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

Updated On: Jan 13, 2024
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    Benzodiazepines (benzos) are a class of central nervous system (CNS) depressant drugs that are prescribed for anxiety and other conditions, but they have a potential for abuse and addiction. Learn more about benzos, their risks, and treatment for benzodiazepine addiction.

    What Are Benzodiazepines?

    Benzodiazepines are depressants that produce sedation and hypnosis, relieve anxiety, and reduce seizures.[1] They’re prescribed for anxiety disorders but also exist on the illicit market. Approximately 2.3% to 18% of Americans have misused benzodiazepines for recreational purposes, 10% of whom met criteria for abuse or dependence.[2]

    Under the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, benzodiazepines are Schedule IV for their potential for abuse and addiction.[3] The common street names for benzodiazepines include benzos and downers.

    Side Effects of Benzodiazepines

    When taken as prescribed and for a short period, benzodiazepines are safe and effective. They do have side effects, however, which include:

    • Drowsiness
    • Fatigue
    • Lethargy
    • Impaired motor coordination
    • Blurry vision
    • Dizziness
    • Vertigo
    • Mood changes
    • Hostile behavior[4]

    How Are Benzodiazepines Taken?

    Benzodiazepines come in tablet form and are intended for oral use. Some people may abuse them by crushing the tablets and snorting them, however. They work quickly and produce effects that last between 6 and 24 hours.[5]

    Benzodiazepines Quick Reference

    Drug Category Commercial & Street Names DEA Schedule Administration
    Depressant, sedative, hypnotic Benzos, downers Schedule IV Oral

    Statistics on Benzodiazepine Use, Misuse, and Addiction

    Here are some statistics on benzodiazepine use, misuse, and addiction:

    • About 75 million prescriptions for benzodiazepines were written in the US in 2008
    • The prevalence of benzodiazepine use in the general population is 4% to 5%
    • Women are twice as likely to be prescribed benzodiazepines than men
    • Benzodiazepines are more frequently prescribed to older people
    • Young adults aged 18 to 35 comprise the largest portion of benzodiazepine abusers
    • Approximately 40% of benzodiazepine abusers report a comorbid psychiatric disorder[6]

    Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse

    At normal doses, benzodiazepines relieve anxiety and insomnia. However, when abused, benzodiazepines can produce effects like:

    • Drowsiness
    • Confusion
    • Dizziness
    • Weakness
    • Lack of coordination
    • Changes in appearance or behavior
    • Anorexia
    • Chronic headaches[7]

    Can You Overdose on Benzodiazepines?

    Yes, you can overdose on benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines mixed with opioids or other depressants significantly increase the risk of fatal overdose.

    Signs and Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Overdose

    The effects of overdose include extreme drowsiness, confusion, decreased reflexes, respiratory depression, coma, and possible death.[8]

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

    Prompt medical attention is key in reversing a benzodiazepine overdose. If you suspect someone is overdosing, call 911 immediately. Stay with the person until help arrives and turn them on their side to prevent choking. If they stop breathing, you can administer CPR if you’re certified.

    Learn About Other Substance Use Disorders

    Dangers of Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use

    Long-term benzodiazepine use may include impaired concentration and memory, depression, sexual dysfunction, and lack of inhibition. In some cases, long-term benzodiazepine abuse may lead to symptoms that are similar to the conditions that it treats, such as anxiety and insomnia. Addiction and overdose are also risks of long-term use.

    Mixing Benzodiazepines with Other Drugs

    Benzodiazepines are often mixed with heroin or cocaine to enhance euphoria. Alcohol is also a common drug used in combination with benzodiazepines. When people abuse benzodiazepines with other drugs, they tend to take much higher amounts than alone.[9] Combining benzodiazepines with depressants like opioids and alcohol can significantly increase the risk of adverse effects or fatal overdose.

