“And though she’s not really ill, there’s a little yellow pill.
She goes running for the shelter of her mother’s little helper
And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day.”
The ‘little pill’ in the lyrics from Mother’s Little Helper, a 1966 song by The Rolling Stones, was no euphemism. Mick Jagger and crew were engaging in social commentary, and the specific pill they were singing about was Valium – a type of benzodiazepine then commonly prescribed by physicians, especially to overwhelmed stay-at-home moms.
Colloquially known as ‘benzos’, benzodiazepines are a group of prescription drugs used to treat anxiety and other mental health issues. Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Valium, and Ativan are the most widely prescribed drugs in the world. At the same time, despite their popularity, there are serious and often overlooked risks associated with the use of these powerful medications.
First and foremost there is the risk of addiction and misuse. Benzodiazepines have a high potential for abuse and addiction due to their fast-acting effect on the brain. With prolonged use, the change benzodiazepines create in the way the neurons in your brain respond to neurotransmitters such as dopamine and GABA – chemicals involved in feelings of pleasure or relaxation – can lead to physical dependence. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can cause severe symptoms ranging from insomnia and sweating to seizures and even death if not managed properly.
Another significant danger posed by benzodiazepines is their tendency to cause blackouts or amnesia when taken in higher doses or in combination with alcohol or other drugs. Because benzodiazepines work on the brain quite quickly, they can temporarily impair judgment and memory formation, making it difficult for users to remember what they said or did while under their influence. In extreme cases, this can lead to dangerous activities such as driving while impaired or engaging in risky sexual behavior without fully understanding the consequences.
Furthermore, benzodiazepine tolerance can build up over time, meaning users will require more frequent doses or higher dosages than before in order to achieve the effect they initially felt at lower doses. This puts them at an increased risk of overdosing, as well as developing physical dependence more quickly than was once thought possible with short-term use alone.
Benzodiazepines also carry a significantly greater risk for older adults due to age-related changes in physiology, which may reduce seniors’ ability to process medications safely. This includes cognitive impairment caused by dementia, which can increase risks associated with falls or accidental overdose due to confusion about how much medication had already been taken on a given day.
Finally, benzodiazepines interact dangerously with a group of antidepressants known as MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors). When combined, benzodiazepines and MAOIs may cause confusion and hallucinations. Depending on the severity of symptoms experienced by individual patients, these symptoms could be life-threatening.
Xanax, Valium, and their potent cousins should always be taken under medical supervision, so physicians can monitor dosage levels and adverse reactions closely. It’s also important for those taking benzodiazepines – or any type of drug – to be aware of all the potential risks before beginning treatment.
Make responsible decisions regarding your health, and always seek to prevent a problem rather than deal with it once it’s there. If you aren’t willing to swallow the side effects as you read them from a bottle, a pharmacist’s instructions, or a website, you probably shouldn’t take the pill that can cause them.