Benzodiazepines, often called benzos, are a category of psychoactive drugs that are often prescribed to individuals for various medical reasons. The name “benzodiazepine” is influenced by its chemical structure that includes a “benzene” and “diazepine” ring.¹ They enhance the effects of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) usually found in your central nervous system. Some people end up addicted to benzodiazepine drugs and need help to wean themselves off the drugs.²
How do Benzodiazepines Work?
Most benzodiazepines work by sending surges of dopamine to neurotransmitters when the brain becomes overstimulated. That can lead to feelings of relaxation, happiness, and calm. Doctors often prescribe benzodiazepines to patients diagnosed with medical conditions and mental health disorders like:
- Social anxiety
- Panic disorder
- Seizure disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Management of alcohol withdrawal
- Muscle spasms
Benzodiazepines are typically most effective when they are used for a short period. Like any prescription medication, people should not exceed the dosage recommended by their doctor. Continued long-term use of benzos can lead to physical dependency. Once that happens, people usually experience symptoms of withdrawal when they try to stop taking the drugs.
There have been concerns about the addictive properties of benzodiazepines since they were first used. ³ Throughout their history of use, researchers have consistently raised concerns about the link between benzos and rises in addiction rates.
Even with these warnings, many people remain unaware of the risks that come with the use of benzodiazepines. Most people receive them via a prescription from their doctor to treat a real medical issue. However, many versions of the drug have become popular among recreational drug users who may be unaware of how the abuse of benzos can lead to a serious addiction.
What Are Some Common Benzodiazepines?
Xanax is a popular drug often given to patients to help them manage mental health disorders like anxiety. The potency of each dose varies depending on the level prescribed by a doctor. It starts working quickly once it reaches a patient’s system, allowing them to feel its effects almost immediately. One of the reasons that Xanax can become an addiction concern is some users’ tendency to crush Xanax up and inhale it as a powder.
Klonopin is often prescribed as part of a treatment plan for individuals with panic and seizure disorders. The pill doses are typically one or two milligrams. Some forms of Klonopin dissolve in the mouth, allowing it to get into your system more quickly. It’s an intermediate-acting form of benzo, so it may take longer for a person to start feeling Klonopin’s effects.
Valium is a slower-acting form of benzodiazepine. It’s one of the oldest versions of benzodiazepine on the market. Valium is often prescribed to patients diagnosed with anxiety disorders and muscle spasms. It’s also been shown to have some effectiveness in easing alcohol withdrawal symptoms. You can find Valium and other versions of diazepam in varying strengths. Some versions of the drug release work over an extended period, meaning it takes more time for Valium’s effects to hit your system. Because it doesn’t provide the immediate highs of other benzos, there isn’t the same kind of payoff.
Ativan’s primary purpose is to help people diagnosed with a panic disorder. The drug can be taken in pill or liquid form through a needle. Like Valium, Ativan can produce almost immediate effects on those who take the medication.
What Are the Side Effects of Benzodiazepines?
Some of the side effects that people might experience from taking Benzodiazepines include:
- Feelings of drowsiness
- Bouts of confusion
- Unsteadiness on your feet
- Slurring of speech
- Problems remembering things
- Dry mouth
- Blurry vision
- Impulse control
- Thoughts of suicide
Many people taking benzos like to heighten the effects by mixing them with alcohol or other substances. Some forms of the drugs, like Xanax, can cause addictive behaviors to set in within one to two months because of how quickly they work. The idea of trying to give up benzos can lead to feelings of anxiety at the thought of going through withdrawal. Signs that you may be going through withdrawal can look like:
- Increased heart rate
- Overactive senses
- A rise in blood pressure
- Tremors in the limbs
- Delirium tremens
The effects of withdrawal from benzos can vary depending on the kind you are taking and how long you have abused them. Some people end up going through withdrawal for several months, experiencing additional physical and mental symptoms like:
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Neurological problems
- Musculoskeletal issues
What Are the Signs of Benzodiazepine Addiction?
People often use benzos alongside other potent drugs like opioids. A two-year drug study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that 15 percent of heroin users had also taken a daily dose of some type of benzodiazepine over the course of a year. Seventy-three percent of participants took them at least more than once per week. That same study showed that up to 90 percent of people using methadone also used benzos.
Common behaviors often shown by people with a benzo addiction include:
- Spending a lot of time using or searching for more drugs
- Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or at home in favor of benzos
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop taking benzos
- Not being able to give up benzo use
People typically gain access to benzos through a prescription. The medications usually do not lead to addiction when they are taken as prescribed. The problems come in when an individual increases their dosage without consulting their doctor. They may try hoarding pills and then take more than they should all at once.
