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Benzodiazepines & Benzo Addiction

Although benzos are commonly prescribed drugs, they can lead to addiction.

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Caron Treatment Centers accepts patients aged 13 years or older. For more information on services available to those 12 and under, please learn more about Caron's Student Assistance Program.
What are benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are a class of prescription drug (commonly called tranquilizers) that depress the central nervous system (CNS) and reduce brain function. Common varieties include drugs such as Valium, Xanax, or Librium. When properly prescribed and taken, benzos:

  • treat anxiety and panic disorders
  • relieve muscle spasms
  • induce sleep
  • produce sedation
  • alleviate alcohol withdrawal
  • prevent seizures
Benzodiazepines & Benzo Addiction

What are the effects of benzos?

In general, dosage determines the effects of benzodiazepines:

  • Low doses produce sedation and are used to manage insomnia and anxiety.
  • Moderate doses prevent seizures.
  • High doses induce sleep.

Abusing benzos can cause severe effects—including dangerously reduced heart rate and respiration, coma and death—when used in combination with other drugs (particularly CNS depressants), alcohol and antihistamines. Using benzos while driving is particularly risky due to the fact that they can cause short-term memory loss and confusion.

While benzodiazepines have many therapeutic uses, repeated use, large doses or improper use can result in a variety of negative side effects, including:

  • Amnesia
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Irritability
  • Disturbing dreams
  • Hostility

Benzo addiction.

Prolonged daily benzodiazepine use or abuse can also result in benzo addiction: tolerance, physical dependence and withdrawal when use is discontinued. Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe and often last longer than those of other drugs. In fact, detoxing from benzodiazepines is just as difficult as detoxing from heroin. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms associated with benzo addiction can change minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour. Even as the patient recovers, symptoms may disappear for a few weeks or months, only to return again.

Benzo withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Sensory distortion
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Depression
  • Hypersensitivity to touch and pain
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Loss of appetite

Severe benzo withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Psychosis
  • Epileptic seizures
  • Delirium tremens
  • Suicidal behavior, particularly in young people
  • Hallucinations

Severe symptoms can be dangerous and are best treated by medically supervised detox.

Avoiding unanticipated benzo addiction.

While benzodiazepines are sold illegally on the streets, it is important to note that benzo addiction can occur even in those who aren’t intentionally abusing the drug. In fact, daily use of benzodiazepines for a period longer than four weeks can result in limited drug effectiveness, tolerance, dependence and withdrawal symptoms upon quitting—all markers of benzo addiction. Thus, it is imperative that 1) doctors closely monitor patients with benzodiazepine prescriptions and 2) patients follow dosage instructions stringently in order to avoid benzo addiction.

Benzo addiction is serious, but it can be treated. If you or a loved one is addicted, please explore our programs or contact us for more information.