Benzodiazepine Addiction: Treatment, Signs, Symptoms, and Risks

Written By

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

On November 18, 2023

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Benzodiazepines are widespread drugs that doctors often prescribe for anxiety, sleep disorders, and sometimes seizures. Doctors prefer these medications in contrast to barbiturates, which have similar effects but are more addictive. However, this is not to say that Benzos don’t have their own risks for addiction.

What are Benzos?

Benzos are central nervous system depressants classified as Schedule IV controlled substances. They slow the central nervous system and make you tired and relaxed.

Many people with anxiety and insomnia have overactive nervous systems. Slowing it down with medication in this way can reduce their symptoms. Common Benzo drugs include Xanax®, Valium®, and Klonopin®.

Side Effects of Xanax®

Legally, it is necessary to get Benzodiazepine medication only with a doctor’s prescription. It is illegal to obtain them without one. This is true of Xanax® (alprazolam) and every other prescription. In 2013, 5.6% of people in America had a prescription for Benzodiazepines, and Xanax was one of the most common options.[1]

Common side effects include drowsiness, memory problems, slurred speech, and dizziness. It is a Schedule IV drug. Common names for it include bars, chill pills, and nerve pills.

Side Effects of Valium®

Valium, also known as diazepam, is right next to Xanax® in popularity. It is primarily used to treat anxiety, but it is also useful for controlling muscle spasms and even seizures. It is a Schedule IV drug, as with all Benzodiazepines. It may cause side effects such as dizziness, confusion, stomach troubles, dry mouth, headaches, and muscle weakness.

Many people who use this drug illegally call it candy, French blues, jellies, and eggs.

Side Effects of Klonopin®

Many doctors prescribe this medication to treat anxiety, but it is also very helpful for reducing seizures and panic disorders. It also causes joint pain, increased saliva production, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and dizziness. The most common street names for this drug include the following:

  • K-pin
  • Candy
  • Super Valium
  • Pin

How are Benzos taken?

The most common form of Benzos is pills or capsules. Swallowing these pills whole allows your stomach acid to break them down over several hours. This allows the pill’s dose to enter your bloodstream very slowly, so you feel the effects for longer and your system is not overwhelmed.

Some people will break the pills into a fine powder and snort them for immediate feelings of euphoria and intense relaxation. Others may dissolve the powder in liquid before injecting it. Doing this could lead to severe side effects, such as an overdose.

Statistics on Benzo Use, Misuse, and Addiction

Benzos are a helpful prescription medication widely prescribed and usually intended for short-term or infrequent use. Among all Benzo uses, which accounts for around 30 million people in the United States, 17.1% of people have abused them at some point.[2]

Those who abuse these drugs may have substance use disorders, while others do not. Some may abuse these drugs to sleep better or to get increased anxiety relief, or to experience the more extreme effects when misused.

It is more likely to become dependent on Benzos when they’re misused as the effects will be much stronger, and the influence on the brain is more significant.

Effects of Benzo Abuse

Abusing Benzos could lead to side effects that are far more serious than normal. You may experience blurred vision, slurred speech, weak muscles, and difficulty breathing. Taking very large doses could send you into a coma or result in an overdose.

Can You Overdose on Benzos?

Many people have died due to Benzo overdoses. This is why it’s so important to be careful when taking medications like this. It is difficult to overdose when you take the prescription as instructed. But if you snort or inject the substance, you will have far less control over how the drug gets absorbed into your body.

Many people have died after first misusing Benzos in this way because their bodies couldn’t handle the high dose. It is also possible to overdose when you take too many pills at once.

Signs and Symptoms of Benzo Overdose

Someone who has overdosed will be very sluggish, confused, and nauseous. They may not be able to move due to muscle weakness and dizziness. Many will end up unconscious and unresponsive. They may have a depressed heart rate, and their breathing may be very faint. It is possible for their heart to stop if the overdose is severe enough.

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

Because overdoses can be fatal, you should call emergency services as soon as you find someone in this situation. The faster the paramedics can get to them, the better chance they have of a positive outcome.

