Benzodiazepine Misuse and Addiction
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are prescription medications categorized as central nervous system (CNS) depressants.1 The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies benzodiazepines as Schedule IV substances under the Controlled Substances Act, which means these drugs have the potential for misuse and dependence.2
When taken as prescribed, benzodiazepine drugs are generally safe for short-term use, but people can become dependent on benzodiazepines, even under a doctor’s supervision.1
Also called benzos, downers, and nerve pills, benzodiazepines are available in various forms, including:1
- Tablet form.
- Liquid form (as a syrup or injectable).
- Capsule form.
While many people use benzodiazepines for their intended purposes, others misuse them, some by crushing and snorting tablets.3
Another common form of misuse includes combining benzodiazepines with other drugs such as opioids, cocaine, and alcohol. This may be done in an attempt to increase the euphoria caused by opioids, manage cocaine binge side effects, or enhance the effects of alcohol.1
Different Types of Benzodiazepine Drugs
There are many different types of benzodiazepines, which can be classified as short-acting, as well as intermediate- and long-acting formulas.4
Short-acting benzos include:4
- Versed (midazolam).
- Halcion (triazolam).
Intermediate-acting benzos include:4
- Xanax (alprazolam).
- Klonopin (clonazepam).
- Ativan (lorazepam).
- Serax (oxazepam).
- Resotril (temazepam).
Long-acting benzodiazepines include:4
What Are Benzodiazepines Used For?
Benzodiazepines have many uses, but they are most often prescribed to treat:1,3
- Panic disorders.
- Acute stress.
- Muscle spasms.
- Insomnia and other sleep disorders.
- In preparation for anesthesia.
How Do Benzodiazepines Work?
Benzodiazepines work by interacting with and influencing activity at the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor. The result of this action is the calming of an otherwise over-excited nervous system. This makes benzodiazepines helpful in treating anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. The inhibition of the central nervous system resulting from the use of benzos can make people feel drowsy, calm, or sedated.1,3
Are Benzos Addictive?
Benzos have a known potential for misuse.2 However, it is important to note that even when taken as prescribed, a person can develop a physical dependence on benzodiazepines.3 Over time, a person’s body can adapt to the effects of a drug, and need it to feel normal, which is known as physical dependence.7
Physical dependence is not the same thing as addiction, but it will often accompany addiction.7 Addiction is the compulsive use of a substance despite negative consequences.7
People who misuse other substances are particularly prone to developing a problem with benzodiazepine drugs.1 Both the use and misuse of benzos put a person at a higher risk of addiction.3 The misuse of benzodiazepines means that a person is:3
- Taking benzodiazepines in a way that they were not prescribed.
- Taking someone else’s medicine.
- Taking benzos to get high.
When a person takes a benzodiazepine, they may develop tolerance, which means that they need more frequent or larger doses of the drug to keep feeling its effects. Increased tolerance can lead to escalated patterns of use, which can increase a person’s risk of developing addiction.3
Long and Short-Term Side Effects of Benzo Use
As with any type of medication, there are side effects from using benzodiazepines, both short-term and long-term.
Short-Term Side Effects of Benzos
Short-term side effects of benzos include:3
- Slurred speech.
- Dry mouth.
- Low blood pressure.
- Problems with concentration.
- Memory issues.
Long-Term Side Effects of Benzodiazepine Use
When people use benzodiazepines long-term, whether as directed by a doctor or by misusing them, they can develop the following:3
- Cognitive impairment has also been shown to occur in long-term benzo users and includes such aspects of cognition as memory, processing speed, using language, and attention.8 These cognitive deficits may persist long after a person quits using benzos.8
- Impaired psychomotor performance, which can result in motor vehicle accidents or an increased risk of falls and fractures in the elderly.9
As mentioned previously, tolerance, physical dependence and addiction are other possible risks of long-term benzodiazepine use.3
In addition, it is important to know that people can and do overdose on benzodiazepines.3 When a person overdoses on benzodiazepines, their breathing will slow, and the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain is reduced. This can result in a coma and, sometimes, brain damage.3
It is fairly unusual for a person to fatally overdose on benzodiazepines alone, and most often, a fatal benzodiazepine overdose occurs when a person mixes CNS depressants with other drugs such as alcohol or opioids.10
When a person is physically dependent on benzodiazepines, they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop using benzos.3
The severity of benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms and the withdrawal timeline depend on several factors including:10,11
- The kind of benzodiazepine used.
- The dosage taken.
- Whether other substances are also being used.
- Co-occurring mental health disorders.
- The age of the person.
Withdrawal symptoms may begin within hours or days of last use and can last for weeks to several months.11
Symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal can include:11
- Psychomotor agitation.
- Increased heart rate or sweating.
- Vomiting or nausea.
- Hand tremor.
The course of benzo withdrawal can be unpredictable, and it is possible for seizures to happen without warning.10
Given the severity of these potential outcomes of benzodiazepine withdrawal, it is never a good idea to try to get off benzodiazepine drugs on your own, and a medical detox with appropriate oversight and supervision is recommended.10
Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment
If you or your loved one is struggling with the use of benzodiazepines, help is available. There are effective ways to treat addiction, and various levels of care to meet your individual needs, including inpatient rehab and outpatient programs.7
Treatment for benzodiazepine addiction commonly includes a combination of behavioral therapies that address all aspects of a person’s addiction.7
If you are looking for an outpatient or inpatient rehab facility in the Dallas metro area, call us today at . An admissions navigator at Greenhouse Treatment Center can answer any questions you have and help you start the admissions process.
Please remember, you are not alone. We’re here 24/7 to help you on your journey to recovery from benzodiazepine misuse.
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