Signs, Effects & Symptoms of Benzo Abuse

Understanding the Signs of Benzo Addiction

Understanding the signs of benzo addiction

Benzodiazepines are widely prescribed anti-anxiety agents used to treat such conditions as anxiety, insomnia, alcohol withdrawal, and seizure management. These prescription medications include clonazepam, Xanax, Ativan, and Valium; all act upon the benzodiazepine receptors located throughout the central nervous system of the body to lower anxiety levels, increase relaxation of the muscles, and produce sedation. Benzodiazepines generally produce their effects very quickly, which makes them ideal for people who are suffering from anxiety disorders as they can be taken when anxiety peaks. Most people who are prescribed benzodiazepines by their doctor do not go onto abuse these medications, however certain people – notably those who struggle with substance use disorders – are more likely to become addicted to the rapid onset and feelings of relaxation caused by benzos.

While benzos remain one of the most highly-prescribed medications, with chronic use, these drugs have a high potential for abuse. Benzodiazepine misuse, or benzodiazepine drug abuse, is defined as the usage of prescription benzodiazepines in a recreational fashion and may constitute using the drugs to get high, or continuing long-term chronic abuse of the drug against medical advice. Most who abuse benzodiazepines are polydrug abusers. These people tend to use benzos as a way to augment an existing high, most especially heroin or alcohol. Benzodiazepines are a relatively safe drug of abuse, however, when mixed with drugs and alcohol, these drugs can quickly cause overdose and death.


Statistics for benzo addiction

In the United States at any given time, 11% to 15% of the adult population has taken a benzodiazepine one or more times during the year prior, while only 1% to 2% have taken benzos daily for longer than 12 months. As benzodiazepine abuse seldom occurs alone, approximately 80% of those who abuse benzos use another substance (most commonly opioids) as well.

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes & risk factors for benzo addiction

Addiction to benzos is not likely the result of a single risk factors; it’s thought that addiction is a disease triggered by numerous risk factors working together. The most common causes and risk factors for benzodiazepine abuse include:

Genetic: It has been long-established that addiction is related to genetics; people who have a first-degree relative who has struggled with addiction are more likely to develop an addiction to certain substances, including benzodiazepines.

Physical: People who are struggling with certain types of mental and health-related disorders such as anxiety disorders or seizures, are more likely to develop an addiction to certain substances as a way of controlling the side effects of both physical and mental disorders.

Environmental: There remains little doubt that environmental factors may lead to the development of abuse and addiction. The most common environmental influences for benzo abuse and addiction include low socioeconomic status, beginning to abuse drugs or alcohol at a younger age, and having friends or family who abuse benzos.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female – this may be related to the fact that women are 37% more likely to be prescribed benzodiazepines than men
  • Elderly age – many physicians improperly prescribe benzos to elderly people who are struggling with late life depression symptoms


Symptoms of benzo addiction

The symptoms and signs of abuse and addiction to benzodiazepines will vary among individuals based upon genetic makeup, length of abuse, frequency of use, dosage administered, and addiction to other types of substances. The most common symptoms of benzodiazepine abuse include:

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Drug-seeking behaviors
  • Doctor shopping, or visiting a number of doctors to obtain more prescriptions
  • Benzodiazepines taken in larger doses than intended, for longer time than intended
  • Forging prescriptions
  • Increasing desire to be left alone
  • Inability to meet expectations and responsibilities at work, school, or home

Physical Symptoms:

  • Increased respiratory infections
  • Physical dependence
  • Diplopia
  • Ataxia
  • Motor incoordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Vertigo
  • Headaches
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Memory impairment
  • Anterograde amnesia
  • Increased confusion
  • Slowed thinking
  • Slowed, diminished reaction time

Psychosocial Symptoms:

  • Worsening of mental health state
  • Increased anxiety
  • Paradoxical excitement, irritability, and hostility
  • Depression
  • Mood swings


Effects benzo abuse can have

Long-term usage of benzodiazepines can lead to a host of unpleasant effects which are correlated with polydrug abuse, length of abuse, frequency of use, and genetic makeup. The most common effects of chronic, untreated benzodiazepine abuse include:

  • Joblessness
  • Homelessness
  • Addiction to benzodiazepines
  • Polydrug abuse
  • Deterioration of mental and physical health
  • Physical and psychological dependence
  • Drug-seeking behaviors
  • Overreliance on benzos to reduce unpleasant, overpowering emotions
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Withdrawal Effects

Effects benzo withdrawal can have

Physical dependence upon benzos can lead to serious withdrawal symptoms when the drug is abruptly discontinued or stopped. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines should always be performed under the guidance of trained medical and psychiatric staff who can help a person safely detox and receive care for psychological addiction. Withdrawal symptoms usually are noted within four hours after the last dose and may last days or weeks.

Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome

  • Flu-like aches and pains
  • Restlessness
  • Derealization
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Delirium
  • Seizures
  • Status epileptics
  • Suicidal ideations

Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Overdose:

At normal doses, benzodiazepines are excellent, well-tolerated drugs used to relieve symptoms of anxiety and insomnia. However, when taken with other drugs or at higher doses than prescribed, benzodiazepines can be very dangerous. Some symptoms of benzodiazepine overdose include:

  • Drowsiness and sedation
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Weakness
  • Poor judgment and decision making abilities
  • Slurred speech
  • Decreased coordination
  • Coma
  • Death from respiratory depression and arrest

Co-Occurring Disorders

Benzo addiction & co-occurring disorders

Rarely does benzodiazepine abuse occur without the presence of additional mental disorders. The most common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Other substance abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia

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