You may be taking or withdrawing from some kind of addictive prescribed medication, and you may feel worried, frustrated and alone. It can be helpful to talk to other people who know what you’re going through. We aim never to turn anyone away.
What is dependency?
When someone feels that they need to keep taking a drug (or alcohol) it’s called dependency. It can be because the person likes the feeling the medication gives them (psychological dependence), or because stopping the medication makes them feel unwell, which is withdrawal (physical dependence)
You may not even realise that what you’re feeling are withdrawal symptoms – you might only know that if you stop taking your medication you feel very unwell, and they may believe that they actually need to take the drug in order to keep them well.
If you take any kind of addictive medication regularly you can become used to the drug (tolerant)and need higher doses to gain the same effect. This is physical dependency, and if the drug is suddenly withdrawn the brain and body cannot instantly re-adapt. Any feeling of withdrawal symptoms will go, if a dose of the drug is taken … and this is how physical dependence works.
Psychological dependence is a bit different. You might feel like you crave the beneficial effects of the drug, or maybe that you dread living without it. It may seem like its impossible to get out of the habit of taking it, or you might be under pressure from other people to take it.
Addictive substances produce a need to keep increasing the dose to achieve the same effects. It can be all too easy to get into a spiral where the dose is increased until relief is felt. At high doses the withdrawal effects are much stronger and it is much harder to come off. Benzodiazepines certainly show these effects although most people do not have access to an unlimited supply. Nevertheless, even on a constant dose, the intended effects of the drug decline with time and some “withdrawal” symptoms may be experienced even when the person remains on a constant dose.
The basic science of Benzo addiction and dependency
Benzodiazepines enhance the effect of GABA (Gamma-AminoButryric Acid) at the GABA-A receptor in the brain. This results in sedative, hypnotic (sleep-inducing) and anti-anxiety properties – amongst other things.
How could I have become dependent on a prescribed medication?
Let’s say for example, you go to your the GP with a problem like anxiety, or depression – or insomnia. The medication temporarily suppresses these problems and you might feel much better. When you become tolerant to the medication you may develop withdrawal symptoms which can be just like the symptoms that were the reason for the original prescription. This might seem as if the medication was ‘curing’ the original symptoms.