Benzo Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & When To Get Help

Are you unsure whether you or your loved one is struggling with benzo addiction? Read below to learn how to spot the warning signs.

Understanding Benzo Addiction

Learn about benzo addiction

Benzodiazepines refer to a group of substances that work by depressing the central nervous system. These medications are anxiolytics and include prescriptions drugs such as Ativan, Valium, Klonopin, and Xanax, all of which are commonly used in the treatment of anxiety disorders. In addition to anxiety disorders, benzodiazepines, which are often referred to as “benzos”, are used for medical purposes such as treating migraines, seizures, and other ailments. While these substances can serve an invaluable purpose for many who experience distress from these types of conditions, benzos are also addictive in nature and possess potential to be abused.

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), benzos are grouped into a category of substances known as sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytics. When individuals start abusing this type of substance to the point where they experience clinically significant impairment or distress as a result, they have likely developed sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder. While this disorder, which includes benzodiazepine addiction, can be challenging to overcome, there are comprehensive options for treatment that can help those addicted to benzos effectively defeat their compulsion to abuse benzodiazepines.

Statistics

Benzo addiction statistics

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that out of all of the prescription medications available, benzodiazepines are the most frequently used for recreational purposes because they are so easily accessible. Of the American adult population, between 11% and 15% are believed to be using some form of benzodiazepine, 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 benzodiazepine addiction, are discussed briefly below:

Genetic: The American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that one’s genetic background is an important factor to consider when looking into the origins of an addiction to anxiolytics such as benzodiazepines. If there exists a family history of benzodiazepine abuse and addiction, then an individual’s likelihood of suffering from similar concerns is greater.

Environmental: The APA states that, due to the fact that benzodiazepines are pharmaceuticals, their availability to users is the most predominant environmental cause in their widespread use. In addition, when individuals spend more time within an environment where family members or others are abusing substances, they are more likely to partake in similar behaviors as well.

Risk Factors:

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

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of benzo addiction

The signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine abuse will vary from individual to individual based on the specific type of benzo that one is abusing, the period of time that he or she has been abusing it, and the frequency with which the abuse takes place, as well as the amount of the drug that is consumed at any given time. Some various symptoms might include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

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

Physical symptoms:

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

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Insensibility
  • Memory impairment
  • Attention difficulties
  • Cravings for continued use

Psychosocial symptoms:

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

Effects

Effects of benzo addiction

Allowing an addiction of any kind to continue can lead to the development of severe detriments within an individual’s life. When the chronic abuse of benzodiazepines is allowed to continue without intervention, users are vulnerable to experiencing any number of devastating consequences within their person, social, and occupational lives, as well as regarding their physical wellbeing. Examples of such effects can include, however are not limited to, the following:

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

Withdrawal

Signs, symptoms, and effects of benzo withdrawal

When an individual has been abusing benzos and then stops his or her use of the substance, he or she will likely struggle with an unpleasant period of withdrawal. During this period, the individual will generally experience impairment in his or her ability to function normally. Examples of potential symptoms that might arise can include the following:

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

Overdose

Signs, symptoms, and effects of benzo overdose

Whenever an individual ingests more of a substance than his or her body can handle, he or she is at risk for overdosing. Overdosing on benzodiazepines should be viewed as a medical emergency and treatment should be obtained immediately. Signs that might show that an individual has overdosed on benzodiazepines can include:

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

Co-Occurring Disorders

Benzo addiction and co-occurring disorders

Individuals who grapple with sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder might also suffer from symptoms of a co-occurring mental disorder(s) as well. The following disorders are known to be diagnosed in those who battle this condition, which includes benzodiazepine addiction:

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