly if they are left untreated. If you have become dependent on any benzodiazepine and you’d like to quit, speak to a doctor before quitting cold turkey.
Finally, addiction can be identified by the compulsive use of a drug despite serious consequences, even when they are directly related. Addiction is a chronic disease that’s difficult to get over on your own, but it can be treated with the right therapies and professionals.
The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) separates substance use disorders into three categories: mild, moderate, and severe. Mild substance use disorders may be substance abuse or taking more than you need for medical purposes, taking for the purpose to get high, or taking a drug without a prescription. Addiction is considered a severe substance use disorder. All three categories can use some level of addiction treatment to help you overcome. However, addiction is difficult to get over on your own, and if you’ve been using oxazepam to the point of physical dependence, it could be dangerous to quit on your own.
The safest way to break a chemical dependence on oxazepam is to go through a process of medical detoxification. Detox is the highest level of care in addiction treatment, and it involves 24-hour care from medical professionals. Detox is an important step for people who are seeking help with an addiction related to benzodiazepines. Benzos can cause potentially deadly withdrawal symptoms like seizures and delirium tremens.
In detox, you will be monitored and treated to avoid medical complications. If necessary, you may be given medications to wean you off of oxazepam. Detox is also ideal for anyone who has other medical problems that need urgent and intensive care. Illicit drug use can lead to injuries and infectious diseases that require immediate care.
After medical detox, on-staff clinicians will help to connect you the next level of care that will best address your needs. When you first enter detox, you will go through an intake and assessment process that’s designed to meet your individual needs. You will sit down with your therapist and create a treatment plan that will follow all the way through the process. Each week, your plan will be reassessed and altered as new needs develop.
If you still have pressing medical or psychological needs after detox, you may be admitted to an inpatient program to continue your recovery. If you have a poor recovery environment (i.e., a roommate who still abuses drugs) or if you are at high risk for relapse, residential treatment may be right for you.
When you can live on your own without risk of relapse of medical complications, you may enter an intensive outpatient or outpatient program, where you will have access to more than nine or less than nine hours of clinical services respectively.
After you complete formal treatment, you may be connected to an aftercare program that will help you find community resources for education, job placement, medical services, housing, and continued recovery programs like 12-step groups. It’s important to continue your pursuit of recovery after treatment to prevent relapse.
Addiction to a benzodiazepine like oxazepam is a serious substance use disorder that may be difficult to overcome on your own. Fortunately, there is help available for people who are seeking addiction recovery for benzos. There is no cure for addiction, but with safe detox and the right addiction treatment methods for your needs, you may be able to achieve long-lasting sobriety.
American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
Lydiard, R. B. (2003). The role of GABA in anxiety disorders. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12662130
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, March 15). Benzodiazepines and Opioids. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/benzodiazepines-opioids