Benzodiazepine Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Risks, and Treatment Resources

Last Medical Reviewer On: March 26, 2024
Updated On: Nov 1, 2023
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Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Medical Review by:

Dr. Po Chang Hsu MD, MS

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    Benzodiazepines are prescription drugs that are designed to treat a variety of conditions by suppressing the nervous system. These drugs also have a significant potential for addiction and abuse. But what are benzos, how do they work, and what dangers do they pose?

    What are Benzodiazepines?

    Benzodiazepines are CNS depressant drugs that are commonly used to treat anxiety, muscle spasms, seizures, and insomnia. Some benzos are also used before surgeries as anesthetics. The number of people having prescriptions for Benzos has increased in recent years, with around 5.6% of people receiving a prescription in a single year.[1]

    Benzos are Schedule IV drugs, according to the Controlled Substances Act. This means they have a significant potential for addiction and abuse, but they are not as naturally addictive as Schedule III and II drugs.

    Common street names for general benzos include downers, sleeping pills, tranks, and totem poles. Popularly prescribed brand names include Xanax®, Valium®, and Klonopin®.

    Side Effects of Xanax®

    Xanax® is one of the most commonly prescribed benzos; its generic name is alprazolam. This medication is usually prescribed to treat anxiety and insomnia. Some side effects include drowsiness, fatigue, talkativeness, dizziness, problems concentrating, and irritability.

    Side Effects of Valium®

    Valium® is another medication designed to treat anxiety, but it also is used to treat muscle spasms and seizures. It often goes by the generic name diazepam and is a common substance treated in Benzo rehab centers. The side effects are very similar to those of Xanax®:

    • Dizziness
    • Drowsiness
    • Dizziness
    • Mood changes
    • Forgetfulness
    • Constipation
    • Nausea

    Side Effects of Klonopin®

    Doctors often prescribe Klonopin® to treat seizures and panic disorders, though it may also treat anxiety. Side effects may include increased production of saliva, joint pain, increased frequency of urination, dizziness, and drowsiness.

    How are Benzodiazepines taken?

    Most benzos are pills that need to be swallowed whole. This allows the pill to slowly dissolve in the stomach over several hours so that the pill’s total dosage isn’t released all at once.

    Taking the drug as prescribed produces a different effect compared to misusing the drug. Many people require Benzo addiction treatment after chronically misusing the drug.

    Misusing this medication involves snorting, smoking, or injecting the substance. 17.2% of Benzo users misuse their medication.[2] Some misuse it by taking too many pills at once. Others may chew the pills before swallowing them to speed up the drug’s release.

    In either case, this increases the risk of overdose and addiction. Seeking professional treatment at a Benzo detox center is the most effective strategy for treating benzo addiction.

    Benzodiazepine Quick Reference

    Drug Category Commercial & Street Names DEA Schedule Administration
    Xanax® Alprazolam, bars, xannies, z-bars, handlebars Schedule IV Oral pills
    Valium® Diazepam, candy, downers, tranks Schedule IV Oral pills
    Klonopin® Clonazepam, K-pin, downers, planks, nerve pills Schedule IV Oral pills

    Learn More About Other Abused Drugs

    • Xanax® Addiction
    • Opioid Addiction (Painkiller Addiction)
    • Barbiturate Addiction
    • Suboxone Addiction

    Statistics on Benzodiazepine Use, Misuse, and Addiction

    The majority of people who misuse benzos don’t do it to “get high.” Of everyone who misuses these drugs, 22.4% do it for increased anxiety relief and to help with insomnia, while only 11.8% do it to experience euphoria.[3]

    Despite this small subset, it is important to understand that benzo addiction and abuse can have serious consequences. Many people don’t realize when they’ve become addicted to or dependent on this medication until it’s too late.

    Benzodiazepine misuse is prevalent in both Tennessee and New Jersey. A total of 3,032 drug overdose deaths were reported in Tennessee for 2020, including benzos. Additionally, 32% of all people who died from drug overdose in Tennessee had filled a benzodiazepine prescription in the last 60 days before death in 2020.[4]

     

    Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse

    Since benzos slow the nervous system, those who abuse these drugs are often drowsy, overly relaxed, and slow. They may slur their speech, have trouble concentrating and remembering things, and often be dizzy. These symptoms can influence a person’s relationships, career, and other aspects of their life.

    Can You Overdose on Benzodiazepines?

    It is possible to overdose on benzos, especially when not taking the drug as prescribed or when using it in ways other than intended. It is more likely to overdose when you take more than you’re supposed to or take it using off-prescription methods. Overdoses can occur when individuals consume significantly more than the prescribed dose, sometimes taking multiple pills at once.

    They may also crush and snort the pills or melt them down and inject them. This would release the pill’s entire dosage at once and could cause dangerous consequences. It is also more likely to overdose on benzos when you mix them with other substances.

