Benzodiazepine addiction is a chronic and relapsing condition that alters brain function and can lead to catastrophic losses in an individual’s life, including death. When people use benzodiazepines more often than they intend to, continue to use them despite negative consequences, and need more to achieve the same effects, it is likely that they suffer from an addiction.
Benzodiazepines or “benzos” are mild tranquilizers that act as central nervous system (CNS) depressants and are prescribed primarily as short-term treatment for anxiety and insomnia, although they can also be used to treat muscle spasms, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal 1. Since benzodiazepines’ therapeutic effects are almost immediate upon taking them, they are often used intermittently when symptoms arise 1. They are controlled substances with a high potential for abuse 1 due to their euphoric and calming properties.
The most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include 1:
The purpose of this article is to discuss:
- Signs you or a loved one is addicted to benzodiazepines.
- Treating benzodiazepine addiction.
- Risk factors for addiction.
- Financing benzodiazepine addiction treatment.
- Long-term effects of benzodiazepine addiction.
- Find a treatment program that’s right for you.
Signs You or a Loved One is Addicted to Benzodiazepines
There are a number of behavioral, psychological, and physical indicators of benzodiazepine abuse and addiction, such as feeling like you can’t function without the drug, tolerance, inability to stop or reduce the amount of usage, and withdrawal symptoms if you stop using. People may appear sedated and uninterested in activities they used to enjoy before benzodiazepine abuse began.
Friends and family may notice any number of the following physical and psychological changes that may indicate an addiction 1,2:
- Mood swings.
- Impaired judgment.
- Slurred speech.
- Coordination problems.
- Unsteady gait.
- Inattention to surroundings.
- Impaired memory.
- Muscle weakness.
- Suicidal ideation.
- Emotional blunting or numbness.
- Physical tolerance, which means that the user requires increased doses to achieve intoxication or desired effects.
- Withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, tremors, vomiting, hallucinations, anxiety, and seizures.
It’s important to know that benzodiazepines can elicit a reaction called paradoxical disinhibition, which is characterized by contradicting effects, such as hostility, aggression, irritability, excitement, and impulsivity 1. This reaction can sometimes lead to violent or antisocial acts 1.
Other behavioral signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine addiction that you should be aware of may include 1,2:
- Consuming more benzodiazepines than originally planned.
- Failing to control benzodiazepine abuse.
- Spending a large amount of time using benzodiazepines, obtaining them, or recovering from their effects.
- Using benzodiazepines results in failure to fulfill major role obligations, such as at home, work, or school.
- Having strong urges to use benzodiazepines.
- Continuing to use benzodiazepines despite psychological or physical health problems caused or worsened by use.
- Continuing to use benzodiazepines despite negative interpersonal and social consequences.
- Using benzodiazepines in dangerous situations, such as while driving.
- Giving up or reducing previously enjoyed activities due to benzodiazepine use.
Benzodiazepines depress the central nervous system by enhancing the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter that plays a key role in mediating the anxiolytic and calming effects of these drugs 3,4. When GABA is activated, it weakens the influence of neurons that typically inhibit dopamine release in the brain. Therefore, when someone abuses benzodiazepines, excessive dopamine is released, which produces a euphoric and rewarding effect 3. Although therapeutic when taken as prescribed, research has revealed that benzodiazepines lead to addiction in a similar manner to which opioids, marijuana, and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) do 3.
Treating Benzodiazepine Addiction
The good news is that benzodiazepine addiction is treatable and it is never too late to get help. Professional treatment can provide you with a number of benefits, such as:
- Individual and group counseling.
- Medically supervised detoxification.
- Assessment for co-occurring mental health problems.
- Peer support.
- Relapse prevention strategies.
There are many different types of benzodiazepine addiction treatment programs available. It’s important to explore all your options before making a decision. Below are some various types of treatment:
- Population-specific treatment: Some treatment centers have extensive experience in addressing the unique needs of various populations, such as veterans, women-only, men-only, teens, and LGBT.
- Holistic treatment programs aim to heal the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of the patient. They combine traditional treatment approaches, such as therapy, with complementary and alternative methods, such as art therapy, yoga, and meditation.
- 12-Step programs, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Pills Anonymous (PA) are fellowship programs that follow a set of guidelines for recovery. The meetings are free to attend, peer-run, and peer-supported.
- Inpatient treatment provides 24-hour supervision and care and removes patients from the using environment, giving them a solid footing for sobriety.
- Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP) is an alternative to or step down from inpatient or residential treatment for those with a stable living situation and is designed to allow for participation in work and family life while recovering from a benzodiazepine addiction.
- Partial hospital programs (PHP) offer a relatively more encompassing level of care than intensive outpatient programs and require that people attend comprehensive and regular treatment sessions multiple times a week, for a large portion of the day. Access to hospital services during treatment hours is one benefit to this type of treatment.
- Standard Outpatient treatment may consist of fewer treatment sessions per week than IOP or PHP and the sessions may only last for 1-2 hours. This type of treatment may be best for someone whose addiction is relatively less severe, has already made significant recovery strides, and/or has a strong support network. It can also be used as maintenance for someone who has completed an initial treatment program.
