What Benzo Addiction Looks Like

Unmasking the reality of benzo addiction: Signs, symptoms, and risks you need to know. Discover the hidden face today.

Published On

July 6, 2024

Benzodiazepine Addiction Overview

Benzodiazepine addiction is a growing concern, impacting individuals across different demographics. Understanding the prevalence of benzodiazepine use and recognizing the common signs and symptoms of addiction is essential in addressing this issue effectively.

Prevalence of Benzodiazepine Use

In the United States, a significant number of adults have used benzodiazepines at some point in their lives. According to the Ohio Hospital for Psychiatry, approximately 11 to 15% of the adult population has taken a benzodiazepine one or more times in the year prior, while only 1 to 2% have taken benzos daily for longer than 12 months. It is worth noting that around 80% of those who abuse benzodiazepines also use another substance, with opioids being the most commonly abused substance alongside benzodiazepines [1].

Common Signs and Symptoms

Benzodiazepine abuse can manifest through various signs and symptoms, which can vary depending on the duration and amount of abuse. The Ohio Hospital for Psychiatry highlights that behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms are the most common indicators of benzodiazepine addiction. These symptoms may include:

  • Behavioral symptoms: Increased secrecy, social withdrawal, changes in daily routine, impaired judgment, and decreased motivation.
  • Physical symptoms: Drowsiness, slurred speech, unsteady gait, coordination difficulties, and changes in appetite.
  • Cognitive symptoms: Memory problems, confusion, lack of concentration, and impaired decision-making.
  • Psychosocial symptoms: Mood swings, irritability, anxiety, depression, and changes in relationships.

It's important to note that the presence of these signs and symptoms may vary from person to person. It is recommended to seek professional help and assessment if you suspect benzodiazepine addiction in yourself or someone you know.

Understanding the prevalence of benzodiazepine use and recognizing the common signs and symptoms associated with addiction is crucial in identifying and addressing the issue. By being aware of these factors, individuals and healthcare professionals can work together to provide appropriate support and treatment to those struggling with benzodiazepine addiction.

Long-Term Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse

Benzodiazepines, when used for an extended period, can have significant long-term effects on both mental and physical health. Understanding these consequences is essential in recognizing the impact of chronic benzodiazepine abuse.

Negative Consequences of Chronic Use

Chronic abuse of benzodiazepines can lead to the development of tolerance, physical dependence, and withdrawal symptoms. As stated by the American Addiction Centers, withdrawal symptoms may include seizures, making it crucial to seek appropriate medical support during the withdrawal process.

Long-term use of benzodiazepines has been associated with cognitive decline and an increased risk of falls, particularly in older individuals. Studies have shown evidence of a link between benzodiazepine use and the development of cognitive decline, dementia, and falls in older patients. These risks highlight the importance of cautious prescribing and monitoring of benzodiazepine use, especially in vulnerable populations.

Impact on Mental and Physical Health

The effects of long-term benzodiazepine use extend beyond cognitive decline and falls. Chronic use of benzodiazepines can have a similar effect on the brain as alcohol, potentially leading to various mental health disorders. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mania, psychosis, sleep disorders, sexual dysfunction, delirium, and neurocognitive disorders have been associated with long-term benzodiazepine usage [3].

Moreover, benzodiazepines have been identified as a risk factor for blepharospasm, a neurological movement disorder affecting the eyelids. Additionally, withdrawal symptoms from chronic benzodiazepine use can be severe. These symptoms may include psychological effects like anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, depression, hallucinations, as well as physical symptoms like seizures, muscle twitches, tremors, and gastrointestinal issues [4].

It's important to note that while some studies have suggested an association between long-term benzodiazepine use and dementia, a comprehensive study conducted in 2016 found no significant correlation. However, the potential risks and adverse effects of prolonged benzodiazepine use should not be overlooked.

Understanding the long-term effects of benzodiazepine abuse emphasizes the need for caution when prescribing, monitoring, and using these medications. It is crucial for individuals who are struggling with benzodiazepine addiction to seek help from medical professionals and treatment options to address their dependency and minimize the potential negative consequences on their mental and physical well-being.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be a challenging and potentially dangerous process. It is important to understand the onset and duration of withdrawal symptoms as well as the significance of medical detox in managing benzodiazepine withdrawal.

