Halcion (triazolam) is a drug classified as a benzodiazepine. These drugs are central nervous system depressants that function by slowing down the actions of the brain and spinal cord. Benzodiazepines are typically prescribed for the treatment of anxiety, seizures, as muscle relaxants, and as sleep inducers, in some cases. Halcion has all of these uses but is typically prescribed to initiate sleep.
Triazolam was patented in 1970, and the drug was marketed in the United States in the early 1980s as Halcion. The drug has all the properties of other benzodiazepines; however, it is most often prescribed as a sleep inducer. Halcion has a very short half-life (1.5-2 hours), which means that due to its fast elimination time, it is generally not effective for long-term treatment of anxiety, seizure management, or people who have frequent awakenings at night or early awakenings. Instead, the drug is marketed as a temporary solution for individuals who have difficulty falling asleep and may also be used to reduce anxiety for brief periods, such as for individuals who are undergoing surgery and need a preanesthetic anxiety reducer, or for individuals undergoing medical tests, such as MRI scans, who have anxiety regarding closed places.
It should also be emphasized that the drug is designed to be a temporary solution to insomnia, as tolerance to the drug develops rather quickly, and there is research to indicate that over the long-term, behavioral methods to cope with anxiety or insomnia are more effective than the long-term use of benzodiazepines. It can be useful as a sleep aid for people traveling on medium or long duration flights.
Physical Dependence and Abuse
Research indicates that continued use of benzodiazepines may result in the development of physical dependence. According to sources, such as the book Concepts of Chemical Dependency, physical dependence is a syndrome that is characterized by both the presence of tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal process from benzodiazepines is very similar to the withdrawal process from alcohol. Because Halcion has a very short half-life, individuals who develop physical dependence on this drug may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms rather quickly.
Withdrawal symptoms from Halcion can include:
- Cravings for Halcion
- Increased irritability
- Pain and stiffness
- Rebound insomnia
- Loss of appetite
- Irregular heartbeat
The development of seizures as a result of withdrawal from benzodiazepines like Halcion is a potentially fatal occurrence. Any individual who is attempting to cut down or discontinue their use of Halcion should only do so under the supervision of a physician. Because benzodiazepines like Halcion are often abused in conjunction with other drugs of abuse, such as alcohol and other central nervous system depressants, it is extremely important for an individual who is attempting to discontinue the use of any benzodiazepine to disclose any other drug use to their physician, as polydrug abuse represents a very serious situation.
A rebound effect (e.g., rebound insomnia) occurs when a person reduces the dose or discontinues the drug and experiences the symptoms that the drug is intended to treat or control. Individuals who stopped taking Halcion often experience rebound insomnia and rebound anxiety once they discontinue use of the drug, and this leads to increased risk for relapse.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, the signs and symptoms of a substance use disorder to benzodiazepines include two or more of the following occurring within 12 months:
- Repeatedly taking Halcion for longer periods of time or in higher amounts than originally intended
- Recurrent cravings to take Halcion
- A number of unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control use of Halcion
- Spending significant amounts of time using, trying to get, or recovering from use of Halcion
- Continuing to use Halcion in spite of having problems with work, personal relationships, school, or other areas of life
- Giving up important activities as a result of using Halcion
- Failing to maintain important obligations as a result of Halcion use
- Continuing to use Halcion in spite of knowing that it is causing emotional, personal, or occupational problems
- Repeatedly using Halcion in situations where it is dangerous to do so, such as mixing it with alcohol, using it while driving, etc.
- Needing more Halcion to get the same effects that were once received with lower amounts (tolerance)
- Developing withdrawal symptoms when not using Halcion
Treatment for Halcion Addiction
The treatment for Halcion addiction can be multilayered, especially if the individual is abusing other drugs along with Halcion. In many cases, individuals are initially very resistant to getting treatment, and friends and family members must convince the person to get treatment, or treatment is imposed on the person by the legal system or in an effort to keep one’s job.
Because there is great potential that an individual has developed physical dependence on the drug, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the first step in the recovery process is for the individual to go through medical detox. This will typically begin by having the individual take controlled amounts of Halcion or another benzodiazepine (most often a longer-acting benzodiazepine) to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Then, the supervising physician will slowly taper the dosage over time to allow the system time to adjust to decreasing amounts of the benzodiazepine. This will significantly reduce withdrawal symptoms and the potential for the development of seizures. Other medications can also be administered to control particular symptoms.
An individual in a physician-supervised withdrawal management program will experience little or no physical discomfort, but often, the person will be tempted to return to old patterns of habitual use due to psychological factors. As a result, individuals in withdrawal management programs also begin to receive substance use disorder treatment to assist them in their recovery.