Some people gain access to benzos for recreational use without a doctor’s prescription. They may buy them on the street or from anyone who has a supply. Recreational benzo users like the feelings of relaxation and euphoria that the drugs produce. They may also take them to boost or modulate their experiences with other drugs. The people in this group tend to somewhere between 18 and 25.⁴
Where Can I Find Help for Benzodiazepine Addiction?
The first step to breaking free of an addiction to benzodiazepine is admitting you have a problem. People with any addiction often feel like they are in full control. They think they can manage any issues that arise from their continued abuse of substances like benzodiazepine. The sedative effects of the drug can slow your breathing and put you at risk for a severe medical event that could lead to death.
Family members or other loved ones may need to stage an intervention to drive home the point. Hearing the truth directly from those who care about them may be what a person needs to find the strength to seek benzo addiction treatment.
The goal of an intervention should be to help, not continuously criticize the person with the disease. If it works, they may be able to get to a place where they can no longer deny that they have a problem. The following format can be a template to follow if you are considering setting up an intervention for someone in your life.
- Invite the person to meet with family members and other loved ones.
- Have everyone prepare a speech that goes over what they’ve observed of an individual’s benzo abuse, including changes in behavior and the harm it has caused.
- Have the person with benzo addiction issues sit and listen while everyone reads their statements.
- Allow the meeting to end when the person agrees to get help.
It can help to have a mental health professional present with experience handling interventions. They can act as a mediator and keep things from going off-track. The interventionalist can also help families draft statements that are helpful and act as the transport to the intervention and rehab afterward for the affected individual.
Some people may require some form of medical detox. Medical detox programs assist patients by observing them as they slowly wean themselves off benzos. They can watch for any withdrawal complications that might end up as a serious medical issue. After completing a medical detox, that person may be ready to consider more comprehensive treatment options for their benzo addiction.
Inpatient Benzodiazepine Rehab
Inpatient rehab centers provide 24-hour care for people dealing with addiction issues. The length of time a person remains at an inpatient facility can vary. Short-term stays typically offer intensive treatment that uses some form of the 12-step process. People may stay in inpatient rehab for three to six weeks.⁵
Many people benefit from extended stays that allow them to fully address their addiction and any potential co-occurring disorders. Residential treatment facilities usually provide care in a non-hospital setting. Clients can remain for up to a year or more as they focus on continuing their treatment. Both inpatient and residential stays offer clients a structured environment where they attend therapy sessions several times per day. Some facilities treat people of all ages, while others may provide care for specific populations by age, gender, or economic status.
Outpatient Rehab Treatment
The intensity of help that an outpatient treatment program can offer people with a benzodiazepine addiction varies. They typically work by having clients attend therapy sessions at least two to three times per week. Instead of living at a facility, you return to your own home. That allows you to continue working, going to school, or dealing with other responsibilities in the outside world. The cost of most outpatient programs is often lower than inpatient rehab, which may play a role in the choice you make for treatment.
How Can Rehab Help With a Benzodiazepine Drug Addiction?
Drug rehab centers offer treatments that can help individuals break destructive behavior cycles caused by their drug addiction. Some of the kinds of therapy usually provided to those needing help for abusing benzos include:
- Behavioral Therapy — Psychotherapies like cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy fall under the umbrella of behavioral treatment. The focus is on getting clients to talk through their issues and understand the patterns that led them to addiction. Clients learn to recognize conditions that can act as triggers that cause them to relapse. They also learn to use and apply life skills to help them navigate difficult situations without turning back to benzo abuse.
- Family Counseling — Family counseling gives clients a chance to have a therapist present as they work through their family issues. Everyone can talk through the effects that a loved one’s addiction had on their lives. The therapist can lead these discussions to keep them productive and offer advice on what everyone can do to rebuild trust bonds.
- Dual Diagnosis Treatment — In the past, people who had an underlying mental health disorder only received treatment for their addiction, leaving the issues tied to their mental illness untreated. Dual diagnosis treatment focuses on all aspects of a client’s health and addresses the mental health disorder and benzo addiction simultaneously.
Find Help For Benzodiazepine Addiction
Harmony Place offers a supportive and therapeutic environment to clients looking to heal from their issues with addiction. We can show you how to help yourself achieve a state of recovery and stop abusing benzodiazepines. While we don’t promise miracles, we can promise to be there for you during each phase of your healing. You can also benefit from participating in our Alumni program.
Find out more about our programs and therapies by calling (855) 652-9048. It is possible to leave your life of addiction behind.
2Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Benzodiazepine Addiction.
3National Institute on Drug Abuse. Well-Known Mechanism Underlies Benzodiazepines’ Addictive Properties.
4American Family Physician. Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines – Side Effects, Abuse Risk and Alternatives.
5National Institute on Drug Abuse. Types of Treatment Programs.