In 1970, a benzodiazepine known as triazolam was granted a US patent. Just over a decade later, in 1982, the drug hit the pharmaceutical scene with a new name: Halcion. It was a depressant that affected the central nervous system, creating a sedative effect that doctors hoped would effectively treat severe cases of insomnia.
Over time, however, the drug’s benefits were overshadowed by its addictive potential. By the early 1990s Halcion was banned from sale in the United Kingdom, and Newsweek reported that users in the US were experiencing “severe nervous system side effects.” In the years that followed, researchers began to develop a body of evidence that exposed how addictive triazolam can be.
How Is Halcion Dangerous?
Today, it is well known that Halcion is one of the most addictive benzodiazepines available. Despite having one of the shorter half-lives in the benzodiazepine class (Halcion’s half-life is 2-4 hours, while the half-life of Valium is 20-70 hours), Halcion is considerably more potent than other drugs of its kind and, therefore, more easily habit-forming.
Drug manufacturer Pfizer suggests that people do not take Halcion for longer than 10 days to keep physical and psychological dependence at bay. In fact, prolonged Halcion use could do more harm than good. A study from the Canadian Medical Association Journal discovered that test subjects experienced a rebound in anxiety and insomnia conditions by their third week of Halcion use.
To prevent misuse, individuals can only legally procure Halcion with a doctor’s prescription, and many physicians avoid prescribing it altogether. But when a patient suffers from chronic insomnia, their doctor may resort to writing a prescription for Halcion, which puts the patient at risk for addiction if the drug is abuse.
A Prescription That Leads to Addiction
When someone takes Halcion, the drug targets neuroreceptors in the brain to slow brain function and induce sleepiness. This can be hugely beneficial for individuals suffering from insomnia or other sleep disorders, but it can also wire the brain to become dependent on the drug. Because of Halcion’s short-lived effects, some people may overuse their medication to get a peaceful night’s sleep. In addition, people may continue taking the medication for longer than prescribed, often procuring it by visiting multiple doctors.
This potential for abuse is particularly high for people who struggle with other drug or alcohol addictions. If an individual has come to expect longer-lasting or more intense effects from their medication – particularly from other benzodiazepines like Valium or Xanax – they are more likely to ingest a higher dose of Halcion to achieve the same effects. However, this behavior is very dangerous, as it speeds up the process by which addiction develops.
In addition, some users may combine Halcion with alcohol or other substances of abuse to enhance the effects of the medication. Combining substances in this way increases the potential side effects of all substances and can rapidly lead to overdose.
Health Effects of Halcion Abuse
Using Halcion as prescribed by a doctor can effectively treat a variety of sleep disorders. The drug promotes muscle relaxation, reduced anxiety, and a hypnotic, euphoric state. But as mentioned, individuals are not encouraged to take Halcion for any period beyond 10 days. If they do, they put themselves at risk for both physical and psychological dependency.
When someone is addicted to Halcion, the constant exposure to the drug can have a dangerous effect on the body. Long-term side effects of Halcion include:
- Lack of balance
- Mental impairment
- Slurred speech
- Double vision
- Low blood pressure
- Slowed breathing
While these effects can wreak havoc on a person, they are just the beginning for a person struggling with Halcion abuse. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, stopping Halcion after a period of prolonged use can cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. As a result, medical detox is always required to safely withdraw from the drug.
Polydrug abuse is another risk that plagues individuals suffering from Halcion addiction. Some people will combine their Halcion dose with other substances like alcohol, cocaine, or other painkillers, often to extend the length of their high. Polydrug abuse can contribute to graver consequences, from excessively painful withdrawal symptoms to drug overdose.
Signs of Halcion Abuse
If you believe that someone you care about is abusing Halcion, there are some signs you should look for. A person who is abusing Halcion or other benzodiazepines may have appear drunk much of the time, with a staggering gait and slurred speech.
Another noticeable symptom of Halcion abuse is known as rebound insomnia. This is a condition in which the body develops a tolerance to the drug, rendering it ineffective for the person taking it. As a result, the individual will become drowsy more often and may resort to higher dosages to achieve the desired effect. Other signs of Halcion abuse include:
- Poor personal hygiene
- Isolation from friends and family
- Constant cravings for the drug
- Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
If someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it is very important to seek out professional assistance. These warning signs have the potential to develop into addiction.
Halcion Withdrawal and Addiction Treatment
When someone decides to stop using Halcion, they must be prepared to deal with the withdrawal symptoms that follow. After all, Halcion is a highly addictive substance, upon which the body can become dependent in a mere two weeks. As the drug leaves the body, an individual may experience uncomfortable symptoms that mirror those of alcohol withdrawal. These include:
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
Because Halcion withdrawal symptoms are so severe, medical professionals discourage people from simply discontinuing use of the medication suddenly. Instead, they are encouraged to wean off the drug, either with a tapered dose of Halcion or with another, less addictive benzodiazepine.
A comprehensive addiction treatment program will employ medical detox procedures for the withdrawal process. Supervising physicians will oversee a tapering schedule as the person safely detoxes from the drug. While medical detox is the first phase of the treatment process, it must be followed by therapy to ensure the reasons behind the substance abuse are addressed.
For example, a study in Psychopharmacology discovered that the drug trazodone (marketed under the brand name Oleptro) achieved similar effects as Halcion with less addictive potential. This drug, researchers argued, could help to alleviate withdrawal symptoms while also offering an individual the chance to seek treatment.
Halcion addiction treatment is similar to treatment for addiction to other substances of abuse. Through a combination of medication, therapies, and aftercare support, a person can learn to manage the issues that led to the substance abuse. In treatment, clients will learn to deal with triggers that could lead them back to substance abuse, effectively helping them to resist relapse and embrace a full life in recovery.