Benzodiazepines are powerful prescription sedatives that produce feelings of euphoria and calm. Due to their addictive qualities and associated health risks, effective treatment for benzodiazepine addiction may require a stay at an inpatient treatment center.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that act as central nervous system (CNS) depressants, meaning they slow down brain activity and produce feelings of calm and sedation.
As prescription medications, benzodiazepines are beneficial for people suffering from various anxiety and sleep disorders.
The drugs work by acting on areas of a person’s brain that trigger feelings of stress and anxiety, making benzodiazepines useful for treating panic attacks, insomnia, alcohol withdrawal, seizures, and symptoms of fibromyalgia (chronic muscle pain).
Although effective in the treatment of various disorders and ailments, benzodiazepines are addictive and will likely lead to dependence and addiction if misused.
Benzodiazepines are some of the most commonly abused prescription medications on the market.
Commonly abused benzodiazepines include:
- Ativan (lorazepam)
- Halcion (triazolam)
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
- Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
- Restoril (temazepam)
- Rohypnol (flunitrazepam)
- Valium (diazepam)
- Xanax (alprazolam)
Benzodiazepines, also called sedative-hypnotics, can cause severe health problems when abused. Because of their tranquilizing effects, benzodiazepine abuse may lead to fatal overdose when combined with other drugs.
Due to the potentially dangerous effects of benzodiazepine addiction, as well as the prevalence of misuse, it’s important to be aware of the various signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine abuse.
Signs And Symptoms Of Benzodiazepine Abuse
When a person abuses drugs like benzodiazepines, they may show early signs of addictive, or drug-seeking, behavior.
Some signs of drug-seeking behavior include:
- compulsive drug use
- constantly craving drugs
- continuing use of drugs despite obvious harm
- showing impaired judgment relating to drugs
Other signs of benzodiazepine addiction may include relationship problems, suspicious behavior, asking for money, legal troubles, and neglecting certain responsibilities at work, school, or home.
When a person abuses benzodiazepines, they’re more likely to experience the physical symptoms, or side effects, of the drug.
Some side effects of benzodiazepines may include:
- altered vision
- coordination problems
- impaired thinking and memory
- loss of appetite
- slurred speech
High doses of benzodiazepines may cause extreme drowsiness and other symptoms such as mood swings, erratic behavior, euphoria, and slowed reflexes.
The abuse of benzodiazepines over long periods of time may cause the drugs to remain in the body’s fat for longer than they should. Having more benzodiazepines in a person’s fatty tissue will likely result in over-sedation.
Symptoms of over-sedation may include severe muscle weakness and coordination problems, impaired judgment and thinking, extreme confusion, and general feelings of disorientation.
The abuse of benzodiazepines can lead to addiction, and, once addicted, a person may be exposed to the dangers and risks associated with benzodiazepines.
In the United States, there are millions of legitimate benzodiazepine prescriptions given out each year. However, the illegitimate use of benzodiazepines poses serious health risks for individuals suffering from addiction.
The number of overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines has slowly increased every year for the last fifteen years.
In 2002, there were around 2,000 reported overdose deaths relating to benzodiazepines.
By 2015, the number of benzodiazepine overdose deaths rose to nearly 9,000.
A recent study also found nearly 23% of opioid overdose fatalities involved the use of benzodiazepines.
What’s more, nearly 30% of all opioid overdoses are associated with benzodiazepine use, and a survey conducted in 2011 found that over 20 million people have misused benzodiazepines at least once in their lifetime.
The increasing number of fatalities associated with benzodiazepine addiction and overall negative effects of the substance, make understanding benzodiazepines an important aspect of recovery.
The Dangers Of Benzodiazepine Addiction
There are many dangers and risks associated with benzodiazepine addiction, including overdose.
Due to the inherent dangers of a drug overdose, a person should treat it as a medical emergency and dial 9-1-1 immediately.
During a benzodiazepine overdose, a person is likely to experience symptoms such as:
- blurred vision
- changes in color to fingernails and lips
- slowed breathing
- slurred speech
Studies show that benzodiazepines are also associated with the risk of suicide. A person suffering from benzodiazepine addiction may increase the risk of attempting or committing suicide.
When a person takes large amounts of benzodiazepines over long periods of time, they’re likely to be more impulsive and aggressive. This, along with intense withdrawal and high toxicity during an overdose, may increase the potential for suicide.
Another concern of benzodiazepine addiction is the danger of using benzodiazepines with other substances.
Many fatal drug overdoses involve the use of opioids like heroin and fentanyl, but several of these overdoses also involve benzodiazepines.
