Benzodiazepine Addiction Signs, Symptoms, & Effects

Learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of benzo addiction and get help for yourself or a loved one. Seven Hills Hospital helps individuals struggling with benzo addiction build a strong foundation for lasting recovery. Located near Las Vegas, Seven Hills is the leading provider of psychiatric and addiction treatment.

Understanding Benzos Addiction

Learn About Benzos

Benzodiazepines are a group of psychoactive drugs that doctors prescribe in order to treat things such as anxiety, insomnia, agitation, muscle spasms, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal, among others. Also, these types of medication, more commonly referred to as benzos, are often used as a medication that one takes prior to a medical or dental procedure. The most common types of benzodiazepines that are prescribed include Klonopin, Ativan, Valium, and Xanax. All of these medications work towards lowering levels of anxiety, increasing muscle relaxation, and producing sedation.

The effects of benzos typically appear rapidly, making them ideal for people who are suffering from things such as intense anxiety or panic attacks because they can quickly and effectively relieve those anxious symptoms. The majority of people who receive prescriptions for benzodiazepine medications do not go on to abuse the substance. However, the rush of feelings of relaxation that one receives after taking the medication can lead some to begin to abuse it. Misuse or abuse of benzos is characterized by the use of the drug for recreational purposes, or the use of the drug in larger quantities and for longer periods of time than is prescribed.

Statistics

Benzos Statistics

It is said that at any given time in the United States, approximately 11-15% of the adult population has used some form of benzodiazepine medication during the prior year. However, estimates show that only 1-2% of those individuals have consistently taken a benzo daily for a period longer than 12 months. Professionals in the field believe that nearly 80% of people who begin to abuse benzos are using another substance at the same time.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors of Benzos

There is no one specific cause that leads a person to develop a problem with benzodiazepines. Rather, it is more commonly believed to be the result of various factors working together. Some of the most prominently cited of these causes include:

Genetic: The development of addiction is believed to have a strong genetic tie, as addictions tend to run in families. When a person has a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, who is addicted to benzos or another type of substance, that person is at a greater risk of developing an addiction as well.

Physical: Benzos work by enhancing the effect of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is the neurotransmitter responsible for reducing the activity of the specific neurons that cause anxiety and stress.

Environmental: Certain environmental factors can exacerbate a person’s susceptibility to developing an addiction. For example, when individuals spend a great deal of time in environments where there is a lot of stress, they are more susceptible to developing symptoms of anxiety, which can then lead to the need for medication to help control those symptoms.

Risk Factors:

  • History of severe anxiety and/or panic attacks
  • History of abusing other substances
  • Being female
  • Be of older age
  • Unemployment

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Benzos Addiction

The signs and symptoms of benzo abuse will vary from person to person depending on the person’s genetic makeup, the reason behind the person first receiving a prescription for the medication, the amount that the person uses, and the length of time in which the person has been using. Some common symptoms that may be indicative of the presence of benzodiazepine abuse can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Forging prescriptions
  • “Doctor shopping,” or visiting a number of various doctors in order to obtain more prescriptions for the drug
  • Isolating oneself from family and friends
  • Failure to meet expectations at home, work, or school
  • Taking the medication in increasingly larger doses than intended, for longer periods of time than intended

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Muscle weakness
  • Motor coordination difficulties
  • Headaches
  • Increased respiratory infections

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Slowed thinking
  • Memory impairment
  • Perception difficulties
  • Impaired ability to concentrate
  • Increased sense of confusion
  • Anterograde amnesia

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Increased agitation, especially when the person does not have access to the drug
  • Depression
  • Clouded emotional functioning
  • Paradoxical feelings of hostility, irritability, and excitement
  • Decline in mental health

Lasting Effects

Effects of Benzos

The abuse of benzodiazepines can lead to a number of negative long-term effects. The severity of these effects will vary depending on the amount that a person uses and the length of time that he or she uses. Some common effect of chronic benzo abuse may include:

  • Occupational or academic failure
  • Experimentation with other substances
  • Addiction to other substances
  • Physical and psychological dependence
  • Accidental overdose
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors   

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders

Most people are introduced to benzos after receiving a prescription from a doctor in order to alleviate certain symptoms. Many times, the symptoms that the person is experiencing are indicative of the presence of a mental health disorder. The most common disorders that have been linked to benzodiazepine abuse include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance abuse disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

When people become physically dependent on benzos, the sudden ceasing of use can lead to the onset of severe and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Some of the symptoms of withdrawal also have the potential of leading to life-threatening effects.

Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal:

  • Increased confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Restlessness
  • Delirium
  • Psychosis
  • Bodily aches and pains
  • Intense anxiety, including panic attacks
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Seizures
  • Suicide attempts

Overdosing on benzodiazepines can happen rapidly when a person is dependence on the drug. Dependence quickly leads to tolerance, which means that a person needs to take higher dosages of the substance in order to gain the same pleasurable effects. As the dosage increases, so does the risk of overdose because a person may be unaware of how much his or her body is capable of tolerating. Overdosing on benzos is a life-threatening occurrence and requires immediate medical intervention for treatment.

Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Overdose:

  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Sedation
  • Blurred vision
  • Sudden weakness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Falling into a coma
  • Respiratory depression
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Death
Individuals Talking in Circle

I let my benzo addiction control my life to the point where I was stealing pills from my friend and buying them off the street. After getting benzos rehab at Seven Hills, I am now celebrating my second year sober. I am thankful to the staff at Seven Hills for getting to the root of my benzos addiction!

– Jeffrey D.
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