Benzodiazepine Abuse & Addiction
Although benzodiazepine use is prevalent in the United States, statistics show that benzo abuse rates are somewhat low. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), around 12.5% of adults used benzodiazepines in 2018, but just 2.1% abused them and only 0.2% met the criteria for a benzodiazepine use disorder (the diagnostic term for addiction).1While there are no specific statistics available for benzodiazepine addiction prevalence rates in Nevada, the Nevada Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Agency reports that rates for substance abuse disorders in Nevada are “likely similar to or higher than the national rate.”2
The relatively low rates of abuse don’t mean that benzodiazepine use isn’t a problem. In fact, the NIDA says that benzodiazepine use is associated with “emergency room visits, mental disorders, suicidal ideation, and substance use.”1 As with any addiction, benzodiazepine abuse can cause serious harm and have negative effects on your life. This article will provide education about benzodiazepines, benzodiazepine addiction, and how to access benzodiazepine addiction treatment in Nevada and nationwide.
What are Benzodiazepines Used For?
Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are a Schedule IV substance under the Controlled Substances Act, which means they have a potential for abuse that is lower than drugs that are Schedule I-III.3 Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that have depressant effects on the central nervous system, which means they slow down brain activity, resulting in anxiety-reducing and sleep-inducing effects. This is why benzodiazepines are most commonly prescribed to treat anxiety and insomnia, but they are also used to treat other conditions, such as involuntary movement disorders and withdrawal from alcohol and other substances.4,5
Different benzodiazepines act differently on your body. In general, short-acting benzos are used to treat insomnia and long-acting benzos are used for anxiety. The term half-life refers to how quickly the drug is processed out of your body. Short-acting benzos have a short half-life, which means they are excreted from your body more quickly and can therefore result in withdrawal symptoms because your body doesn’t have enough time to process them. Long-acting benzos stay in your body longer because they have longer half-lives; this gives your body more time to process them, so you may be less likely to feel withdrawal effects but more likely to experience hangover-like symptoms.6
The different types of benzodiazepines include:5
- Xanax, or alprazolam: high potency, short half-life.
- Klonopin, or clonazepam: high potency, long half-life.
- Ativan, or lorazepam: high potency, short half-life.
- Valium, or diazepam: low potency, long half-life.
- Restoril, or temazepam: low potency, short half-life.
- Halcion, or triazolam: high potency, short half-life.
- Dalmane, or flurazepam: low potency, short half-life.
- Serax, or oxazepam: low potency, short half-life.
According to a paper published in the American Family Physician, alprazolam, clonazepam, diazepam, and lorazepam are among the top 100 most commonly prescribed medications.5
Side-Effects of Benzodiazepines
As with other medications, benzodiazepines come with a long list of potential side effects, but these effects can depend on the specific medication, dosage, and your unique physiological and psychological makeup.7
Common short-term effects of benzodiazepines include:7
- Muscle relaxation.
- Reduced anxiety.
- Feeling light-headed.
- Dry mouth.
- Blurry vision.
- Memory problems.
- Feeling unsteady.
Less common short-term side effects include:8
- Low blood pressure.
- Vision changes like double vision.
- Loss of bladder control.
- Skin rash.
- Loss of libido.
Long-term use of benzodiazepines can cause significant changes to your health and well-being. Potential long-term effects of benzodiazepines include:7
- Problems with concentration.
- Impaired thinking abilities.
- Memory loss.
- Feeling irritable, impatient, or aggressive.
- Personality changes.
- Feeling disconnected from your emotions.
- Weight changes.
- Increased anxiety.
- Weakness or lethargy.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Tolerance, meaning you need to take more of the substance to achieve previous effects.
- Withdrawal, meaning unpleasant or uncomfortable symptoms that occur when you try to stop using the drug.
People who take large amounts of benzos can have an increased risk of benzodiazepine overdose.
Benzodiazepine overdose symptoms include:7
- Loss of coordination.
- Slurred speech.
- Cognitive problems (such as an inability to think clearly or concentrate).
- Severe mood swings.
- Sleep problems.
- Slow, shallow breathing.
Overdose can lead to death if not promptly addressed, so it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention if you suspect that you or someone you know may have overdosed. Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room right away.