The combination of benzodiazepines and opioids are extremely dangerous because both drugs cause sedation and slow down breathing; breathing problems are usually the reason for death during drug-related overdoses.
Breathing problems may also arise from mixing benzodiazepines with substances like alcohol, antidepressants, barbiturates, and other prescription opioids.
One of the latent, or unseen, dangers of benzodiazepine addiction is dependence. Benzodiazepine dependence plays a critical role in treatment and stopping use.
Drug dependence means a person will experience intense and painful physical symptoms when they stop the use of a particular drug.
Benzodiazepine dependence is likely to occur after the prolonged abuse of benzodiazepines.
How long it takes for dependence to develop depends on how often and how much a person took benzodiazepines, and which benzodiazepine they took.
Benzodiazepine dependence can make treatment and recovery difficult for a person wishing to stop the use of drugs. Once the body has grown accustomed to having benzodiazepines in the system, it needs time to adjust and recover when the drugs are cut off.
This period of time involves intense physical and psychological symptoms known as withdrawal.
The symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal are likely to onset anytime between hours and a week after last use. The onset of symptoms depends on whether the benzodiazepine is short-acting or long-acting.
Commonly abused short-acting benzodiazepines include Xanax and Restoril, while long-acting benzodiazepines include Valium and Klonopin.
Withdrawal symptoms for short-acting benzodiazepines are likely to occur within 6-8 hours, or 1-2 days after last use.
Long-acting benzodiazepines may cause withdrawal symptoms to occur within 2-7 days after last use.
Both short-acting and long-acting benzodiazepines are likely to cause withdrawal symptoms that last for weeks, and symptoms may persist for as long as 8 weeks.
Withdrawal symptoms caused by benzodiazepine addiction and dependence may include:
- agitation and irritability
- a headache
- muscle pain/aches
- panic attacks
- poor concentration and memory
While the severity of symptoms depends on the particular person and their history of substance abuse, more serious symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal can include seizures and intense psychotic reactions.
Withdrawal may cause a person to use more benzodiazepines or other drugs to relieve the painful and uncomfortable symptoms.
Monitoring a person’s withdrawal symptoms during detoxification can help prevent the further use of drugs during this process.
Benzodiazepine detoxification is the process by which the body rids itself of harmful toxins. Detoxification, or detox, is generally the first step in treatment for a benzodiazepine addiction.
While detox is a necessary process in recovery, it’s not a cure for addiction.
Benzodiazepine detox can be uncomfortable and may not be safe for a person to attempt on their own. It’s during the detox process when a person experiences the symptoms of withdrawal, and some people may require a medically supervised detoxification to help ease the discomfort.
A medically supervised detox is perhaps the safest way to tolerate the intense symptoms caused by benzodiazepine dependence and withdrawal. Under medical supervision, detox is both safe and effective.
By taking place in a medical setting, a medically supervised detox allows medical professionals to closely monitor a person’s symptoms, and potentially administer other drugs if necessary.
Detox is the first step in recovery, and effective treatment for benzodiazepine addiction will likely incorporate a variety of components thereafter.
Treatment For Benzodiazepine Addiction
One of the more effective treatments for benzodiazepine addiction is the tapering of drugs to alleviate, or even avoid, the sickness and pain of withdrawal symptoms.
Tapering means benzodiazepines are carefully administered and then gradually decreased in dosage to wean a person off a physical dependence. This is only effective in medical settings so physicians can determine dosage and manage symptoms in a safe environment.
Generally speaking, the most effective treatment for benzodiazepine addiction will likely involve a long-term stay at an inpatient treatment center.
Inpatient Treatment for Benzodiazepine Abuse
Inpatient treatment centers will likely offer the multiple components necessary for treatment, such as medication-assisted treatment and behavioral therapy.
Medically Assisted Treatment
Medication-assisted treatment allows medical professionals to administer medications during the recovery process.
Behavioral therapies are likely to follow and may include one on one counseling, group therapy sessions, and other more intensive therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).
Inpatient treatment centers offer a stable environment, around the clock, 24-hour medical care, and a strict structure and protocol to offer those suffering from benzodiazepine addiction the best possible chances to achieve recovery and live a balanced life.
Contact us to learn more about treatment options for benzodiazepine addiction and abuse.
Medical News Today – The benefits and risks of benzodiazepines
US National Library of Medicine – Benzodiazepines and Suicide Risk
NIDA – Benzodiazepines and Opioids
World Health Organization – Withdrawal Managed for Benzodiazepine Dependence
DEA – Benzodiazepines