Dangers of Long-Term Benzo Use

The longer you use Benzos, the more dependent you will be on them. You may find that you are unable to sleep or go about your day without taking them. It will also prevent your brain from functioning properly once the drugs are out of your system.

Long-term Benzo use can lead to cognitive decline, addiction, and poor motor coordination. Many people have gotten into car crashes while taking Benzos because their reaction time and coordination are not as sharp as they should be.

Mixing Benzos with Other Substances

Mixing Benzos, like Xanax®, with other substances can have dangerous consequences. When taken with alcohol, it can enhance the depressive nature of both substances to a hazardous level. This can cause you to faint or go into a coma, or your heart may stop. Mixing different Benzos together or combining them with other prescription drugs can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and death.

Benzo Addiction and Abuse

Adults aged 18 to 25 have the highest rate of Benzo misuse in the United States.[3] But taking any prescription drug or misusing it for fun can lead to serious consequences. A dependence on Benzos can be difficult to break without professional Benzodiazepine addiction treatment.

Are Benzos Addictive?

As a Schedule IV controlled substance, Benzos aren’t as addictive as other substances. However, they still have a significant potential for abuse. Those who have regularly taken Benzos for a significant length of time may find it difficult to stop without professional treatment due to dependence.

Signs of Addiction to Benzos

A clear sign that you’re dependent on Benzos is if you experience withdrawals when you don’t take them. You may also experience cravings or get irritable when you run out. If thoughts of taking them consume your mind or you’re not taking it as prescribed, it may be time for professional intervention.

Benzo Addiction and Mental Health

Many people develop depression due to the way they affect the brain. After taking them for a long time, they may not be as effective for anxiety. Some may experience cognitive decline, while others become more socially isolated, even from their friends and family.

Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment

Benzo treatment focuses on tapering doses and mental health therapy. These interventions will help you overcome dependence without relying on substances.

On average, treatment lasts an average of 30 to 90 days, depending on the severity of your disorder and your individualized treatment plan. From detox placement and residential treatment to Partial Hospitalization Programs, Intensive Outpatient Programs, and aftercare planning, a full continuum of care will help establish healthier habits for a lifetime of recovery success.

Therapies Used in Benzo Addiction Treatment

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective ways to navigate recovery and break free of substance use. Other powerful modalities include Group Therapy, Family Therapy, Art Therapy, and Psychotherapy.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Most people prescribed Benzos already suffer from anxiety, panic disorders, or insomnia, and those who abuse prescription medications may have a substance use disorder. Together, mental health and substance use can intensify symptoms and escalate dependence, leading to dangerous consequences. Treating each challenge with a holistic approach is the most effective strategy for lasting recovery.

Benzo Withdrawal Management and Treatment

The initial detox process will take a week or more. After that, you can focus more on long-term recovery interventions, including therapy and support. There are several levels of care that range in intensity and scope, including:

  • Detox
  • Residential Treatment
  • Extended Care
  • Intensive Outpatient Treatment

Drugs Used in Benzo Withdrawal Management

Flumazenil and buspirone are two of the most common drugs used to treat Benzo withdrawal symptoms. They can help reduce the pain, nausea, and overall discomfort of the process.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Addictive Are Benzos?

Benzos have a significant potential for abuse, but as a Schedule IV controlled substance, they are not as addictive as other drugs like opioids.

Can Everyone Get Addicted to Benzos?

When taken temporarily and as prescribed, it is unlikely that someone will develop a dangerous dependence. If the prescription is being abused or mixed with other substances, this will increase the risk of developing independence.

Who Gets Prescribed Benzos?

Those with anxiety, seizures, or insomnia often get prescribed Benzos. However, it is not uncommon for someone struggling with substance use disorder to obtain them illegally. 

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Sources

[1] National Health Statistics Reports – Centers for Disease Control and … (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr137-508.pdf on May 19, 2023.

[2] 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 19, 2023.

[3] Maust, D. T., Lin, L. A., & Blow, F. C. (2019). Benzodiazepine Use and Misuse Among Adults in the United States. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.), 70(2), 97–106. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30554562/ on May 19, 2023.