Onset and Duration of Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines can typically be observed around four hours after the last dose and may persist for days to weeks. The specific duration and severity of withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on various factors, including the individual's usage patterns, the specific benzodiazepine used, and the duration of use.

Withdrawal symptoms commonly experienced during benzodiazepine withdrawal include a combination of physical and psychological effects. Some of the physical symptoms can include headaches, palpitations, tremors, muscle pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, and more. Psychological symptoms may include anxiety, panic attacks, irritability, restlessness, agitation, perceptual distortions, depression, and others.

Abrupt cessation of benzodiazepines after 1–6 months of use can lead to life-threatening seizures, highlighting the importance of gradual dose reduction and proper medical guidance during the withdrawal process [2].

Importance of Medical Detox

Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be particularly dangerous and even life-threatening, necessitating medical detox under the direct care of a doctor [5]. Medical detox involves the supervised tapering of benzodiazepine dosage to minimize the intensity and severity of withdrawal symptoms.

During medical detox, healthcare professionals closely monitor the individual's vital signs, assess withdrawal symptoms, and make adjustments to the tapering process as needed. This approach helps ensure the safety and well-being of the individual throughout the withdrawal process.

The need for medical detox is especially crucial for individuals who have taken benzodiazepines for longer durations (typically more than 3–4 weeks) as they are more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms if the drug is abruptly ceased.

In addition to medical detox, psychological support and counseling may be provided to help individuals cope with the emotional and psychological challenges that may arise during the withdrawal process. This comprehensive approach aims to address both the physical and psychological aspects of benzodiazepine withdrawal.

If you or someone you know is struggling with benzodiazepine addiction and considering withdrawal, it is essential to seek professional help and consult with a healthcare provider experienced in addiction medicine. They can guide you through the process, develop an individualized treatment plan, and provide the necessary support to ensure a safe and successful recovery journey.

Benzodiazepine Use Disorder

Benzodiazepine use disorder is the term used by the mental health community to describe the abuse or addiction to benzodiazepines. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition outlines specific diagnostic criteria for this disorder.

Diagnostic Criteria and Terminology

To be diagnosed with benzodiazepine use disorder, an individual must exhibit at least two of the possible 11 symptoms within the same 12-month period. These symptoms include:

  1. Taking larger amounts or taking benzodiazepines for a longer period than intended.
  2. Persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control benzodiazepine use.
  3. Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of benzodiazepines.
  4. Craving or a strong desire to use benzodiazepines.
  5. Failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home due to benzodiazepine use.
  6. Continued use of benzodiazepines despite persistent social or interpersonal problems caused or worsened by their effects.
  7. Giving up or reducing important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of benzodiazepine use.
  8. Recurrent use of benzodiazepines in situations where it is physically hazardous.
  9. Continued use of benzodiazepines despite the knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.
  10. Tolerance, as defined by either needing increased amounts of benzodiazepines to achieve the desired effect or experiencing a diminished effect with the same amount of benzodiazepines.
  11. Withdrawal, as manifested by the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for benzodiazepines or the use of benzodiazepines to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Behavioral and Physical Indicators

Behavioral and physical indicators can provide further insight into benzodiazepine use disorder. Some common indicators of benzodiazepine abuse or addiction include:

  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Neglecting responsibilities and obligations
  • Financial difficulties due to excessive spending on benzodiazepines
  • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Slurred speech and impaired coordination
  • Memory problems and difficulty concentrating
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Increased tolerance and the need for higher doses to achieve the desired effect
  • Withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop or reduce benzodiazepine use

If you or someone you know is exhibiting these symptoms and indicators, it is important to seek professional help for diagnosis and treatment. Benzodiazepine use disorder can have significant negative consequences on mental and physical health, making it crucial to address the issue with appropriate support and resources.

Risks and Dangers of Benzodiazepine Abuse

Benzodiazepine abuse can have significant risks and dangers associated with it. Understanding these risks is crucial in recognizing the potential harm that can result from benzodiazepine addiction.

