Benzodiazepines are drugs usually prescribed to treat conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. These drugs may have sedation or hypnotic effects, muscle relaxants, anxiety relief, or anti-convulsants, which make them targets for abuse and addiction.
Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are dangerous drugs of abuse because of the potential for overdose, and the tendency to cause addiction and dependence. Treatment is available to help people addicted to benzodiazepines, and in recent decades has proven effective at aiding in long-term recovery success.
A successful benzodiazepine addiction treatment program will include an integrated approach, utilizing a number of evidence-based methods, medication if needed, and medical support.
Commonly Abused Benzodiazepines
Though nearly all benzodiazepine medications have been misused, some are abused more than others.
The most commonly abused benzodiazepines include:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Temazepam (Restoril)
- Triazolam (Halcion)
What Are The Side Effects Of Benzodiazepine Abuse?
Benzodiazepines can be used for treatment of a number of conditions, and when taken as prescribed, these drugs can be effective. However, if you abuse the drugs by changing the method of administration, taking more of the drug than prescribed, or taking it more often than you should, you increase risk of adverse side effects and overdose.
According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), side effects of benzodiazepine abuse and addiction may include:
- Constipation or stomach cramps
- Dry mouth
- Impairment to memory and thought processes
- Lack of coordination
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Respiratory depression
- Vision troubles
In high doses, benzodiazepines pose even higher risks to health, such as slowed reflexes, violent or erratic behavior, and dramatic mood shifts. Abusing benzodiazepines long-term increases your risk of developing addiction or dependence.
Signs And Symptoms Of Benzodiazepine Addiction
If you suspect someone close to you is addicted to benzodiazepines, you may want to know more about the disease. One of the most apparent signs of any addiction is loss of control: over drug use, behavior, and cravings and urges. As addiction worsens, you may see more and more signs.
Some signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine addiction include weakness, blurred vision, or drowsiness. As a person abuses the drug for a long period of time, he or she may develop tolerance which means they won’t feel the effects of the drug any more. Addicted people tend to start taking more of the drug in order to feel its effects.
Others signs may include a noticeable change in judgment or thought processes. People caught in the grips of addiction may make decisions they normally wouldn’t make, or take risks to get the drug. For instance, people who have become addicted to or dependent on prescription drugs may “doctor shop,” or contact several doctors until securing a new prescription.
With time, a person who has become dependent on benzodiazepines may experience dramatic mood swings, usually due to the “high” feeling produced by the drug, followed by the low, often depressed state that can follow.
Because benzodiazepines are prescription drugs, people who have grown addicted to them may begin asking family or friends for their medications, or even taking them without permission. People struggling with addiction may want to stop use of the drugs, but may be unable to because of the mental pull of addiction and physical symptoms caused by dependence.
Benzodiazepine Addiction Vs. Dependence
It’s important to understand the difference between benzodiazepine addiction and dependence. Addiction is the mental cycle of reliance which keeps a person going back to the drug again and again. With prolonged abuse, a person may develop addiction, and begin to feel as if they can’t function without the drug.
Physical dependence occurs when your body has started to rely on the drug to function and begins to exhibit physical symptoms when not taking it. Dependence does not occur with abuse of any drug, but can occur with abuse of benzodiazepines, causing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
Each person may experience withdrawal differently than others, but some withdrawal symptoms include:
- Extreme sweating
- Hand Tremors
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle pain
- Nausea and dry heaving
- Sleep troubles
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble with memory
- Weight loss
What Are The Dangers Of Benzodiazepine Addiction?
Benzodiazepines are dangerous drugs of abuse for many reasons. They foster addiction and dependence, and dependence can result in withdrawal symptoms like heart troubles and seizures which can lead to hospitalization or be fatal.
Prolonged abuse of benzodiazepines may lead to tolerance, and as you take more of the drug, each time you take it you increase your risk of overdose. Long-term benzodiazepine abuse can also lead to health problems. Acute withdrawal symptoms can last as long as months after you have quit use of the drugs, and may include anxiety and insomnia, depression, mood swings, tingling in the arms and legs, and gaps in thought or memory.