    Benzodiazepine Addiction and Abuse

    Benzodiazepine addiction and abuse falls under the sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). This is a problematic pattern of use that leads to significant impairment or distress, as characterized by at least two of the following criteria within a 12-month period:

    • Taking sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended
    • A persist desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use
    • Spending an exorbitant amount of time obtaining sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic drugs or recovering from the effects
    • Experiencing strong cravings
    • Failure to fulfill obligations at work, home, or school due to drug use
    • Continuing use despite interpersonal, social, or health problems
    • Giving up important recreational activities because of sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use
    • Increasing risk-taking behavior while under the influence of sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics
    • Continuing to use drugs despite knowledge of a recurrent problem[10]

    Are Benzodiazepines Addictive?

    Misuse of benzodiazepines significantly increases the risk of addiction, but using benzodiazepines as prescribed, but for longer periods, can lead to tolerance – when you require higher doses for the same effects. The drug becomes reinforcing, leading to abuse.

    How Addictive Are Benzodiazepines?

    As Schedule IV substances, benzodiazepines are drugs with a potential for abuse and dependence, though they’re less addictive than certain depressants and stimulants like opioids and methamphetamine.

    Signs of Addiction to Benzodiazepines

    Addiction to benzodiazepines can look different in everyone, but the signs and symptoms may include:

    • Social withdrawal
    • No longer participating in activities once enjoyed
    • Drug-seeking behavior
    • Getting involved in new social groups
    • Weight loss or appetite changes
    • Hostility
    • Sudden mood changes
    • Emotional detachment
    • Intense irritability or anger

    Cutting Agents Used for Benzodiazepines

    Most benzodiazepine abuse is due to prescription drug abuse. The benzodiazepines available on the illicit market are often prescription tablets, though it’s possible for them to have additives like fentanyl from unknown sources.

    Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment

    If you or a loved one struggles with benzodiazepine addiction, help is available. The length and cost of treatment depends on the severity of your addiction and your specific care plan, which is determined in your initial assessment.

    Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment Levels of Care

    Often, medical detox is the first step in addiction treatment. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be severe. Staying in a detox center allows a medical team to monitor your health and withdrawal symptoms around the clock and administer medications as needed to keep you safe and comfortable.

    Once detox is complete, you can enter into a treatment program based on your specific needs. Inpatient treatment offers the most intensive care and structure in a residential facility with a full staff to offer support and supervision. This is important for people who struggle with their addiction or have an unstable home environment.

    Outpatient treatment offers more flexibility and allows you to attend therapy sessions while balancing the responsibilities of home, work, or school.

    Aftercare is often used once inpatient or outpatient programs are complete, which may include sober housing, peer support groups, individual therapy, or alumni programs, to manage relapse risk and stress as you transition into everyday life.

    Therapies Used in Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment

    There are multiple behavioral therapy techniques that may be used to treat benzodiazepine addiction, including:

    • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This therapy focuses on changing unhelpful thoughts and beliefs and replacing them with healthier patterns to avoid relapse.
    • Contingency management: This therapy uses reward-based behaviors to motivate sobriety and abstinence.
    • Motivational enhancement therapy: This therapy works to help manage feelings of ambivalence by exploring feelings and motivations.

    Benzodiazepine Addiction and Mental Health

    Regular use of benzodiazepines can cause severe, harmful psychological and physical dependence. People who abuse benzodiazepines in the long term may struggle with insomnia and an increase in anxiety.[11]

    Co-Occurring Disorders

    Co-occurring disorders occur when substance use disorder and a mental health disorder occur simultaneously. Benzodiazepines are often involved in polysubstance abuse, but also co-occur with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.[12]

    How to Find Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment in Connecticut

    The best way to find benzodiazepine addiction treatment is through your insurance provider. You can also find help through the Behavioral Health Services Locator tool offered through SAMHSA.
    Be sure to do your due diligence to select a treatment center and read reviews. If you want to take the next step today, contact Paramount Wellness Retreat and speak to our compassionate care team.


    Benzodiazepine Detox and Withdrawal Management

    Benzodiazepine withdrawal can involve severe symptoms like sleep disturbances, irritability, anxiety, panic attacks, tremors, sweating, difficulty concentrating, nausea, weight loss, headache, seizures, and psychotic reactions.[13] Medical detox is a crucial part of addiction treatment to manage these symptoms, keep you comfortable, and prevent relapse.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What Are the Most Commonly Used Benzodiazepines? Chevron Down
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