Toxicity and Potential Side Effects

Benzodiazepine toxicity can cause a range of physical and psychological symptoms. Some common side effects of benzodiazepine abuse include confusion, dizziness, drowsiness, blurred vision, slurred speech, weakness, respiratory depression, and coma. The severity of these symptoms can vary depending on the dosage and the individual's tolerance.

It's important to note that different benzodiazepines have varying levels of toxicity. For example, alprazolam (Xanax) has been found to have greater toxicity in overdose and associated mortality compared to other benzodiazepines [2]. This highlights the potential dangers of misuse and overdose.

Link to Opioid Involvement

Combining benzodiazepines with other substances, particularly opioids, can significantly increase the risks associated with benzodiazepine abuse. Approximately 3/4 of deaths involving benzodiazepines also involve an opioid drug. The combination of these substances can lead to severe respiratory depression and increases the likelihood of overdose.

The dangers of combining benzodiazepines with other substances, including alcohol and opioids, cannot be overstated. It is crucial to understand the potential interactions and risks associated with polydrug use. Seeking professional help and guidance is essential for individuals struggling with benzodiazepine addiction to ensure their safety and well-being.

Recognizing the risks and dangers associated with benzodiazepine abuse is an important step in understanding the seriousness of addiction. It is essential to seek appropriate treatment and support to address benzodiazepine addiction and mitigate the potential harm caused by long-term abuse.

Seeking Help for Benzodiazepine Addiction

When it comes to benzodiazepine addiction, seeking help is a crucial step towards recovery. There are various resources and support services available to assist individuals in overcoming their addiction and regaining control of their lives.

Resources and Support Services

In Canada, there are specific resources and support services tailored to meet the needs of individuals struggling with substance use, including benzodiazepine addiction. The National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program and the National Youth Solvent Abuse Program provide culturally sensitive resources for First Nation, Inuit, or Métis individuals in need of help with substance use. These programs aim to provide support and guidance throughout the recovery journey.

The Canadian Mental Health Association offers a range of services to support individuals with substance use issues. These services include overdose prevention, tobacco cessation, and mental health support. The association's Naloxone 101 Toolkit provides valuable information on how, why, and when to use a naloxone kit, as well as where to obtain one for free. This resource can be especially helpful in situations where opioid involvement is a concern.

Treatment Options and Approaches

Treating benzodiazepine addiction often involves a combination of approaches tailored to the individual's specific needs. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional or addiction specialist to determine the most appropriate course of action. Some common treatment options and approaches for benzodiazepine addiction include:

  • Medical Detoxification: Due to the potentially severe withdrawal symptoms associated with benzodiazepine cessation, medical detoxification is often recommended. Under medical supervision, the individual is gradually tapered off the medication to minimize withdrawal symptoms and ensure safety.
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Medications such as flumazenil, propranolol, captodiamine, and oxcarbazepine have shown promise in alleviating benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms and improving overall outcomes. However, it's important to note that medication should always be used under medical supervision.
  • Therapy: Various forms of therapy can be beneficial in addressing the underlying issues contributing to benzodiazepine addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), individual counseling, group therapy, and support groups can provide individuals with the tools and support needed to overcome addiction and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Inpatient/Residential Treatment: For individuals with more severe addiction or those who may require a structured environment, inpatient or residential treatment programs can be considered. These programs provide a supportive and supervised setting where individuals can focus solely on their recovery.
  • Outpatient Treatment: Outpatient treatment programs offer flexibility, allowing individuals to receive treatment while still maintaining their daily responsibilities. These programs typically involve regular therapy sessions, group support, and educational components.

It's important to remember that recovery is a unique journey for each individual. The combination of treatment options may vary depending on factors such as the severity of addiction, individual needs, and personal preferences. Seeking professional guidance and support can help individuals navigate the path to recovery and increase the likelihood of successful outcomes.


[1]: https://www.ohiohospitalforpsychiatry.com/addiction/benzos/signs-effects-symptoms/

[2]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4657308/

[3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effectsoflong-termbenzodiazepineuse

[4]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8629021/

[5]: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/benzodiazepine/symptoms-and-signs

[6]: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/benzodiazepine-abuse

[7]: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/substance-use/get-help-with-substance-use.html

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