Benzodiazepine Addiction

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Benzodiazepines are depressant drugs used to treat various physical and mental health symptoms, including anxiety, seizures, muscle spasms, and insomnia. Even though these are some of the most prescribed drugs worldwide, there is a significant illegal market. The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reports the most common illicit benzodiazepines are alprazolam and clonazepam. 

Overdose deaths have risen exponentially in the last decade, and approximately 16% of opioid overdoses involve benzodiazepines. Opioids and benzodiazepines are sometimes prescribed simultaneously despite the inherent dangers. One 2016 study determined “individuals prescribed opioids are considerably more likely to be prescribed [benzodiazepines].” 

The Most Commonly Used Benzodiazepines 

Most people are not familiar with the wide range of benzodiazepines currently in use. Medical professionals prescribe benzodiazepines more than any other drug. You may be familiar with the following brand-name forms of the drug. Doctors prescribe them to treat the following conditions:

  • Valium: muscle spasms, seizures, alcohol withdrawal, and anxiety. 
  • Xanax: anxiety and panic disorders
  • Restoril: insomnia
  • Ativan: anxiety, stress, seizures, insomnia and other sleep disturbances, alcohol withdrawal, and for use as sedation before medical procedures 
  • Klonopin: convulsions and panic attacks
  • ProSom: insomnia and other sleep disturbances, panic, and some seizure disorders
  • Dalmane: insomnia and other sleep disturbances 
  • Restoril: anxiety, muscle spasms, some seizure disorders, insomnia, and other sleep disturbances 
  • Halcion: insomnia and other sleep disturbances 
  • Versed: anxiety, insomnia, and other sleep disturbances, seizure, and as a sedative before medical procedures
  • Librium, Serax, Doral, and Centrax: acute alcohol withdrawal, seizures, and anxiety

Nicknames and street names used to describe this type of drug include downers, nerve pills, tranks, and benzos.


Risk Factors Associated With Benzodiazepine Addiction

Every prescription with the potential for addiction includes risks. Be honest with your doctor or care team about your personal medical history and current prescriptions to ensure they know of any potential issues or complications. Risk factors associated with benzodiazepine abuse include: 

  • Prescription or illegal opioid use 
  • A family or personal history of mental health or substance abuse disorders 
  • High levels of chronic stress and acute stress 
  • Long-term prescription or high doses of benzodiazepines
  • Age and gender (younger individuals and women have a higher risk)
  • Dependent personality  

The risks increase significantly for anyone taking drugs with higher levels of potency or at higher doses. Risk factors also play a part in the development of symptoms. A history of substance abuse or mental health disorders, or current prescriptions for drugs like opioids, cause complications impacting your physical health. 


Common Mental and Physical Health Complications

Due to their nature as a depressant, you should not combine benzodiazepines with other substances that affect respiration or consciousness. You should avoid alcohol, GBH, and barbiturates. Most benzodiazepines create the same physiological effects, including the following:

  • Tiredness and lethargy
  • Confusion, “foggy” thinking, and difficulty focusing
  • Coordinating issues and slow reflexes
  • Slowed breathing
  • Memory issues, including rare cases of amnesia
  • Aggression, irritability, and other mood changes
  • Unusually vivid and disturbing dreams
  • Overdosing could result in unconsciousness, coma, or death

Some people who take or misuse benzodiazepines experience an increase in suicidal ideations, including self-harming behaviors, a preoccupation with thoughts of suicide, and feelings of existential dread. If you have a history of suicidal thoughts or behaviors, inform your doctor. 

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome Symptoms and Timeline 

You might notice withdrawal after taking benzodiazepines for only several weeks if the dose is high enough. Co-occurring disorders or simultaneous prescriptions for interactive medications increase the symptoms. The effects become noticeable within a few hours to several days after the last dose. Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome symptoms include: 

  • Hand tremors
  • Insomnia and vivid nightmares
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations 
  • Grand mal seizure
  • Nausea or vomiting

Figuring out a timeline of withdrawal symptoms depends on the half-life of the specific drug you take. For most people, withdrawal starts within one to four days after the last dose and continues for ten to fourteen days. However, you may require an extended time frame to safely taper off the drug if you have been taking it for an extended period. Your care team will provide information relevant to your situation regarding the expected length of withdrawal and degree of symptoms. 


Treatment and Therapy Options 

If you have taken benzodiazepines for longer than six months, the risk increases for developing seizures during the detox and withdrawal stages. The safest treatment is under the care of trained professionals at a private or community facility where a medical team can monitor you 24/7. Your medical team can treat any severe symptoms immediately and quickly adjust your medications as necessary to keep you healthy. In addition, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) may be used for individuals experiencing substance abuse disorders involving benzodiazepines. 

Psychotherapies ensure mental well-being and treat any underlying mental health issues during rehabilitation. Therapy also encourages behavioral modification and provides coping mechanisms to lower the risk of relapse. Most facilities offer the following therapy options for substance abuse disorders, including those involving benzodiazepines: 

  • Contingency Management (CM)
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) 

We are here for you

Medical professionals have conducted a worldwide effort to limit the use of addictive substances like benzodiazepines, but much work still needs to be done. Despite changes to policy and guidelines, benzodiazepines remain overly prescribed and increase the risk of patients developing substance use disorders. You can get help with your benzodiazepine dependence from programs and local treatment facilities offering expert care. White House Recovery and Detox provides numerous treatment and therapy options for individuals in our community. Reach out today to learn more.