Benzodiazepine abuse poses risk of overdose, especially when combining the drug with other substances. Many people mix benzos with alcohol to enhance the sedative or relaxation effects, a combination that can be disastrous since both are depressants.
Overdose from benzodiazepines is a medical emergency, so if someone you know may be experiencing overdose, you should seek medical help right away.
Symptoms of a benzodiazepine overdose may include:
- Blue tint to fingernails/lips
- Loss of coordination
- Extreme confusion/disorientation
- Severe changes to mental status and ability
- Severe dizziness
- Trouble breathing
- Vision issues
Detoxification is important for anyone who needs to rid their body of the harmful toxins gained from drug abuse. Detox may not be necessary for every drug-addicted individual, but if you have become dependent on benzodiazepines, you may benefit from a medically-supervised detox program.
A medically-supervised detox provides you with quality medical care for the duration of your detox. Withdrawal can be a harrowing, even dangerous process for people who have become dependent on benzodiazepines. In fact, withdrawing from benzodiazepines can result in seizures or even suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Medical personnel should be present to ensure safety at all times.
During detox, symptoms may begin as early as six to 12 hours after last use of the drug, and usually peak around two weeks. However, duration of acute and post-acute symptoms may last as long as a month, a few months, or even longer.
Medically-supervised detox for benzodiazepine withdrawal allows you to taper off use of the drugs using a step-down method. This way, you’ll be able to quit use of the drugs without putting yourself at risk. You’ll be monitored during detox to ensure breathing and heart rate are at safe levels, and you can receive medication to help ease withdrawal symptoms if you need it.
Treatment For Benzodiazepine Addiction And Dependence
Treatment for benzodiazepine addiction and dependence is best administered through a multidisciplinary approach. This simply means that people who struggle with addiction or dependence issues will benefit most from multiple healing modalities.
Counseling provides addicted individuals with the environment and support to work through thought processes and emotions affected by addiction. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), allows people to work on identifying harmful behaviors and replacing them with constructive ones.
Medication-assisted therapy provides addicted individuals with medication to help with detoxification, or mental health issues, as needed. Adventure or wilderness therapy utilize nature and skill-building activities to foster self-confidence and self-awareness.
Many inpatient drug rehab centers also include a fitness or nutritional component, as exercise and eating a healthy diet are important to recovery success. Access to a wide array of recreational activities and a comforting environment are also key components to recovery success.
Healing from benzodiazepine addiction and dependence isn’t just about getting into rehab, but engaging in a treatment program that is tailored to your specific needs. When you find treatment that is customized for you, you experience the highest chance of meeting your recovery goals.
Benzodiazepine Addiction In The United States
The scope of overdose due to benzodiazepine addiction is far-reaching. According to data compiled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), in 2015 alone, more than 8,000 deaths were reported as a result of benzodiazepine overdose. Also, “from 2002 to 2015, there was a 4.3-fold increase in the total number of deaths.”
Unfortunately, benzodiazepine addiction and dependence rates are on the rise, and with them comes increased overdose rates. Benzodiazepine abuse affects people of all ages, and all demographics. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration explains, “according to the 2011 National Survey for Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 20.4 million individuals aged 12 and older have misused benzodiazepines in their lifetime.”
While addiction rates for benzodiazepines are on the rise, treatment for addiction improves all the time. Bridging the gap between those who need treatment and those who receive it is a matter of connecting people in need of treatment to the resources they need. If more people can secure treatment, more people stand a better chance of overcoming addiction, managing it long-term, and avoiding relapse or overdose.
Reach Out For Help Today
If you’re struggling with benzodiazepine addiction or dependence, you are not alone. Allow one of our treatment specialists to connect you to a rehab center that will design a treatment plan that’s right for you.
Contact us today at InpatientDrugRehab.org to learn more about benzodiazepine addiction, treatment options, and more.
Center for Abuse Substance Research—Benzodiazepines
Drug Enforcement Administration—Benzodiazepines
Medical News Today—Benzodiazepines
National Institute on Drug Abuse—Benzodiazepines and Opioids, Overdose Death Rates