Benzodiazepine Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & When To Get Help

Benzodiazepines are a group of substances that work by depressing the central nervous system.

Understanding Benzo Addiction

Learn about benzo addiction

These medications are anxiolytics and include prescription medications such as Ativan, Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin, which are all used to treat symptoms of anxiety disorders. In addition to anxiety disorders, benzodiazepines, which are commonly known as “benzos”, are used for medical purposes and included in the treatment of migraines, seizures, and other issues. While these substances can be priceless to many who are experiencing challenges that come with these types of conditions, benzos are also highly addictive and possess the potential for abuse.

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), benzodiazepines are grouped into a category of substances known as sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytics. When these substances are being abused to the point that individuals suffer significant impairment or distress, it is likely that sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder has developed. While this disorder, which includes benzodiazepine addiction, can be hard to defeat, there are comprehensive treatment options available that can help individuals defeat their benzodiazepine abuse.


Benzo addiction statistics

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that out of all prescription medications, benzodiazepines are the most frequently used for recreational purposes since they are so easily accessible. Out of the adult population within the United States, between 11% and 15% of individuals are believed to be using some type of benzodiazepine, with between 1% and 2% having abused it for one year or more.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for benzo addiction

The causes and risk factors for developing sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder, including benzodiazepine addiction, can be explained through the following:

Genetic: The American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that an individual’s genetic background is a very important factor when determining the origins of an addiction to substances like benzodiazepines. If a family history of benzodiazepine abuse and/or addiction is present, then an individual’s chances of suffering similar concerns are greater.

Environmental: The APA also reports that since benzos are pharmaceuticals, their availability to individuals is the most common environmental cause to their use. In addition, when individuals spend time within an environment where those around them are abusing substances, they are more likely to partake in similar behaviors in the future.

Risk Factors:

  • Being around other people who abuse drugs and/or alcohol
  • Being female (The APA notes that females are at a greater risk for abusing prescription drugs than males are.)
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Suffering from a mental health condition
  • Suffering from a medical condition for which benzodiazepines are prescribed to treat
  • Having an impulsive temperament
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Beginning to abuse substances at an early age
  • Ease of availability with which one can obtain benzodiazepines

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of benzo addiction

The signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine abuse will vary from user to user based on the type of benzo that he or she is abusing, the length of time that he or she has been using, the frequency in which the abuse is occurring, and the amount of the drug that is being consumed. Some symptoms can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Participation in recreational activities that one once enjoyed declines
  • Slurred speech
  • Repeated absences from work
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home
  • Limiting contact with friends and family members
  • Disinhibited behavior
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at work
  • Visiting multiple doctors in order to obtain multiple prescriptions for benzodiazepines

Physical symptoms:

  • Rapid, involuntary eye movement
  • Unsteady gait
  • Incoordination
  • Drowsiness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Insensibility
  • Memory impairment
  • Attention difficulties
  • Cravings for continued use

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Periods of emotional detachment
  • Euphoria
  • Anxiety
  • Dysregulation of emotions


Effects of benzo addiction

Letting an addiction of any kind continue can cause the development of severe consequences within an individual’s life. When the chronic abuse of benzos persists without professional help, users are more likely to experience any number of upsetting consequences within their social, personal, and occupational lives, as well as with their physical health. Examples of such effects can include, however are not limited to, the following:

  • Overall decline in physical health
  • Decline in cognition
  • Onset of new, or worsening of current, symptoms of other mental health conditions
  • Respiratory depression
  • Hypotension
  • Drop in occupational performance, potentially resulting in demotion or job loss
  • Financial strain resulting from unemployment
  • Injuries and accidents that result from participating in high-risk behaviors while intoxicated
  • Disturbances within interpersonal relationships
  • Marital discord
  • Onset of severe depression, which can lead to suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors
  • Beginning to abuse other substances

Co-Occurring Disorders

Benzo addiction and co-occurring disorders

Those who grapple with sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder might also suffer from symptoms of co-occurring mental health conditions at the same time. The disorders below are known to be diagnosed in those who battle this condition, which includes benzodiazepine addiction:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Tobacco use disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Alcohol use disorder

Withdrawal and Overdose

Benzo withdrawal and overdose

Effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal: When an individual has been abusing benzos and then stops his or her use of this substance, he or she will likely suffer an upsetting period of withdrawal. During this time, the individual will likely experience impairment in his or her ability to function regularly. Examples of symptoms that can arise can include:

  • Brief visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations
  • Grand mal seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Increased pulse rate
  • Anxiety
  • Hand tremors
  • Sweating

Effects of benzodiazepine overdose: When someone consumes more of a substance than his or her body can effectively metabolize, he or she suffers the risk of overdosing. A benzodiazepine overdose should be viewed as a medical emergency, and treatment should be obtained immediately. Signs that might show that an individual has overdosed on benzodiazepines can include:

  • Extreme dizziness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Respiratory system depression
  • Loss of coordination
  • Sedation
What our clients are saying

My benzo addiction got the point where I hit rock bottom in my life. I was only able to find hope and recovery through the addiction treatment programs at Hunting Creek which are some of the best in the area.

– Former Patient
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