Benzodiazepine Addiction: Signs, Withdrawal & Treatment
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While recommendations state that doctors should only prescribe benzodiazepine medications to patients on a short-term basis, current practices haven’t yet caught up with recent scientific evidence. They are still widely prescribed for a vast range of psychiatric conditions, including insomnia and anxiety, as well as for a host of other health problems. The potential for tolerance, dependence, abuse and withdrawal with long-term use is high.
Benzodiazepine abuse and addiction are relatively common, and many people abuse them without even knowing it. Treatment is available, and anyone can make a full recovery, but it’s important to seek medical attention if you or someone you love shows signs of benzodiazepine dependence. After prolonged use, the body starts to rely on them, and quitting without supervision could be extremely dangerous.
What are Benzos? What are They Used For?
Benzodiazepine medications are a classification of drugs known for their sedative, tranquilizer effects. Common benzodiazepines include:
Alternative names for benzodiazepines:
- Chill pills
- French fries
- Totem poles
How Do Benzos Work?
These drugs fall into the category of central nervous system depressants. The CNS is comprised of the spinal cord and the brain. It controls the majority of physical and mental functions, sending messages from the body to the brain and the brain to the body. Benzos are known as a depressant because they slow down these vital functions. They cause an influx of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps us calm down and get to sleep.
Increased GABA suppresses serotonin and norepinephrine, which are mood regulators. This also causes an influx of dopamine, which induces feelings of calm and contentment. Dopamine is a key component in developing an addiction, as it’s the neurotransmitter that tells our brains to repeat behaviors that cause it to surge.
As such, benzodiazepines cause a major chemical imbalance in your brain. They offer short-term relief of unpleasant symptoms such as panic attacks, but over time, your body stops functioning correctly and relies on the drugs to feel normal. Often, chronic benzo users find they can’t sleep and feel extremely anxious without the drugs — which usually defeats the reason they were used in the first place.
- Panic disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Skeletal muscle relaxant
- Preoperative sedation
- Sleeping aid
- Alcohol withdrawal
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Signs of Abuse & Addiction
Benzo Withdrawal Symptoms & Detoxification
When used short term, benzodiazepines can be highly effective. However, prolonged use can lead to serious complications. The way benzos affect the brain makes them incredibly likely to cause dependence — both physical and mental.
Usually, dependence begins with increased tolerance. If you use them for more than a couple of months, you might find that they no longer provide the same level of relief they did in the beginning. Higher tolerance could lead you to take more than the doctor prescribed you. As soon as you increase your dose to achieve the desired effects, you’ve begun the cycle of benzodiazepine abuse.
Another sign of dependence would be the onset of withdrawal symptoms when the drugs are wearing off. In many cases, a cycle of drug abuse occurs once tolerance and withdrawal symptoms set in. The longer you’re dependent on benzodiazepines, the more likely you are to sink into addiction. A substance use disorder is characterized by habitual use, drug-seeking behavior and continuing to take the drugs despite adverse effects.
When benzodiazepines wear off, they can cause severe withdrawal symptoms, which may have been the reason you got caught up in abusing them in the first place. The chance of complications increases the longer you’ve been using them and the higher the dose you’ve been taking, due to the profound impact they have on the mind and body.
One of the main reasons you should seek medical attention for benzodiazepine withdrawal is that it’s a dangerous and potentially life-threatening condition requiring medical detox. Some of the signs of withdrawal include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Muscle tension
How to Know if Someone Is Abusing Benzos?
Signs of Benzo Addiction
Because benzos affect such a central system within the body, there are several physical signs that someone is abusing them and could be in need of benzodiazepine addiction treatment. Some of the signs of benzodiazepine abuse include:
- Excessive saliva
- Dry mouth
- Changes in sexual functioning
Changes in Behavior
Benzodiazepines don’t only affect the body; they also have an intense impact on the mind. Some behavioral signs to look out for are:
- Intoxication similar to being drunk
- Decreased inhibitions
- Uncharacteristic mood swings
- Loss of interest in daily activities
A clear sign that someone is abusing drugs will be if you see them intentionally mixing them with other substances for an enhanced experience. This is usually a sign that their tolerance has increased and they’re looking for riskier ways of getting the desired effects. It’s extremely dangerous to mix benzos with any amount of alcohol because they both depress the central nervous system.
Abusing benzodiazepines often causes people to neglect their dietary requirements and spend a lot of time sleeping.
Someone with a benzodiazepine addiction is likely to use multiple doctors, pharmacies and online retailers to get their hands on the drugs. You might notice them spending a lot of money on the medication or co-pays for the medication.
As well as seeking prescription drugs from multiple sources, a person may ask friends and family members if they can spare their prescriptions or obtain a prescription and give it to them. It’s also likely that someone who’s addicted will steal the medication if they’re told no.
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The Dangers of Benzo Addiction
The Risks of Long-Term Benzo Abuse
The majority of problems with benzodiazepines are associated with long-term use. There are significant risks to your physical health, mental health and brain function if you use this type of medication in high doses and/or over a long period. Most medical experts describe the long-term use of benzos as more than one month.
Risks to Mental Health
Long-term use of benzodiazepines leads to a decrease in cognitive function, including your ability to learn, memory problems, trouble concentrating and attention span. Once you stop taking the medication, this usually goes back to normal, but functioning could be severely impaired if you continue to use them over an extended period.
Although they’re used to give temporary relief from insomnia, benzos don’t address the root cause of the problem and usually make sleep disorders worse when taken chronically. They disrupt the amount of vital REM and slow-wave sleep, which are the most critical aspects of sleep for mood and energy.
Long-term use of benzos leads to a decrease in serotonin and norepinephrine, which is likely to cause further problems in people with anxiety or other preexisting mental health problems. Long-term benzodiazepine use is also associated with an increased rate of suicidal behavior.
Risks to Physical Health
Chronic use of benzodiazepines causes changes in brain chemistry, which can lead to the worsening of mental symptoms. Long-lasting modifications made to the GABA system over time may also result in changes to hormone functioning, behavior and the immune system.
The sedative state that benzos put you into increases the risk of causing physical injury to yourself, which gets worse if you’re using more of the medication over a prolonged amount of time.
Benzodiazepines also cause a decrease in sexual function. Men have reported experiencing problems getting and sustaining an erection, delayed ejaculation and difficulty ejaculating. Higher doses over a longer period are associated with increased sexual issues.
Overdose is a genuine risk when it comes to benzodiazepines due to how quickly tolerance develops. Taking more of the substance than advised by a doctor or taking it in ways other than directed raises the likelihood of overdose. Risky behavior such as injecting or snorting benzos can significantly increase the risk of overdose.
Benzo Abuse in America
Benzodiazepine Addiction Facts & Statistics
- The number of deaths as a result of benzodiazepines has increased significantly over the last two decades. In 1999, there were just 1,000 deaths as a result of using the drug. By 2017, this number had risen to 11,000.
- 12.6% of adults in the US have used benzodiazepines.
- Misuse is most prevalent in young adults aged 18 to 25.
- While women are more likely to report using benzodiazepines, men are more likely to report misusing them.
- More than half of the people asked in a study why they use the medication said it was to relieve stress, and a quarter said it was to improve sleep.
Over 30% of opioid overdoses involve benzodiazepines.
Get the Help You Need, Right Now
Learn to Live Life Again at Our Benzo Rehab in California
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Give us a call at 1-866-381-5165 to find out if a stay at our residential treatment facility is included in your insurance plan. An insurance benefits check is free, and our trained admissions counselors can help you figure out a treatment plan that works with your available insurance options.