Benzodiazepines are prescription drugs that treat anxiety, panic disorders, insomnia, muscle spasms, and seizures. They were created in the 1970s as a safer alternative to barbiturates, which were addictive and had intense side effects.
But benzodiazepines aren’t that safe, either. They’re classified as Schedule IV controlled substances because they have a potential for abuse, addiction, and physical dependence.
As central nervous system depressants, benzodiazepines can make you feel relaxed, peaceful, and euphoric.
Some people abuse benzodiazepines by crushing the pills and snorting them or preparing them in a solution to inject. These methods take the drug quickly into the bloodstream without allowing it to pass through the digestive system first. The effects have a fast onset but a short duration.
You can also misuse benzodiazepines orally. While they don’t take effect as quickly, the sedative effects last longer.
Benzodiazepines can be helpful for people with anxiety disorders and muscle spasms. But it becomes abuse when you:
- take them without a prescription
- take a higher dose than prescribed
- take them more often than prescribed
- take them for longer than prescribed
You may develop a tolerance to benzodiazepines with recommended use. Tolerance is when your body gets used to a drug and needs a higher dose to have the same effect. The risk of tolerance is higher when you abuse the drug.
Commonly Abused Benzodiazepines
The most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines are also most frequently found on the illicit market. They’re popular drugs that people seek out, and since there are more prescriptions, the drugs are more readily available to be diverted to the street.
According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) fact sheet published in October 2022, the most commonly prescribed and abused benzodiazepines are:
- Valium (diazepam): for anxiety, seizures, muscle spasms, and twitches
- Xanax (alprazolam): for anxiety and panic disorders
- Halcion (triazolam): for insomnia
- Ativan (lorazepam): for anxiety
- Klonopin (clonazepam): for seizures, panic disorders, and anxiety
Effects Of Benzodiazepine Use
Benzodiazepines target a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is responsible for maintaining calm in the brain. The drugs make GABA more effective, keeping brain activity levels and preventing spikes that can cause anxiety or seizures.
- calm mood
Side effects of benzodiazepine use include:
- amnesia (memory loss)
- hostility or aggression
- irritability or agitation
- vivid or disturbing dreams
Abusing benzodiazepines gives you more exposure to the drug, a risk factor for adverse side effects.
Benzodiazepine Overdose Symptoms
You can overdose on benzodiazepines by taking a high dose or repeated doses that allow the drug to build up in your system. Mixing benzodiazepines with depressants like opioids and alcohol is very dangerous and can cause severe respiratory depression.
- extreme drowsiness
- intense sedation
- coordination impairment
- slow reflexes
- slow, shallow, or stopped breathing
- blue skin, lips, and nails
Overdosing on benzodiazepines can be fatal. Flumazenil (Romazicon) is a benzodiazepine receptor antagonist that may be used to temporarily reverse overdose symptoms.
However, you need medical assistance to get this prescription medication. Flumazenil is often not recommended for benzodiazepine toxicity because it can cause seizures or put someone into acute withdrawal.
Signs Of Benzodiazepine Abuse
If you think a friend or family member is abusing benzodiazepines, look for signs of misuse.
Signs of benzodiazepine abuse include:
- taking the drugs outside prescription guidelines (without a prescription or more than prescribed)
- often seeming sedated
- using slang terms like “benzos” or “bennies”
- unmarked pill bottles
- powder residue or injection paraphernalia
People who abuse prescription drugs may pass it off as harmless, but substance abuse is the first step toward addiction.
Signs Of Benzodiazepine Addiction
If you or a loved one are abusing benzodiazepines, it may not be long before you become addicted to them.
Taking mind-altering drugs makes your brain less efficient at regulating activity, mood, and hormone levels. Your brain structure changes and you’ll have cravings and psychological symptoms that make it hard to stop taking the drug.
Some signs of benzodiazepine addiction are:
- changes in mood and behavior
- a constant state of sedation
- multiple prescriptions from different doctors
- needing a “benzo” to get through the day
- excessive time spent seeking, using, and recovering from benzodiazepines
- stealing or borrowing money to pay for drugs
- financial problems from drug use
Addiction (psychological dependence) is a loss of control over drug use. You can’t stop or cut back even if your health, relationships, and overall well-being are suffering. Many people need an addiction treatment program and a strong support system to recover.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal & Detox
Benzodiazepines also cause physical dependence, a condition in which your body adapts to a drug and needs it to function. If you stop using a benzodiazepine or decrease your dosage significantly, you’ll have withdrawal symptoms.
- dysphoria (a sense of unease)
Anxiety and insomnia are called “rebound” symptoms. Many people take benzodiazepines to relieve these symptoms, but they come back even stronger if you’re struggling with benzodiazepine dependence and stop taking the drugs.
Seizures are symptoms of withdrawal that can be life-threatening. A medical detox program is the safest choice for someone who wants to stop taking benzodiazepines.
Medical detox takes place in an inpatient environment. You’re monitored around the clock and kept stabilized while your body flushes out the drugs.
Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment
After detox, addiction treatment can begin. The most effective rehab programs are personalized and use a variety of therapies.
At Bedrock Recovery Center, we offer a wide range of treatment options for benzodiazepine addiction, including:
- Individual therapy: regular, one-on-one meetings with a primary caregiver
- Group therapy (process groups): therapist-guided meetings with peers
- Psychoeducation: specific education on addiction and mental health
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): therapy that examines your thinking and helps you reframe how you see things and react to them
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): therapy that helps you regulate your emotions, cope with stress, be more mindful, and relate positively to others
- Motivational interviewing (MI): the process of examining your reasons for recovery, which empowers you to follow through by focusing on the goal
Our specialized programming includes LGBTQ+, Refuge Recovery, SMART Recovery, Celebrate Recovery, and young adult groups.
Bedrock Recovery Center is an inpatient facility, but we offer aftercare planning such as follow-up medical visits, referrals for outpatient care, and support groups within your community.
We’re always available to answer your questions with a free and confidential phone call. Reach out to one of our specialists today to see if Bedrock is the right place for your recovery.
- Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration — Benzodiazepines https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2023-04/Benzodiazepines%202022%20Drug%20Fact%20Sheet_1.pdf
- Drug Enforcement Administration — Benzodiazepines https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/benzo.pdf
- National Library of Medicine — Flumazenil https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470180/
- Yale Medicine — Are Benzodiazepines the New Opioids? https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/benzodiazepine-epidemic#:~:text=The%201970s%20ushered%20in%20another,category%20of%20drugs%20called%20barbiturates.