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Benzo Addiction: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Benzodiazepines or “benzos” such as Valium and Xanax are prescribed to treat conditions like anxiety disorders or insomnia. However, some people end up abusing these drugs and develop a benzo addiction. Some users misuse their prescriptions by taking more pills than prescribed at a time, while others may take their medication more frequently than indicated. Some people even obtain benzos illegally from drug dealers. We’ll explore the causes, symptoms and treatment options for a benzo addiction.

Causes of Benzo Addiction

Despite being a prescription drug with medical benefits, abusing benzodiazepines is increasingly common. Research shows that benzos are addictive in a similar way to opiates and marijuana. These drugs cause a change in the brain that increases levels of dopamine, a hormone that makes you feel happy. The repeated use of benzos is rewarding because when you receive a dopamine increase, it puts you in a happy mood. 

Addiction experts indicate that a physical dependence to benzos develops more quickly among those taking high doses of the drug. Long-term use of more powerful benzos like Xanax can also increase your chance of benzo addiction. When you use benzos, you risk developing a psychological dependence on the drug and seek out higher doses to achieve the same effects. 

According to research, 80 percent of people who abuse benzos also abuse other drugs, most often opiates like heroin. Alcohol abuse and benzo abuse also commonly occur together. Benzos are preferred among people who abuse other drugs because they help manage withdrawal symptoms and even enhance the high associated with other substances. Additionally, those who abuse benzos typically obtain the drugs via prescription, whether from their own or someone else’s. 

Benzo Tolerance and Withdrawal 

With chronic benzodiazepine use, a tolerance can develop, and withdrawal can follow when you stop or decrease use. The effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal include:

  • anxiety
  • hyperarousal
  • sleep disturbances
  • in extreme cases, seizures

More specifically, withdrawal can cause symptoms including:

  • increased heart rate
  • high blood pressure
  • tremors
  • heightened sensitivity to sights and sounds

In some cases, people who become dependent upon benzos may experience a prolonged withdrawal lasting several months. During prolonged withdrawal, you may suffer from:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • sleep disturbances
  • gastrointestinal distress
  • muscular problems

Benzo Addiction Statistics 

12.5% of American adults use benzos, but just 2.1 percent misuse them. Even fewer people have a benzo addiction. Only 0.2% of the population meets diagnostic criteria for a benzodiazepine use disorder. Misuse is not uncommon among people who take benzos. 17.1% of them misuse the drugs. 

Among those who misuse benzos, nearly half state that they do so to relax or relieve tension, and almost a quarter of them use benzos to help with sleep. In addition, 11.8% of people who abuse benzos report doing so to get high or because they are addicted, while 5.7% indicate that they are just experimenting. 

Consequences of Benzo Abuse 

While the rates of benzo abuse are low, there are still consequences associated with misusing these drugs. People who have benzo addictions are at risk for trips to the emergency room, other types of substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts. There is also a risk of overdose when benzos are combined with opiates like heroin. 

Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Abuse

Someone who is addicted to benzos may spend a significant amount of time obtaining these drugs, visiting various doctors seeking prescriptions. They may have financial difficulties because they are spending excessive amounts of money on benzos. In addition, they may fail to show up to work or maintain their households. You should suspect an addiction if someone you know is taking large doses of benzos or taking them much more often than intended.

There are also physical and psychological signs that someone is under the influence of benzos. Physical signs can include:

  • drowsiness
  • coordination issues
  • dizziness
  • muscular weakness
  • slowed reaction time

Psychological symptoms of benzo use can involve:

  • concentration issues
  • confusion
  • depression
  • suicidal thoughts
  • memory and attention problems
  • difficulty managing emotions

Treating Benzodiazepine Addiction 

Despite the fact that benzos are prescription drugs with legitimate medical uses, many people do end up seeking treatment for it. A physician or other addiction professional can perform an assessment to determine if you meet diagnostic criteria for a benzodiazepine use disorder. 

Addiction treatment for benzo abuse typically starts with detox, which allows you to be weaned off of benzos safely. Detox programs usually provide medications and interventions to make the withdrawal process more comfortable. After completing detox, many people turn to psychological programs, such as counseling, to help them remain abstinent. It may also be necessary for you to complete detox and treatment for the abuse of other substances, such as heroin, since benzo addiction typically occurs with misuse of other drugs. 

Treatment is available if you are seeking to overcome a benzo addiction, and seeking help is the first step toward healing and recovery. Prevention is also a critical part of reducing the consequences of benzodiazepine abuse. If you or a loved one is taking a benzo prescription for anxiety, insomnia, or a legitimate medical purpose, it is important to take the medication exactly as prescribed. You should never take more pills than prescribed or take the medication more often than your doctor has told you. It’s also important to communicate with your doctor about any side effects you experience or concerns you have about the medication. If you suspect that you or a loved one has become addicted to a benzo prescription, you should discuss your concerns with a doctor or seek help from an addiction program

Start Your Path to Recovery

If you or a loved one are ready to start your path toward a better life, The Woods at Parkside is here to help. Call (614) 471-2552 to speak with one of our treatment specialists and learn more about our programs.

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