Oxazepam is a benzodiazepine, a drug that depresses the central nervous system. It is sold under the brand name Serax as a prescription medication used to treat the symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, and other sleep disorders.
Benzos were initially hailed as a safe alternative to older, more dangerous drugs like barbiturates. Benzodiazepines were supposed to be less addictive, with a lower potential for abuse. However, this turned out to not be the case, and benzodiazepines now have a similar reputation for abuse and addiction.
Even benzodiazepines like oxazepam, which is itself meant to be a safer version of more benzodiazepines like Klonopin or Ativan, carries a high risk of addiction and overdose, along with many other adverse health consequences.
Oxazepam works in the same way as other benzodiazepines in that it increases the levels of a neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) to create strong feelings of relaxation and sedation as well as induce sleep.
GABA is responsible for regulating feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear by slowing down activity in the central nervous system, keeping the nerve impulses carrying these signals from reaching the brain. Oxazepam mimics this naturally produced GABA and binds with the brain’s GABA receptors, activating them over and over to flood the brain with GABA.
The biggest difference in how oxazepam works compared to benzodiazepines like Xanax is that it has a much slower onset of action. This means it takes longer for the body to metabolize, which is what is supposed to make it safer to use. Unfortunately, this safety mechanism is bypassed if someone uses oxazepam in an unintended way, such as crushing it and snorting it, which makes for a faster, stronger high.
When most people think of addiction, they are probably under the impression that the signs of it are easy to spot, and that red flags and abnormal behavior will clearly stand out. However, this is not always the case, especially if someone is still in the very early stages of addiction, or has not yet transitioned from substance abuse to full-blown addiction.
In fact, the opposite is often true, and it is all-too-easy to miss signs of a growing substance abuse problem as they appear without the benefit of being able to view them all together in hindsight. This is especially true of oxazepam since it is both a prescription drug and on the “safer” end of the spectrum compared to benzodiazepines like Xanax.
Because people may not perceive oxazepam as a dangerous drug, they are less likely to recognize the signs of misuse and abuse, to the point where even the person who is abusing oxazepam does not realize their use is a growing problem.
However, if you are suspicious that someone is abusing oxazepam, there are some noticeable side effects commonly associated with regular, chronic abuse, such as:
The line that separates substance abuse from addiction is one of control. Someone abusing oxazepam may still maintain some level of control over how much and how often they use it. Addiction, on the other hand, is characterized by compulsive use and a total loss of control.
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Someone who has been abusing oxazepam may not at first realize they have crossed that line into total dependence and addiction until the consequences have become too significant to ignore. Obtaining and using oxazepam will become the motivating factor behind the majority of their actions and decisions as it becomes their top priority over any hobbies, relationships, or responsibilities.
Other behaviors that are consistent with someone in the grip of a substance use disorder and can indicate possible oxazepam addiction include:
If you have seen these signs in the behavior of a loved one or recognize them in your actions, it is essential that you get help from a professional addiction treatment center as soon as you can to avoid a potentially fatal overdose and stop any further mental or physical damage caused by the drug.
As with nearly any addictive substance, effective oxazepam addiction treatment should begin with supervised medical detoxification. Detox is the process of removing drugs, alcohol, and any associated toxins from a person’s system to achieve stabilization and sobriety.
Detox is also when someone is going to experience unpleasant, potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms, as their body attempts to adjust to a lack of drugs or alcohol. The intensity of withdrawal symptoms during detox will vary based on the severity of someone’s addiction, the person’s physical and mental health, and the substance of abuse.
Benzodiazepines are one of the most difficult drugs to detox from, with unpredictable and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. And while it may be one of the milder benzodiazepines, oxazepam is still no exception. Because of the risk of symptoms such as suicidal behavior, hallucinations, psychosis, delirium, and grand mal seizures, an oxazepam detox should never be attempted alone or without some level of professional medical intervention.
After detox is finished and any potential dangers or complications from withdrawal symptoms have passed, the next treatment step is to enter a recovery treatment program that is proper for long-term care.
Continuing care is critical to successfully recover from substance abuse and maintain sobriety for any significant period. Detox does nothing to help people understand or address the issues at the heart of their addiction so that they can work through them and learn the skills necessary to manage their addiction effectively.
An addiction rehabilitation program can be done through either inpatient or outpatient treatment. Both treatments contain several subtypes and variations but essentially are differentiated by either having someone live on the premises of a treatment center throughout their recovery or at home and travel to the facility for regular appointments and therapy sessions.
Therapists will often work with a client to help create an individualized treatment plan based on what therapies will have been deemed most useful for their needs. Most treatment plans will include at least some of the following common elements, such as:
Oxazepam may be less toxic compared to other more potent benzodiazepines, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s safe to misuse without fear of serious adverse health consequences, including addiction and overdose.
In fact, even if someone is taking oxazepam at the proper prescribed dose, if they continue to use it for too long, they can become addicted to it in as little as a few weeks. This can happen even more quickly if the drug is taken in large amounts.
Oxazepam abuse can also lead to something known as rebounding, which is when someone becomes so tolerant to the effects of oxazepam that it stops working and their original anxiety or insomnia symptoms return, generally much worse than they were before.
While it is more than possible to overdose on oxazepam on its own, like other benzodiazepines, it is frequently mixed with alcohol to create stronger sedative effects, which only increases the risk of overdose. Oxazepam overdose symptoms include:
If someone is experiencing an oxazepam overdose, it is vital that they get emergency medical attention as soon as possible to prevent a fatal overdose, along with any permanent organ or brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Oxazepam. (April 15, 2017) from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682050.html
Hu, X. (2011, February). Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Seizures and Management. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21815323
Kennard, J. (2012, April 02). Rebound Anxiety – Talk Therapy – Anxiety | HealthCentral. from https://www.healthcentral.com/article/rebound-anxiety
Psychology Today. Benzodiazepines: The Danger Lurking in the Shadow of Opiates. (June 29, 2017) Sack, D. MD from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/where-science-meets-the-steps/201706/benzodiazepines-the-danger-lurking-in-the-shadow-opiates
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, August). Overdose Death Rates. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
NIDA. (2018, March 15). Benzodiazepines and Opioids. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/benzodiazepines-opioids