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

While benzos can do a lot of good for certain conditions, like anxiety, they can also be very harmful when misused. When these drugs are misused, they can lead to a variety of consequences.

Key Points

  • Benzos are depressant medications or drugs that suppress or slow now the nervous system.
  • Benzos are classified as Schedule IV drugs and used to treat conditions like anxiety.
  • Addiction to benzos is more likely to happen when an individual misuses the drugs, not simply from using them as prescribed.

What are Benzos (Benzodiazepines)?

Benzos are considered depressant drugs that suppress the central nervous system. Benzos help people with anxiety calm a hyperactive nervous system. Benzos are also effective for people who suffer from insomnia and seizures. However, addiction problems can arise when these drugs are misused. This is highlighted by the 11,537 deaths that involved benzodiazepine use in 2017.[1]

Side Effects of Xanax®

Xanax®, like all benzos, is a Schedule IV drug. It has important medical uses, and the potential for addiction is relatively low compared to other drugs, though still significant. Though it is primarily used to treat anxiety, some doctors will prescribe Xanax® to insomniacs as well.

Common names for this drug include xanies, bars, handlebars, and xans. Common side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, slurred speech, and headaches.

Side Effects of Valium®

The most common side effects of Valium® include shaky hands, dizziness, confusion, and drowsiness. Some people may also experience dry mouth and stomach trouble. Common street names include blues, French blues, vals, and candy. Valium® is primarily an anxiety medication, though some doctors use it to treat seizures.

Side Effects of Klonopin®

Klonopin® is prescribed to treat panic disorders and seizures. It is a powerful benzodiazepine and can cause side effects such as joint pain, muscle weakness, increased saliva production, and dizziness. People who misuse this drug may call it super Valium®, k-bars, and downers.

How are Benzos taken?

Most benzos are pills and, when taken as prescribed, are swallowed whole. This allows the drug to safely diffuse into your bloodstream over several hours. This slow release drastically reduces the risk of addiction.

However, some people misuse the drug by chewing the pills or dissolving and injecting them. Some may snort them through the nose for an instant effect. These routes make addiction more likely.

Benzo Quick Reference

Drug Category Commercial & Street Names DEA Schedule Administration
Xanax® Xanies, bars, handlebars Schedule IV Oral
Valium® Vals, candy, French blues Schedule IV Oral
Klonopin® Downers, super Valium® Schedule IV Oral

Statistics on Benzo Use, Misuse, and Addiction

Out of 30.5 million people in the United States who use benzos, over 2% (over 600,000) misused the drugs one or more times.[2] While this might not sound like a lot, it is still important to consider the profoundly negative effect benzo addiction can have on mental health and potentially escalating substance use disorder.

Effects of Benzo Abuse

Benzo abuse can make a person feel tired all the time. They may become depressed and not feel like themselves. They may also find that the pills are no longer able to help them get relief from anxiety or insomnia after a while. This leads to taking larger doses to get the same effect, which can be dangerous.

Can You Overdose on Benzos?

Yes, it is easy to overdose on benzos when you take too many or mix them with other substances. Since benzos relax the nervous system, they are especially dangerous when mixed with alcohol, which is also a depressant. This can lead to a coma or cause a person’s heart to stop. Flumazenil is a drug commonly used to reverse benzo overdose.[3]

Signs and Symptoms of Benzo Overdose

Someone who has overdosed on benzos will likely be unconscious. Their respiration may be very shallow, and they may have a weak heartbeat. It may be impossible to wake them up even if you shake them or yell.

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

A person’s heart could easily stop when they overdose. This is why it is necessary to call 911 and make sure the ambulance arrives as soon as possible. The paramedics can ensure that the person gets the treatment they need to recover.

Dangers of Long-Term Benzos Use

Before people agree to benzo addiction treatment, they often hit rock-bottom. They may experience many of the long-term effects of benzo use, such as cognitive decline, depression, suicidal thoughts, and body pain. Chronic fatigue, confusion, and slurred speech are also common risks, as is damage to the internal organs.