    Many US states have created programs over the years in response to increasing benzodiazepine and other drug overdose numbers. In Tennessee, a program called Regional Overdose Prevention Specialists provides access and information about what to do if a drug overdose is suspected. Resources are also available through the New Jersey Department of Human Services for identifying and responding to a suspected overdose.

    Signs and Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Overdose

    Overdosing on benzos will cause breathing to become very shallow and their heart rate to become very slow and weak. Their skin may feel cold and clammy. They may be unresponsive, but if they are still awake, they may experience vomiting, stomach cramps, weakness, and dizziness. If left untreated, a benzo overdose could be fatal.

    What to do if you suspect someone is overdosing on Benzodiazepines:

    If you find that someone has overdosed on Benzos, it is important to call emergency services right away. The faster the person can get treated, the better their chance. If possible and safe, stay with the person until an ambulance arrives.

    Dangers of Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use

    The longer a person uses Benzos, the more likely they will be to become addicted or dependent. Your brain will become so used to the presence of these drugs and have a hard time functioning without them.

    Once you become dependent, there is also the risk of experiencing withdrawal when you stop taking the drug. This can result in unpleasant symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, sweating, and stomach pain.

    Benzos can also contribute to cognitive decline, slow reaction speed, and increased risk of overdose.

     

    Mixing Benzodiazepines with Other Substances

    Mixing benzos with alcohol significantly increases the risk of severe side effects because both are central nervous system depressants, enhancing each other’s effects. Together, they can slow your breathing and heart rate to dangerous levels, cause you to pass out, go into a coma, or fatally overdose. It is also dangerous to take benzos along with other benzos or other depressant medications.

     

    Benzodiazepine Addiction and Abuse

    Once a benzo addiction forms, it can be hard to break. It is important to be familiar with the signs and symptoms of addiction.

    Signs of Addiction to Benzodiazepines

    Those who are addicted to Benzos may experience behavioral changes. They may seem more isolated, stop going to work and talking to friends and family, and no longer enjoy engaging in their usual hobbies. Some may pick up risky behavior and try to forge their prescriptions or steal some from medicine cabinets.

    Others may experience memory problems, dizziness, fainting, light-headedness, and muscle weakness.

     

    Benzodiazepine Addiction and Mental Health

    Benzo addictions often change a person’s mental health. They may become anxious or depressed. They may no longer enjoy their hobbies, social life, or work. Their main focus may only be on finding more benzos.

     

    Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment

    Addiction treatment often involves therapy and sometimes medication-assisted treatment. Treatment may range between 30 and 90 days, though some may need longer treatment programs. The cost will depend on the addiction program you choose.

    Treatment Programs

    From detoxification placement and partial hospitalization programs to outpatient care and long-term aftercare plans, investing in your personal wellness is critical in pursuing a full continuum of care. With professional support and a like-minded community, your chances of lifelong recovery are much stronger.

    Therapies Used in Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment

    Participating in therapy is a core pillar of substance use disorder treatment. Here, you will develop practical coping skills and learn life-enhancement strategies that last a lifetime. Some of the most effective and evidence-based therapies include:

    • Cognitive behavioral therapy
    • Group therapy
    • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
    • Gestalt Therapy
    • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR)
    • Psychotherapy

    Dual Diagnosis for Co-Occurring Disorders

    Those who become addicted to Benzos often have anxiety or panic disorders. Benzos can help soothe these disorders, but there is also the potential for addiction. It’s important for long-term wellness to address both.

    Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Management and Treatment

    Going through detox and withdrawal is the earliest and most uncomfortable stage of the treatment process. Having a rehab facility on your side can make it easier. Withdrawal symptoms can begin within hours to days after the last dose and may last for several weeks to months, depending on the benzodiazepine used and the duration of use. In approximately 10% of cases, individuals with a history of long-term benzodiazepine use may experience protracted withdrawal symptoms, which can last for months or even years after discontinuing use.[5]

    Withdrawal symptoms and symptom severity depend on the type of benzo taken. Additionally, symptoms can vary based on the individual but may include the following:

    • Panic attacks and anxiety
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Shakiness or tremors
    • Muscle pain
    • Headaches
    • Seizures
    • Heart palpitations

     

    Drugs Used in Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Management

    In managing benzodiazepine withdrawal, medications such as flumazenil may be used in a clinical detox setting, while other medications, including buspirone, might be prescribed to manage underlying anxiety disorders during or after the withdrawal process.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Are Benzodiazepines Addictive?
    What Are the Signs of Benzodiazepine Addiction?
    What Are Benzodiazepine Withdrawals Like?

    Are you or a loved one struggling with Benzodiazepine usage?

    Sources
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