Signs & Symptoms of Benzodiazepines Addiction
Any benzodiazepine can cause addiction, but they are not typically the only drug a person uses. Around 80% of people who abuse benzodiazepines also abuse other substances, which most commonly includes opioids. Benzodiazepines can be addictive because of their euphoric effects, but people also often abuse the drug as a way of increasing the euphoric effects of other substances, such as methadone or alcohol. Some people also abuse benzos to alleviate the withdrawal effects associated with cocaine and alcohol abuse.4,5
The length of time it takes to get addicted to benzos can vary from person to person. Long-term use doesn’t necessarily mean a person will become addicted, but long-term use can lead to tolerance and dependence, both of which can lead to addiction. This can result in a wide range of benzodiazepine abuse symptoms.4
Social and psychological signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine abuse include:9
- Taking benzodiazepines for longer periods or in higher amounts than originally intended.
- Feeling the need to cut down your benzo use but being unable to do so.
- Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the drug.
- Being unable to fulfill obligations at work, home, or school because of drug use.
- Giving up activities that were once enjoyed to use the drug.
- Continuing to use benzos despite experiencing social or interpersonal problems that are either caused or exacerbated by drug use.
- Continuing to use despite developing a physical or psychological problem that is probably due to drug use.
- Using in physically dangerous situations such as driving or operating machinery.
- Cravings, or experiencing strong urges to use benzodiazepines.
- Sudden changes in one’s group of friends or changes in family relationships.
- Personality changes where the person no longer seems like themselves.
- Lying, stealing, or engaging in violent or illegal behaviors.
- Spending all of their money on drugs, followed by borrowing from friends or incurring debt.
According to Crisis Support Services of Nevada, physical signs of addiction can include:11
- Extreme weight fluctuations.
- Bloodshot eyes.
- Dilated or pinpoint pupils.
- Broken capillaries on the person’s face.
- A lack of attention to personal hygiene.
- Spending too much time sleeping or not sleeping enough.
Treatment for Benzodiazepine Addiction
Benzodiazepine addiction is usually treated with a combination of medication (generally by substituting another benzodiazepine or tapering off the current one) and cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, or other forms of psychotherapy.12
Benzodiazepine detox is generally recommended before entering treatment so that a person can safely withdraw from the drug and become medically stable. Due to humanitarian and safety concerns, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration advises hospitalization in a benzodiazepine detox center or some form of 24-hour care for people who are undergoing withdrawal from benzodiazepines. Undergoing benzodiazepine withdrawal without medical supervision is not advised because of the risk of serious and potentially life-threatening medical complications such as:13
- Risk of falls and myocardial infarction (heart attack) in the elderly.
Treatment plans are based on individual assessments that take into account your unique needs. Benzodiazepine treatment can vary depending on the length of time you need to withdraw from the medication and the length of withdrawal can depend on the specific drug you used. However, most studies have found that a period of 10 weeks is sufficient to successfully withdraw from benzodiazepines.14 After you have completed detox, the NIDA states that most people require a treatment time of at least 90 days.15
Finding a Benzodiazepine Rehab Center
American Addiction Centers is a leading provider of benzodiazepine addiction rehab in Nevada and across the nation. We offer personalized treatment plans that take into account your specific needs. Our friendly, experienced, and compassionate staff will help you through every stage of the treatment process. If you’re ready to take back control of your life, we’re standing by ready to help. Call our free, confidential helpline any time of day or night to speak with one of our treatment consultants for assistance and to find the right benzodiazepine addiction rehab in Nevada (or anywhere in the U.S.) that’s best for you.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Research suggests benzodiazepine use is high while use disorder rates are low.
- Nevada Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Agency. (2018). Substance use, mental health, and suicide in Nevada.
- United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug scheduling.
- United States Drug Enforcement Administration. (2019). Benzodiazepines.
- Longo, L. P., & Johnson, B. (2000). Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines—side effects, abuse risk and alternatives. American Family Physician, 61(7), 2121–2128.
- (2016). Sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers: What are the different types of benzodiazepines?
- Victoria State Government: Better Health Channel. Benzodiazepines.
- (2016). Sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers: What side effects can benzodiazepines cause?
- Schmitz A. (2016). Benzodiazepine use, misuse, and abuse: A review. The Mental Health Clinician, 6(3), 120–126.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2004). Characteristics of drug-dependent people.
- Crisis Support Services of Nevada. (2018). Substance abuse help.
- Weaver M. F. (2015). Prescription sedative misuse and abuse. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88(3), 247–256.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment. (Treatment improvement protocol (TIP) series, no. 45.) 4. Physical detoxification services for withdrawal from specific substances. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Brett, J., & Murnion, B. (2015). Management of benzodiazepine misuse and dependence. Australian Prescriber, 38(5), 152–155.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (third edition): How long does drug addiction treatment usually last?
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