Causes & Effects of Benzodiazepine Addiction

Understanding Benzodiazepine Addiction

Learn About Benzodiazepine Addiction & Abuse

The category of benzodiazepines includes several drugs that are typically prescribed to treat symptoms of anxiety, panic, and insomnia. Benzodiazepines have also proved to be effective at helping people who have been experiencing seizures or who are dealing with symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Prescription medications that contain benzodiazepines include Xanax (which contains the benzodiazepine alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), Valium (diazepam), and Klonopin (clonazepam). Often referred to as benzos, benzodiazepines function as depressants of the central nervous system.

When a person takes a benzodiazepine, he or she will experience a sense of serene relaxation, which makes drugs in this category enticing to individuals who are in search of a recreational high. The recreational abuse of benzodiazepines, or any other use of these substances in a manner that is inconsistent with the directions of a qualified prescribing physician, puts individuals at risk for several types of short- and long-term damage, including addiction.

At Serenity Knolls, we have considerable experience helping individuals whose lives have been disrupted by benzodiazepine abuse. With the help of our experienced professionals, many individuals who were once trapped in a downward spiral of benzodiazepine dependence have overcome their self-defeating compulsions and have become empowered to live healthier drug-free lives.


Benzodiazepine Abuse Statistics

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the 12-month prevalence of sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder (a category that includes benzodiazepine addiction) is 0.2% in the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 50 million prescriptions are written every year in the United States for medications that contain benzodiazepines. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) identified benzodiazepine abuse as a contributing factor in more than 30% of all drug-related visits to hospital emergency rooms in the U.S.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Benzodiazepine Abuse

A person’s risk for abusing or becoming addicted to benzodiazepines can be influenced by several factors, including the following:

Genetic: Family history of substance abuse and addiction can significantly increase a person’s risk for developing a similar problem. The APA reports that genetic factors play both a direct and indirect role in the development of sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder. The APA also notes that a person’s genetic predisposition to this type of chemical dependency is more likely to reveal itself in adulthood than during adolescence.

Environmental: Access and availability are crucial environmental risk factors for the benzo abuse and dependence. The widespread use of prescription medications that contain benzodiazepines means that the drugs are relatively easy to obtain via both legal and illegal means.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female
  • Access to benzodiazepines
  • Early use of benzos
  • Impulsivity
  • Novelty-seeking
  • Having alcohol use disorder

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Abuse

The following signs and symptoms may indicate that a person has been abusing or has become dependent upon benzodiazepines:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Borrowing or stealing prescription medications that contain benzos
  • Visiting several doctors in attempt to get multiple prescriptions for medications that contain benzos
  • Lying or being otherwise deceptive about activities
  • Using prescribed medications contrary to the prescribing physician’s directions
  • Using benzos when it is clearly unsafe to do so
  • Continuing to use benzos even after experiencing negative repercussions from prior use
  • Trying and failing to end one’s use of benzos

Physical symptoms:

  • Slurred speech
  • Irregular breathing and/or heart rate
  • Coordination problems
  • Tremors in hands
  • Blurred vision

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Inability to focus and/or concentrate
  • Memory problems
  • Nightmares
  • Diminished inhibitions
  • Confusion

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Anhedonia
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Withdrawal from family and friends

Lasting Effects

Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse

The untreated abuse of benzodiazepines can lead to several negative outcomes, including the following:

  • Impaired vision
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Memory problems
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Problems within interpersonal relationships
  • Family discord
  • Academic failure
  • Substandard occupational performance
  • Job loss
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Financial difficulties
  • Legal problems, including arrest and incarceration
  • Withdrawal
  • Self-harm
  • Depression
  • Isolation
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Benzodiazepine Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

Individuals who become dependent upon benzodiazepines may also be at increased risk for the following co-occurring mental health disorders:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal: When an individual has become dependent upon a benzodiazepine, the absence of this drug can prompt several distressing withdrawal symptoms, including the following:

  • Powerful cravings for benzos
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Heart palpitations
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Muscle pain
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Suicidal ideation

Effects of benzodiazepine overdose: Anyone who demonstrates the following symptoms after ingesting a benzodiazepine may have overdosed and should be brought to the immediate attention of a qualified medical professional.

  • Double vision
  • Labored or otherwise impaired breathing
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Hypothermia
  • Impaired motor functions
  • Loss of balance
  • Delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma

Fortunately, there is treatment available for those who seek it, and it is possible to end one’s addiction to benzodiazepines once and for all.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions About Benzo Addiction

What are the signs of benzo addiction?

The signs that someone is addicted to benzos can include the presence of a persistent pattern of symptoms that continually worsen, an inability to get through the day without using benzos, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms should one stop consuming the drug.

What are benzodiazepine abuse symptoms?

The symptoms that could indicate that someone is abusing benzodiazepines include the following:

  • Continuing to take benzos despite having a desire to stop
  • Forging prescriptions to get more of the drug
  • Drop in performance at work or school
  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Memory impairment
  • Sudden, extreme changes in mood
  • Disturbances in perception

What are signs of benzo overdose?

If you suspect that someone has overdosed on benzos, it is imperative that you seek emergency medical attention. Signs that could indicate that someone has overdosed on benzos include the following:

  • Extreme dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sedation
  • Labored breathing

What are some benzodiazepine abuse statistics?

Because benzodiazepines are relatively easy to access, they are commonly abused for recreational purposes. Estimates have shown that between 11% and 15% of the population in America use some form of benzo, with approximately 1% to 2% using them for a year or longer.

What are the signs of benzodiazepine withdrawal?

Benzodiazepine withdrawal occurs when a person is physically dependent on the substance, and then suddenly stops taking it. Signs of benzodiazepine withdrawal can include the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Tension
  • Restlessness
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Agitation
  • Perceptual Distortions

Why are benzos so addictive?

Abusing benzos can quickly lead to the development of tolerance, which means that a person needs to consume greater amounts in order to achieve the same effects. This can further result in the onset of psychological and physical dependence. Once this has occurred, a person’s body will no longer be able to function without benzos, thus indicating that he or she is addicted to the substance.

What do benzos do to the brain?

When benzos are consumed, they begin to directly interact with the neurotransmitters in the brain. In other words, they affect how different nerves communicate with one another, predominantly by slowing their activity. This activity suppression is what serves to calm anxiety, and what ultimately entices users to continue using these drugs in order to experience the relaxing effects.

Facility Interior
Individuals doing Yoga
Individuals in Circle Talking
Facility Pool and Basketball Court
Facility Exterior
Individuals Sitting and Talking
Individuals Sitting at Tables
Individuals Playing Basketball

My son was hanging with the wrong people. I suspected that he was getting into drugs when I found his stash of benzos. We discovered Serenity Knolls and admitted him for treatment as soon as we could. Now 6 months later, he is excelling at school and has stayed away from bad influences at school. I'm so proud of him!

– Sharon T.