Causes and Effects of Benzodiazepine Addiction

The signs, symptoms, and effects of benzo addiction can be different for every person impacted. Learning about benzo addiction is one of the first steps towards getting better.

Understanding Benzos

Learn about benzo addiction and substance abuse

Benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” are substances that are effective in depressing the central nervous system. These anxiolytic medications include prescription medications such as Valium, Ativan, Xanax, and Klonopin – all of which are most commonly used in the treatment of symptoms stemming from anxiety disorders. In addition to treating anxiety disorders, benzos are also used to help treat migraines, seizures, and other mental health conditions. While these substances are highly beneficial for many who struggle with these and similar issues, they are also highly addictive and can possess great potential for abuse.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), benzos are categorized as sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics. When someone begins abusing this type of substance to the extent where they begin experiencing clinical impairment, they have likely developed sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder. While this type of disorder, which includes benzo addiction, can be exceptionally challenging to defeat, there are comprehensive treatment options available that can help those addicted to benzos overcome their compulsions to use.

Statistics

Benzo addiction statistics

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), out of all prescription medications available to the public, benzos are the ones most commonly used recreationally because of how accessible they are. Within the American adult population, 11% to 15% are believed to be using some type of benzo, with roughly 1% to 2% having abused it for one year or longer.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for benzo addiction

The causes and risk factors for sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder, including benzo addiction, are as follows:

Genetic: The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that one’s genetic background is a highly important factor when it comes to the development of a benzo addiction. If there is a family history of benzo addiction or abuse present, then one’s risks of suffering from similar challenges is greater.

Environmental: The APA also states that, since benzos are pharmaceuticals, their accessibility to users is the greatest environmental cause of their widespread abuse. Also, when individuals associate within an environment where those around him or her are abusing substances, they become more likely to engage in similar behaviors.

Risk Factors:

  • Ease of availability with which one can obtain benzodiazepines
  • Being around other people who abuse drugs and/or alcohol
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Suffering from a mental health condition
  • Beginning to abuse substances at an early age
  • Being female (The APA notes that females are at a greater risk for abusing prescription drugs than males are)
  • Suffering from a medical condition for which benzodiazepines are prescribed to treat
  • Having an impulsive temperament

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of benzo addiction

The signs and symptoms of benzo abuse will vary from person to person, and will depend on the type of benzo that is being abused, the period of time it has been abused for, the frequency that it is being consumed, and the amount that is being ingested at any given time. Some of the many symptoms that one might experience can include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Slurred speech
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home
  • Declining participation in recreational activities that one once enjoyed
  • Limiting contact with friends and family members
  • Repeated absences from work
  • Visiting multiple doctors in order to obtain multiple prescriptions for benzodiazepines
  • Disinhibited behavior
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at work

Physical symptoms:

  • Unsteady gait
  • Discoordination
  • Rapid, involuntary eye movement
  • Drowsiness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Cravings for benzos
  • Memory impairment
  • Insensibility
  • Attention difficulties

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Dysregulation of emotions
  • Anxiety
  • Euphoria
  • Periods of emotional detachment
  • Depression

Effects

Effects of benzo addiction

A benzo addiction can lead to the development of significant detriments within one’s life. When the continual abuse of benzos persists without intervention, users are likely to struggle with painful consequences within all areas of their lives, as well as with their physical health. Some of these effects can include, however are not limited to, the following:

  • Hypotension
  • Drop in occupational performance, potentially resulting in demotion job loss
  • Financial strain resulting from unemployment
  • Onset of severe depression, which can lead to suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors
  • Overall decline in physical health
  • Injuries and accidents that result from participating in high-risk behaviors while intoxicated
  • Disturbances within interpersonal relationships
  • Marital discord
  • Beginning to abuse other substances
  • Onset of new, or worsening of current symptoms of other mental health conditions
  • Respiratory depression
  • Decline in cognition

Co-Occurring Disorders

Benzo addiction and co-occurring disorders

Individuals who are facing sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder might also suffer from symptoms of co-occurring mental health problems at the same time. Below are the disorders most commonly diagnosed in those who struggle with these conditions:

  • Bipolar disorders
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Tobacco use disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Other substance use disorders

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of benzo withdrawal and overdose

Effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal: When an individual has abused benzos and then stops his or her use of these substances, he or she will likely suffer from withdrawal. During withdrawal, the individual can experience impairment in functionality. Some of the potential symptoms that can occur include the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Increased pulse rate
  • Grand mal seizures
  • Hand tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Brief visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations
  • Vomiting

Effects of benzodiazepine overdose: When an individual consumes more of a substance than his or her body can process, he or she is at risk for suffering from an overdose. Overdosing on substances like benzos should always be treated as a medical emergency and treatment should be obtained right away. Signs that might inidcate that someone has overdosed on benzos can include the following:

  • Extreme dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Sedation
  • Loss of coordination
  • Respiratory system depression
  • Muscle weakness

I loved the staff! Most of the techs and nurses were wonderful. The doctors were great, too. I would choose it again if I had to go back.

– Former Patient