If the patient is addicted to a rapid onset of action, short-acting benzodiazepine, a treatment program may administer a longer-acting benzodiazepine to help mitigate the risk of severe or dangerous withdrawal effects, allowing the patient to detox from the drug safely and comfortably. Another option is to create a schedule in which the individual gradually tapers off of the benzo to reduce withdrawal symptoms, which can contribute to relapse. Once the individual has successfully completed detoxification, behavioral therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can be used to rectify maladaptive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and address the underlying issues associated with addiction 5.
If you or a loved one suffers from an addiction to benzodiazepines, consult our treatment support advisors to discuss recovery options. Call 1-888-439-3435 Who Answers? today to take the first step towards sobriety.
Risk Factors for Addiction
The causes of benzodiazepine addiction are complex and most likely a combination of factors, such as genetics, environment, history of trauma, and socio-economic and cultural influences. Anyone can become addicted to benzodiazepines, but certain factors can contribute to the development of addiction. These factors may include:
- Family history of addiction. Addiction can run in a person’s family, meaning if your relative suffers from an addiction, then you have an increased risk of developing addiction as well. Genes interact with environmental variables to influence the initiation of benzodiazepine abuse and addiction. Different substances have different genetic influences, and sedatives, such as benzos, are about 50% heritable, meaning that 50% of the addiction can be attributed to DNA 6.
- Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, such as neglect, abuse, witnessing violence or substance abuse in the household, and parental separation or divorce. ACEs largely contribute to early substance abuse and addiction later in life 7.
- Having a mental health condition. If you have a mental health disorder, such as depression, anxiety, antisocial personality disorder, and bipolar disorder, you’re more likely to become dependent on benzodiazepines 2,8.
- Peer pressure. Peer pressure is a strong contributor to the initiation of drug use and abuse drugs, particularly for adolescents 9.
- Lack of family involvement. Difficult family situations or lack of a bond with your parents or siblings may increase the risk of addiction, as can a lack of parental supervision.
Financing Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment
Don’t let the cost of rehab deter you from getting help.
The price of benzodiazepine addiction treatment can range from free to tens of thousands of dollars. It all depends on your insurance coverage, the location of the treatment center, the type of program, and the length of your stay.
If you have insurance, make sure to call your insurance company to discuss your specific policy. If you don’t have insurance, there are still plenty of ways in which you can finance your recovery:
- Personal Financing is perhaps the easiest way to pay for drug rehab if you have the resources.
- Asking friends or family members is one alternative to consider. Loved ones are greatly affected by addiction and may be willing to provide financial support for your treatment.
- Personal loans may be an option if obtaining financial assistance from a friend or family member is not available. Two popular options include paying for rehab with a credit card or a bank loan.
- Financing through the treatment center itself is another option, as many offer their own payment plans to help prospective patients get the help they need.
Don’t let the cost of rehab deter you from getting help. Remember, the cost of postponing, or not entering treatment far exceeds any monetary value. Your safety and well-being are of primary concern. Call our helpline at 1-888-439-3435 Who Answers? to discuss rehab programs.
Long-term Effects of Benzodiazepine Addiction
Long-term benzodiazepine abuse can be harmful to every aspect of your life, damaging your physical and mental health and causing significant impairment in your social, occupational, and financial functioning.
Some potential long-term effects associated with prolonged benzodiazepine use include the following 1,2,10,11:
- Increased risk of overdose, if combined with other depressants, such as alcohol.
- Hip fracture in older individuals.
- Increased risk of car accidents, as a result of intoxication.
- Cognitive impairment.
- Low heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure.
- Intravenous complications, such as collapsed veins, abscesses, or the contraction of HIV or hepatitis.
- Interpersonal and legal problems resulting from aggressive behavior.
- Financial hardships.
- Occupational problems, such as missing work, poor performance, and loss of employment.
- Poor academic performance and expulsion.
- Increased risk of suicide.
- Protracted withdrawal symptoms, which can last for several months, including depression, insomnia, and anxiety.
Find a Treatment Program That’s Right for You
Keep in mind that a solid treatment program for benzodiazepine addiction needs to be tailored to meet your specific needs. There are a number of treatment options available throughout the country. Consult with a treatment support advisor to ensure that you make the best possible choice. Call our helpline at 1-888-439-3435 Who Answers? to begin on the road to recovery.
- Longo, Lance P., M.D., Johnson, Brian, M.D. (2000). Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines – Side Effects, Abuse Risk and Alternatives. American Family Physician.61(7):2121-2128.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- National Institute of Drug Abuse. (2012). Well-Known Mechanism Underlies Benzodiazepines’ Addictive Properties
- Semel Institute. UCLA Dual Diagnosis Program. (2016). Benzodiazepine Addiction.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Treatments for Substance Use Disorders.
- Bevilacqua, L. and Goldman, D. (2009), Genes and Addictions. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 85: 359–361. doi:10.1038/clpt.2009.6
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2016). Adverse Childhood Experiences.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010). Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Illnesses.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2003). Preventing Drug Use among Children and Adolescents.
- The Mayo Clinic. (2013). 1-888-439-3435 Who Answers? >Drug Addiction Complications.
- Johnson, Brian M.D., Streltzer, Jon, M.D. (2013). Risks Associated with Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use. American Family Physician. 88 (4):224-225