Benzodiazepine Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Benzo addiction can be hard to spot. Learn about the warning signs & symptoms to watch for.

Understanding Benzo Addiction

Learn about benzo addiction

Benzodiazepines, also called benzos, are a class of medications that are commonly prescribed by medical professionals for the treatment of anxiety disorders and insomnia. When used directly as prescribed, benzodiazepines can be life saving for individuals struggling with anxiety or other medical conditions. Benzos work very quickly to alleviate distressing symptoms, allowing these individuals to get back to their day. Unfortunately, many individuals abuse these medications because they find the sedating effects associated with benzodiazepines to be extremely pleasurable. This can be especially dangerous because prolonged abuse can quickly lead to an addiction to benzodiazepines and where treatment would need to be sought immediately.

Statistics

Benzo addiction statistics

In the United States, it is estimated that approximately 11%-15% of the adult population has used some form of benzodiazepine medication within the past year. However, it is estimated that only 1%-2% of those individuals have consistently taken this type of substance daily for a period longer than 12 months.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for benzo addiction

There has yet to be one single cause identified as causing the development of benzodiazepine abuse and addiction. Instead, research findings support the theory that it is a combination of many different factors that come together that lead to the development of an addiction. Some of the most commonly noted causes include:

Genetic: Many years of research have confirmed that the development of an addiction has a strong genetic component. If an individual has a relative who is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, he or she is more likely to develop an addiction themselves should they ever experiment with using drugs.

Environmental: It has been shown that a number of environmental factors can exacerbate an individual’s vulnerability to developing an addiction to benzos. For example, living in an unstable home, growing up with drug use in the home, or experiencing a traumatic event can all increase an individual’s risk for beginning to abuse substances.

Risk Factors:

  • History of mental health disorders
  • History of abusing other substances
  • Being female
  • Elderly age group
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Unemployment

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of benzo addiction

The signs and symptoms of benzo abuse will look different from person to person depending on the amount of benzos a person is using as well as the length of time a person has been abusing this drug. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of benzo abuse include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Doctor shopping for multiple prescriptions
  • Forging prescriptions
  • Developing a new group of friends
  • Engaging in risk-taking behaviors
  • Failure to perform well at work or school
  • Constantly missing days of work or school
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home
  • Stealing from loved ones
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Increased desire to be left alone

Physical symptoms:

  • Drowsiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Stomach cramps
  • Headaches
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Muscle weakness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Increased respiratory infections

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Perception difficulties
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Impaired judgment
  • Slowed thinking
  • Amnesia
  • Reduced inhibition
  • Disturbing dreams
  • Increased sense of confusion
  • Memory impairment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Hostility
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Clouded emotional functioning
  • Feelings of hostility, irritability, and excitement
  • Decline in mental health

Effects

Effects of benzo addiction

When it comes to abusing benzodiazepines, the long-term effects can be significant and appear in all areas of an individual’s life. Abuse of these drugs can lead to the development of adverse effects on a person’s cognitive functioning, physical health, and overall mental health. Some common effects of chronic benzo abuse may include:

  • Interpersonal difficulties
  • Social withdrawal
  • Interference with work or school performance
  • Increased risk for accidental injuries and automobile accidents
  • Memory impairment
  • Changes in personality
  • Development of certain mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety
  • Hostile, impulsive, and aggressive behaviors
  • Abuse of additional substances
  • Accidental overdose
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Benzo addiction and co-occurring disorders

The non-medical use of benzodiazepines is most often associated with alcohol use disorder and tobacco use disorder, as well as the general abuse of a variety of illicit drugs. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for those who abuse benzos to be struggling with the presence of a mental health disorder. The most common disorders that have been linked to benzodiazepine abuse include:

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Additional substance use disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of benzo withdrawal and overdose

Effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal: An individual who has been using benzos for a long period of time, will experience a number of withdrawal symptoms should they suddenly stop using them. Not only can these symptoms be extremely unpleasant, but in some cases they have the potential to be life-threatening. This is why withdrawal from benzos should be done under the direct supervision of a medical professional. Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Psychosis
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Repetitive behaviors, such as pacing back and forth
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased sweating
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Effects of benzodiazepine overdose: Overdosing on benzodiazepines can produce severe side effects and if immediate medical attention is not sought death can occur. If a benzo overdose is suspected it should be taken extremely seriously. Some signs that an individual may be overdosing on benzos include:

  • Dizziness
  • Poor balance and difficulty walking
  • Slurred speech
  • Blurred vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Coma
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Death

My benzo addiction was uncontrollable until I went to Harbor Oaks Hospital. They pulled me out of the darkness and am now celebrating almost 5 years of sobriety!

– Former Patient