A good argument can be made that the rise of anti-anxiety drug use correlates with the increasingly manic nature of our times. People must contend with pressurized work environments, a volatile and uncertain economy, a hostile political climate, and extreme weather events — phenomena that are beyond our control.
Though the cause could be debated, there is statistical evidence that supports the rise in the use of anti-anxiety medications, particularly benzodiazepines like oxazepam. Between 1996 and 2013, for example, the number of adults who filled a benzodiazepine prescription grew by 67 percent, from 8.1 to 13.5 million, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
The increase in prescriptions has also led to a jump in benzodiazepine overdose deaths. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that overdose deaths from benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium spiked from 1,135 in 1999 to 8,791 in 2015.
While oxazepam produces effects that are moderate compared to those benzodiazepines, it is still potent enough to cause addiction and produce life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
How Does Oxazepam Work?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved oxazepam for medical use in the mid-1960s.
It is sold under the brand name of Serax. Like other benzodiazepines, oxazepam works by stimulating the brain’s gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), the neurotransmitter most responsible for reducing nervous system excitability.
Thus, oxazepam has a tranquilizing effect. It is prescribed to treat anxiety and symptoms related to alcohol withdrawal. It is a common prescription for anxiety disorders associated with tension, irritability, and agitation. Doctors have also been known to prescribe oxazepam to treat social phobia, insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Oxazepam is available as an oral capsule and usually taken three to four times a day with or without food.
Like other benzos, oxazepam is intended only for short-term use because it can be habit-forming. When people abuse it recreationally to get “high,” or if it is taken long term against medical advice, it can quickly produce tolerance, dependence, and addiction.
The hallmark of tolerance is when a user will need more of a drug to achieve the same effects a previous smaller, dose provided. When that use grows into dependence, it usually means the body cannot function normally without the drug being present. Once the substance leaves the body, the user will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.
While oxazepam carries a lower potential for abuse compared to other benzodiazepines, it still can compel addiction, where someone will continue to use in the face of adverse circumstances.
Oxazepam Side Effects
Oxazepam can produce the following side effects:
- Dry mouth
- Appetite changes
- Upset stomach
- Difficulty urinating
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Changes in sex drive or ability
Oxazepam can also produce serious side effects, such as:
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Irregular heartbeat
- Shuffling walk
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
- Tremor or inability to sit still
- Severe skin rash
The Stages Of Oxazepam Withdrawal
The side effects of oxazepam are concerning enough. The withdrawal symptoms are another beast entirely. Like alcohol and barbiturates, benzodiazepine withdrawal can elicit life-threatening symptoms.
Those withdrawal symptoms include:
- Faster breathing
- Accelerated heartbeat
- Physical tremors
- Muscle spasms
- Weight loss from appetite changes
- Abnormal body sensations
- Joint pain
Ironically, oxazepam can produce symptoms it was developed to treat in the first place. Those include:
- Sleep deprivation or trouble sleeping
- Sensitivity to lights or sound
- General anxiety or mood swings
- Panic attacks
- Visual disturbances
When users take a large number of benzodiazepines, they put themselves at risk for developing a seizure disorder. The most common type of seizure associated with benzodiazepine withdrawal is grand mal seizures, which can cause a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions. Seizures of this type are life-threatening and require hospitalization.
What’s more, benzodiazepines like oxazepam can produce severe withdrawal symptoms that can last for weeks, months, or even years. This is called post-acute withdrawal syndrome or PAWS. This condition produces effects that are psychological in nature such as drug cravings, mood issues, general discomfort, and anxiety attacks.
What’s dangerous about PAWS is that its enduring effects can cause someone to relapse into a cycle of abuse, which can leave them prone to suffering an oxazepam overdose.
The overdose symptoms that oxazepam can produce are akin to excessive alcohol intoxication. People who overdose can experience the following effects:
- Blurred or double vision, rapid side-to-side eye movement
- Confusion, slurred speech
- Drowsiness, tiredness, fainting
- Slowed breathing
- Decreased alertness, or even coma
- Weakness, uncoordinated movement, staggering gait
How Professional Treatment Helps
Because benzodiazepines produce such dangerous and unpredictable withdrawal symptoms, professional treatment that offers medical detoxification is a must. This is especially true if oxazepam is being abused with alcohol or opioids, which can magnify your chances of suffering respiratory depression and death.
In either case, a professional recovery program that offers comprehensive treatment, therapy, and counseling will see to it that the substance is safely removed from your body and the distressing withdrawal symptoms alleviated. Acute treatment is the stage where the benzodiazepine is removed from your body and withdrawal symptoms are addressed.
Clinical stabilization services provide specialized therapy and counseling designed to help you get to the root causes of your addiction.
Those services include:
- Nutritional assessments
- Emotional regulation
- Medical education
- Motivational enhancement
- Relapse prevention
- The 12 steps of recovery
- Wellness skills
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills
- Genetic testing
- Family-focused therapy
- Trauma-informed sessions
Outpatient care, where you receive ongoing treatment and counseling on a part-time basis, is an option. This can occur after acute treatment or after clinical stabilization. It all depends on a combination of factors, including the severity of your addiction.
When your treatment is finished, you can get connected to a recovery community that provides long-term support and counseling.