Benzo Abuse & Addiction Symptoms, Signs, Causes & Effects

Benzo addiction can rob you of your health, your dignity, and your hope for a better tomorrow. At Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center, you will reconnect with your best self, and begin to build the foundation for a more promising future.

What is Benzo Abuse?

 Learn More About Benzo Addiction

Most of us know what anxiety feels like and how even a single night without sleep can ruin the whole next day. Most people however, don’t experience these problems regularly. For some people, anxiety can become a common stressor in their lives, preventing them from enjoying a productive life, impeding desire to engage in pleasurable activities, or appreciate the company of others.

Benzodiazepines or “benzos,” including Ativan, Xanax, and Klonopin, are anxiolytic medications widely prescribed for conditions involving anxiety or insomnia. These anti-anxiety agents are considered safe and – even in the case of an overdose – rarely result in death when taken in the absence of other substances. However, due to the relief experienced after long-term anxiety or insomnia is decreased or eliminated, they can become addicting. This is particularly the case if you have had difficulties with addiction or addiction to another substance.

Many individuals manage to take benzodiazepines for anxiety without any problems. They follow prescription instructions and never take more than the recommended dose. While the brain chemistry that allows for the benzos to work may change over time resulting in a physical tolerance to the drug, most do not become addicts. If you’re concerned about becoming an addict, talk to your doctor about your benzodiazepine use.

A benzodiazepine addict takes more and more of the drug in order to attain the same effects and uses the drug for non-medical purposes, which is called prescription drug abuse. Another common method of addiction is pursing the pleasure-seeking capabilities of these drugs by taking extremely high doses of benzos, or combining them with another type of drug, such as alcohol or opioids to attain an even greater high. Other addicts use benzos to combat the unpleasant effects of other drugs such as stimulants like methamphetamines. Combining benzodiazepines with other drugs only magnifies the negative effects of being addicted to benzos.

Addiction to benzodiazepines can feel terrifying; like you’re trapped in a black hole and can’t get out. Rest assured that with the care and treatment you’ll find at Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery Center, you’ll begin the journey toward recovery.

Statistics

Statistics on Benzo Addiction

While studies of benzodiazepines addiction are limited, there are well-studied prevalence rates of sedatives, hypnotics and anti-anxiety medications each of which includes types of benzodiazepines.

Among 12-17-year-olds, newly-diagnosed cases each year have been estimated to be 0.3% while for adults aged 18 and older the estimate was 0.8%. Rates for adult males are slightly higher than for females, however, this pattern has been found to be reversed in adolescents. The rates peak among 18-29 year olds and decreases with age.

Causes

Causes of Benzo Addiction

Addiction does not have a single root cause; instead it’s believed that addiction develops as the combination of many factors working concurrently. These factors may include:

Genetic: While there is evidence suggesting a genetic link to addiction disorders, however, whether a specific combination of genes is linked to addiction to specific classes of drugs has yet to be determined. There is evidence that the tendency for addiction to specific classes of drugs runs in families. If you have a first-degree relative who is addicted to benzodiazepines, you have a higher likelihood of also developing an addiction to benzodiazepines.

Brain Chemistry: Research suggests that benzodiazepines stop neurons in the brain responsible for preventing surges of the brain’s “pleasure” chemicals, creating a surge of pleasure chemicals into the brain.

Environmental: High levels of life stressors, especially when perceived as uncontrollable, often lead individuals yearning for relief. Individuals in such circumstances often turn to benzodiazepines to calm their inner anxiety. Many people feel uncomfortable in social situations and benzodiazepines can decrease social anxiety.  Their newfound ability to enjoy being social reinforces the use of benzodiazepines until the individual feels they need the benzos to be social.

Psychological: Benzodiazepines are used in the management of mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders. If only benzos are used to treat the anxiety and individuals do not receive simultaneous therapy, this can cause an unhealthy reliance on benzodiazepines to manage the mental illness.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders and the Complexity of Benzo Addiction

There are a number of disorders, including other substance use disorders that co-occur with benzodiazepine addiction. These include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Tobacco use disorder
  • Substance addiction
  • Other sedative, hypnotic or anxiolytic addiction
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Benzo Addiction

While symptoms of benzodiazepine abuse will vary depending upon the length of time an individual uses the benzo and the amount of the medication taken, some of the symptoms of benzodiazepine addiction are very similar.

Symptoms of benzodiazepine addiction include:

Mood:

  • Problems with attention and concentration
  • Memory problems
  • Inconsistent moods or mood swings
  • Poor judgment

Behavioral:

  • Inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Increase in sociability, sometimes to the point the individual becomes overly social to the exclusion of other responsibilities
  • Improved or worsened relationships depending on the response of others to the individuals substance use, how the individual presents social, and the degree of change that is evident
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Decrease in inhibitions
  • “Doctor shopping” or visiting more than one doctor to obtain a number of refills for benzos
  • Stealing or borrowing pills from friends and family
  • Mounting legal problems
  • Financial ruin
  • Anger
  • Aggression
  • Taking more medication or over longer periods of time than intended
  • Impaired occupational or academic functioning

Physical:

  • Slurred speech
  • Being uncoordinated
  • Unsteadiness
  • Nystagmus (rapid, uncontrollable eye movements)
  • Stupor
  • Coma (infrequent unless the benzodiazepine is paired with another substance)
  • Lethargy
  • Increased sleep

Psychological:

  • Changes in personality
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions

Effects

Effects of Benzo Addiction

Long-term effects of chronic benzodiazepine addiction can be long-lasting and devastating in every area of an individual’s life. Some of the more common effects of benzo addiction include:

  • Toxicity and drug interactions
  • Psychomotor retardation
  • Psychosocial problems
  • Interpersonal relationship problems
  • Divorce
  • Legal problems
  • Incarceration
  • Slowed reaction times
  • Anterograde amnesia
  • Depression
  • Emotional blunting
  • Rebound anxiety

Withdrawal

Withdrawal Symptoms from Benzo Addiction

Some of the more common withdrawal symptoms of benzodiazepines include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hypertension
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Neurological problems
  • Major depression
  • Belief that social abilities have been lost
  • Fear that they will be unable to function without the substance

Because of Blue Ridge, I now look forward to fighting this battle every day with others who are driven to change the world.

– Ava