A new research study has shown that benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Klonopin, actually change the structure of the brain. This discovery could lead to further research regarding benzodiazepine addiction that can be explained by altered brain chemistry.
The study, which will be published in the August edition of Psychiatry Neuroimaging, shows that long term use of benzodiazepines can change the caudate in the brain. The caudate is responsible for the reward system, a function of the brain that is often linked to addiction.
The study, which was conducted in Finland, gathered data from MRI scans of 38 people diagnosed with schizophrenia. The MRIs were taken when the subjects were 34-years-old and then again when they were 43-years-old. Comparing the MRIs showed distinct changes in the brains of those that were using benzodiazepines. In order for a study to be valid, researchers have to take into account age, illness, and medication dose, yet even with these adjustments, benzodiazepines still seem to have a major effect on the brain.
Because this is the first study that has analyzed the potential of benzodiazepines to change the structure of the brain, researchers are anxious to further their understanding of this new development.
“There is a need for understanding the mechanisms behind antipsychotic – and benzodiazepine – related structural and functional changes in the brain. Further studies should also focus on how medication-related structural alterations correspond to cognition and functioning,” explained the authors of the study. They also understand that there will need to be a more large-scale population to gather enough data to back up their initial findings more thoroughly.
However, the study is interesting because it may answer questions about the potential for benzodiazepine addiction. Medications like Xanax or Valium are highly addictive and oftentimes abused by people who do not have their own prescription for the drug. Traditionally prescribed to those that suffer from anxiety disorders, these drugs are oftentimes sold on the street to people looking for the high that benzodiazepines can provide.
It can also garner further insight into how to treat benzo addictions in terms of helping to rehabilitate the brain and repair lost function from the drugs.