Anxiety is a common problem in the United States. Millions of people live with an anxiety disorder every year.
An estimated 40 million adults and 10 million children and teens have some form of an anxiety disorder, states PsychCentral.
Anxiety can hang over you like a dark cloud, interrupting your life at inopportune times. Various medications are used to treat anxiety disorders. They help calm you down so that you can relax when you feel symptoms of worry, panic, or general uneasiness.
Benzodiazepines are medications that help people with anxiety and sleep disorders find rest and relaxation.
There are dozens of drugs in the benzodiazepine class. While they all work similarly, there are some differences between specific drugs. Oxazepam is a benzodiazepine mainly used for the treatment of anxiety. It also has some benefits for sleep disorders and even the treatment of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Oxazepam is a benzodiazepine that’s sold in the U.S. under the brand name Serax. It’s also listed under the larger category of central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which is a group of chemical substances that suppress your nervous system, decrease excitability, and cause you to relax.
Oxazepam is more useful as an anxiety medication than as an insomnia treatment. It has a slow onset of action and may take longer than other benzos to start working after your initial dose.
Generally, people with insomnia take longer to get to sleep and require fast-acting medication to help them fall asleep faster. However, some sleep disorders cause people to wake up frequently in the middle of the night. In those cases, oxazepam may help people stay asleep longer.
The drug is also intermediate-acting, which means its duration of action is longer than some but shorter than others. It has a half-life of five to 15 hours and may remain active in your system for a few hours. Again, this can help people who wake up in the middle of the night, but it may not be the first choice for serious sleep disorders.
However, these unique qualities may make it more useful as an anti-anxiety drug. It allows you to ease symptoms of anxiety without a long period of intoxicating side effects. Oxazepam can cause dizziness and drowsiness that makes driving dangerous. However, its effects can wear off more quickly than other alternatives.
Like most depressants, oxazepam works by increasing the efficiency of GABA, a neurochemical that’s designed to regulate the excitability of your nervous system, allowing you to relax when it’s time to rest. Unfortunately, the drug can be habit-forming, causing you to become reliant on the drug. After becoming dependent, you will feel uncomfortable symptoms when you try to quit.
The drug also carries the risk of overdose, especially if it’s mixed with opioids, alcohol, or other CNS depressants.
Oxazepam can generate withdrawal symptoms after someone abruptly stops using the drug, especially after extended use. For some users who have been on oxazepam for an extended period of time, withdrawal can be life-threatening, which is the case for all benzodiazepines.
According to Verywell Mind, the withdrawal symptoms for benzodiazepines like oxazepam include:
Oxazepam addiction is often initiated by a pattern of abuse, though it can still occur with standard therapeutic use if you use the drug too many weeks in a row. Benzodiazepine abuse can sometimes be hidden for a short time, but, like most drug abuse, it’s difficult to hide indefinitely. Signs of oxazepam abuse include:
After a period of using or abusing oxazepam, you might notice that your tolerance for the drug is growing. This will feel like your usual doses are becoming less effective, and you may feel the need to use heavier doses to achieve the same effect. As your tolerance grows, you may start to develop a dependence on oxazepam that you notice when you start to feel uncomfortable symptoms when you cut back or quit.
It’s important to note that even standard therapeutic use of benzodiazepines has a chance of causing dependence, especially in older people. If you or someone you know is struggling with dependency, it’s important to call a medical professional as soon as possible.
Since oxazepam addiction can lead to dangerous withdrawal symptoms when you try to detox, it’s important to consult with a doctor before attempting to quit. Medical detox is the safest way to go through withdrawal symptoms while avoiding serious complications. In medical detox, you will be treating with 24-hour care from medical professionals and medication to manage symptoms and avoid complications.
If you still have pressing medical or psychological needs after detox, you may be connected to a residential treatment program. Also called, inpatient treatment, residential care is 24 hours of medical monitoring to ensure your continued safety and recovery.
Typically, the majority of your treatment for oxazepam addiction will be in either intensive outpatient or outpatient treatment. In this level of care, you will be treated with various therapies that are tailored to your needs. Behavioral therapies are the most common; they can help you address underlying issues and learn how to avoid relapse.
It’s often assumed that chemical substances that have common medical uses are generally safe to use, even in excess. However, oxazepam can be dangerous when overused or abused. Using the drug for too long (typically longer than four weeks) can lead to dependence.
You may develop a dependence more quickly if you abuse the drug by taking high doses, taking doses in close succession, or mixing the drug with other depressants. Abuse can also cause a phenomenon called rebounding, which is when growing tolerance and dependence make anxiety or sleep disorder symptoms return or worsen.”
Abuse can also lead to overdose. Though oxazepam is generally less toxic than other benzodiazepine options, abuse, and recreational use can lead to dangerous side effects, particularly if you mix it with other drugs. Opioids, alcohol, and other depressants can compound the effects of oxazepam, leading to life-threatening symptoms, including:
If you try to quit abruptly after becoming dependent on oxazepam, you can experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Depressants are unique in the way they can cause you to have an overactive nervous system during withdrawal that leads to seizures, insomnia, and panic.
In some cases, withdrawal can cause a condition called delirium tremens, which can be deadly without medical treatment. If you have started to see signs of dependence or withdrawal, speak to a medical professional before trying to quit cold turkey.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Facts & Statistics. from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
ASAM. (n.d.). American Society of Addiction Medicine. from https://www.asam.org/resources/the-asam-criteria/about
Haggerty, J., MD. (2018, October 08). Quick Facts About Anxiety Disorders. from https://psychcentral.com/lib/quick-facts-about-anxiety-disorders/
Kennard, J. (2012, April 02). Rebound Anxiety – Talk Therapy – Anxiety | HealthCentral. from https://www.healthcentral.com/article/rebound-anxiety
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, August 09). Overdose Death Rates. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
Osborn, C. O. (2019, July 15). How Long Does Withdrawal From Benzodiazepines Last? from https://www.verywellmind.com/benzodiazepine-withdrawal-4588452