Posted on Dec 15, 2021, 4 a.m.
The month of December is an exciting time for many of us. It’s normally when we’re ready to cash in on the rest of our vacation time and enjoy the holidays surrounded by friends and family. But the holidays aren’t happy times for everyone. For some of us, holidays are filled with anxiety. This can lead to dangerous substance abuse, especially with drugs like benzodiazepines. Here’s why you should think twice about using benzos to suppress your anxiety on the holidays.
As Temperatures Drop, Overdoses Spike
The CDC announced in November that over 100,000 Americans have died from overdoses in one year, a record number that is expected to get worse during the holidays. Many are attributing these overdoses to isolation and the financial pressures of the pandemic. These circumstances help create anxious situations for us, and we feel them with greater strength during the holidays.
Benzos are the FDA-approved drug of choice to treat anxiety, as well as other related conditions. Names like Xanax and Valium are the different types of benzos prescribed to people, depending on whether they are short or long-acting. When benzos are taken, they interrupt the work of the inhibitory interneurons in the brain. These cells keep our bodies from producing excessive levels of dopamine, the hormone that makes us feel good. Benzos override this action, enabling our bodies to produce high levels of dopamine. Not only does this result in a high, but it also counteracts the feelings of depression and worry that are associated with anxiety.
In general, this sounds like a great option for anxious people that want to feel better. But of course, things aren’t so simple. It is true that benzo use as prescribed can be done responsibly. Not all people who take these drugs will develop an addiction. But the danger is that addiction is becoming the norm rather than the exception. Things like the FDA announcing a boxed warning requirement for all benzos, and the overdose statistics, all point to the dangers of addiction, even when taking the prescribed dosage.
The holidays are especially dangerous to make anxiety worse, and not just because of the awkward or even painful social environments we are in. That much is true, but holiday parties and family events often include the use of alcohol. Benzo users should be especially careful because the risk of overdose or death increases when mixed with other substances such as alcohol. This mixture of alcohol and medication can not only cause addiction but even changes in the brain as it tries to process these spikes in dopamine.
Avoiding the Anxiety
The reaction to fight off holiday anxiety with a pill is more common than you might think. An article over 15 years ago from the New York Times talks about how common drugs like Valium and Xanax are the go-to drugs to get people through work parties, family dinners, shopping, and other holiday activities. Many families share prescriptions as readily as asking someone for a Tylenol to fight off a headache. Many of the people assumed that benzos were the cleaner and tidier way to take the edge off, without the complications of hangovers from alcohol.
However, this emphasizes why benzos are not a good option for holiday anxiety. Not only can they quickly become an addiction, but once a person is addicted, they will crave more than the prescribed amount. This kind of tolerance creates a whole new kind of anxiety that is based on their new tolerance to the drug. Pretty soon, what seemed like a harmless pill for a dinner party is needed for any stressful situation. At the end of this downward spiral, anxiety is the new norm anytime the benzo high is not felt.
Hopefully, this explains why benzos are not a good option to deal with anxiety during the holidays. But if you have already developed an unhealthy pattern of benzo use, there are ways to make the most of the holidays without adding to the anxiety. Seeking professional help is an important way to safely deal with the withdrawal symptoms of benzo detoxing. The risk of trying to quit without professional help is too great.
Because benzo prescriptions are typically meant only for short-term use, they should never be seen as a permanent fix for anxiety. Finding a treatment center to deal directly with treating anxiety disorder can be a great way to deal with anxiety while avoiding the addiction and isolation that comes with trying to handle it yourself.
Quick fixes are normally too good to be true. And in the case of benzos, they are not the answer for anxiety during the holidays. But, taking a comprehensive approach to anxiety can help make the holidays a time of joy once again.
This article was written by Kevin Morris from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a dedicated family of facilities committed to offering individualized treatment for all levels of addiction working to treat it at its core to provide those suffering with the tools to start a journey of long-lasting recovery.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.
Content may be edited for style and length.
Materials provided by:
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, November 17) National Center for Health Statistics. Drug Overdose Deaths in the U.S. Top 100,000 Annually. Retrieved
Delphi Health Group. (n.d). How do Benzodiazepines Affect a Developing Brain? Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/dual-diagnosis-treatment/anxiety/
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). What are the Differences Between Benzodiazepines? Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/benzodiazepines/differences/
United States Food and Drug Administration. (2020, October 2). FDA Requiring Boxed Warning Updated to Improve Safe Use of Benzodiazepine Drug Class. Retrieved https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-requiring-boxed-warning-updated-improve-safe-use-benzodiazepine-drug-class
National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2021, July 26). Benzodiazepine Toxicity. Retrieved https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482238/
New York Times. (2004, November 28). High for the Holidays. Retrieved https://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/28/fashion/high-for-the-holidays.html
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Guide to Benzodiazepine Addiction and Treatment. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/benzodiazepines/
Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). How to Ease the Symptoms of Benzo Withdrawal. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/benzodiazepines/ease-withdrawal/
Delphi Health Group. (n.d). Addiction and Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/dual-diagnosis-treatment/anxiety/