Mixing Benzos with Other Drugs

Negative interactions can occur when you mix benzos with other depressants or alcohol. This can cause someone to go into a coma, faint, or die. In more severe cases, it can also cause the heart to stop.

Benzo Addiction and Abuse

Most people only realize they have a dependence on benzos when they try to stop taking the medication and experience adverse effects or can’t manage daily life without it. Benzos are intended to be beneficial for mental health conditions but due to their positive effects can lead to misuse and addiction.

Signs of Addiction to Benzos

While benzos aren’t as addictive as other drugs like opioids, they still have the potential for abuse. Those who are addicted may be secretive about their use of benzos. They may use them only when they’re alone and may hide the pill bottles.

They may try to get prescriptions from different doctors so they don’t run out. Others may experience withdrawal symptoms like mood changes, chronic fatigue, muscle weakness, and difficulty remembering things.

Benzo Addiction and Mental Health

Benzo addiction can often lead to mental health problems, such as depression or a relapse in anxiety. Once a person gets used to high doses of benzos, it may be difficult to continue feeling the anxiety-relieving properties. This can spur the person to take too many benzos at once, which can result in an overdose.

Benzo Addiction Treatment

Treatment for Benzo addiction involves multiple levels of intervention and therapy, from detox to full-time treatment and outpatient programs. The treatment timeline for each patient will vary depending on the severity of their disorder and the presence of any underlying mental health conditions. In many cases, health insurance, medicaid, or medicare, will cover much of the cost of addiction treatment.

Side Effects of Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine use induces a brief euphoria followed by a crash or dysphoria. The side effects of meth include headaches, vomiting, sweating, and dizziness. Some may have difficulty speaking and remembering information. Some people pass out and remain unconscious for many hours.

Therapies Used in Benzo Addiction Treatment

Here are a few of the most common therapy options that are used to treat benzo addictions:

Dual Diagnosis for Co-Occurring Disorders

Most people are introduced to Benzos because they have anxiety, insomnia, or seizure disorders. Benzos can initially help with all of these conditions, but when an addiction forms and the person becomes more tolerant, the medication may become less effective. It’s important to address the initial mental health conditions like anxiety with dual diagnosis treatment while pursuing substance use disorder interventions.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Management Treatment

Going to a Benzo detox center is a great way to get started with a clean slate. The detox process takes between a few days and up to three weeks for most people. The withdrawal symptoms get easier as you continue treatment and develop healthy coping skills.

Drugs Used in Benzo Withdrawal Management

Flumazenil and buspirone can be beneficial for helping patients through benzo withdrawal. Detoxing can be painful, but these medications can help reduce cravings, body pain, and other symptoms to make the process much more tolerable.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Everyone Who Uses Benzos Get Addicted?

Not everyone who uses this medication will get addicted. If you use the medication as prescribed, you should be fine. But if you misuse the medication in any way, such as by taking more than you should, this could lead to dependence or addiction. Those with substance use disorders are also more likely to become addicted to benzos.

How Addictive Are Benzos?

While benzos have a potential for abuse, they are not extremely addictive in the same way as opioids or illegal drugs like meth and cocaine. As mentioned before, it is more likely for a person to become addicted when they misuse the drugs. This may involve snorting the drugs, injecting them, or chewing and swallowing too many at once. This kind of risky administration can also lead to a coma and death.

What Are the Dangers of Benzo Withdrawal?

Going through withdrawal symptoms alone is a bad idea because they can be dangerous. This is why it’s best to go through this process at a detox center. Dangerous withdrawal symptoms can include seizures, heart attacks, and strokes.

Sources

National Health Statistics Reports – Centers for Disease Control and … (n.d.-d). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr137-508.pdf on May 23, 2023.

01

NIDA. 2018, October 18. Research suggests benzodiazepine use is high while use disorder rates are low. Retrieved from https://archives.nida.nih.gov/news-events/science-highlight/research-suggests-benzodiazepine-use-high-while-use-disorder-rates-are-low on May 23, 2023.

02

Bounds CG, Nelson VL. Benzodiazepines. [Updated 2023 Jan 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470159/ on May 23, 2023.

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