Warning Signs Of An Addiction To Benzodiazepine

Benzodiazepines (also known as benzos) have the potential to be addictive. Addiction to benzodiazepine can be a serious concern when using this medication.

Warning Signs Of An Addiction To Benzodiazepine

Benzodiazepines (also known as benzos) have the potential to be addictive. Addiction to benzodiazepine can be a serious concern when using this medication.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a class of medication that slows down the activity of the brain and nervous system.These medications are known as sedatives or minor tranquilizers due to the effect they have on the body. Benzodiazepines are controlled substances, meaning that you need a prescription to get these medications. An addiction to benzodiazepine is a very serious matter.1

How do Benzodiazepines Work?

Benzodiazepines work by sending signals to your brain to release a chemical neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). When GABA is released its job is to make the nervous system less active.2
The areas that GABA targets are those responsible for:

  • Memory
  • Emotions
  • Reasoning
  • Functions like breathing
Thus, when benzodiazepines trigger the release of GABA, the result includes:
  • Making you feel relaxed and calm
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Relaxing your muscles
  • Slowing down your breathing rate

From a medical standpoint, the use of benzodiazepines helps patients to feel at ease and less anxious. But when taken too excessively, the results can be addictive as we will learn about later in this article.

What Are Benzodiazepines Used For?

Because of their ability to calm the nervous system, benzodiazepines are commonly used for anxiety. But they may also be prescribed for:
  • Seizure disorders like epilepsy
  • Insomnia or sleep disorders
  • Panic attacks or panic disorder
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Sedation before surgery

Types of Benzodiazepines

There are three types of benzodiazepines based on how quickly they work and how fast they leave the body. How long it takes to leave the body is called the half-life. The longer the half-life, the longer it takes for the body to process out the medications. Benzodiazepine medications come in:
  • Short-acting: This means that you can feel the effect very quickly but it also wears off fairly quickly. These short-acting benzodiazepines have an average half-life of 1 to 12 hours. Examples include Triazolam (Halcion) and Midazolam (Versed).3
  • Intermediate: Intermediate acting benzos have an average half-life of 12 to 40 hours. Examples of these include Lorazepam (Ativan) and Alprazolam (Xanax).
  • Long-acting: Long-acting benzos often take longer to feel the effect but last longer in the system. The half-life of these medications is 40 to 250 hours. Examples include Clonazepam (Klonopin) and Diazepam (Valium).3

Types of Benzodiazepines and Their Uses

Although different benzodiazepines can be used interchangeably, specific ones are often preferred to treat specific conditions.4
For example:
  • Valium, Xanax, and Ativan are preferred to treat anxiety disorders
  • Klonopin and Ativan are used to treat seizure disorders
  • Halcion and Restoril are used for insomnia and sleeping disorders
  • Librium and Serax are used for alcohol withdrawal

Can Someone Develop an Addiction to Benzodiazepines?

Prolonged use of benzodiazepines has been associated with tolerance and dependence. This means that you may become physically and/or mentally dependent upon the medication. Leading to being unable to stop taking the medication without experiencing significant withdrawal symptoms.

A study done in 2018 showed that 30.6 million adults (12.6%) reported benzodiazepine use in the past year. Of those individuals, misuse of the medication accounted for 17.2% of overall use.5

Scope of Addiction

Of the individuals who reported misusing their benzodiazepine medication, 2% reported addiction to benzodiazepine medications and met criteria for a benzodiazepine use disorder. Though the percentage of developing a substance abuse disorder may be lower than other substances, there is still a high likelihood of developing dependence.6

It is important that patients take as prescribed. One study reports that, “Benzodiazepine use for as little as 3 to 6 weeks, even while adhering to therapeutic doses, is associated with the development of physical dependence.”7

What Are the Signs of An Addiction to Benzodiazepine?

Although intentional abuse of benzodiazepines is relatively uncommon, unintentional physical dependence can be common. Several months of use significantly increases the risk of tolerance and dependence leading to addiction.
In fact, the majority of those who intentionally abuse benzodiazepines combine them with other drugs to increase the effect. The most common substances used with benzodiazepines are opioids and alcohol.8

Risks of an Addiction to Benzodiazepine

Continued, long-term use of benzodiazepines can have some long-term effects on physical and mental health. Regular use of benzos may cause:8
  • Impaired thinking
  • Memory issues
  • An increase in anxiety
  • Irritability, paranoia, or aggression
  • Muscle weakness or unsteadiness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in personality
  • Headaches
Because an addiction to benzodiazepine can result in significant withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to understand what kind of symptoms you may experience if you reduce or stop using the medication.

Indications of Addiction

Some signs of an addiction to benzodiazepine medication include:9
  • Being unable to reduce doses or to stop using benzodiazepines
  • Feeling unable to function without benzodiazepines
  • Needing a higher dose due to building up a tolerance
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to reduce or stop using benzo
  • Continuing to use the benzodiazepines despite knowing that the medication is having a negative affect on physical and mental health

Those with an addiction to benzodiazepine will often run out of their prescription before renewal. Thus, they will seek out other doctors, medical professionals, or visit hospitals to try to gain more. In severe cases, they may buy the benzodiazepines illegally.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms

When an individual becomes addicted to benzodiazepines, their body builds up a tolerance and dependence. This can make it difficult when they want to reduce or stop using benzodiazepines. People who use benzodiazepines long-term may need to taper their use over a 3 to 12 month period that their doctor oversees.
Also, 40% of individuals who used benzodiazepines regularly reported experiencing moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms.10

Indications of Withdrawal

Symptoms of withdrawal from benzodiazepines may include:
  • Sweats
  • Increased anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Muscle cramps
  • Seizures
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Dizziness
  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Sleep problems
It is important to seek medical attention if you decide to stop taking benzodiazepines. Fortunately, there is hope for the person who wants to escape their addiction to benzodiazepines.

Treatment Options for Addiction to Benzodiazepine

Trying to quit an addictive substance can be a struggle. Benzodiazepines are no different. Regardless of whether you may have intentionally or unintentionally formed an addiction to benzodiazepines, it is important to discuss options with a medical expert. Some available treatment options for benzodiazepine addiction include:
  • A medically supervised taper of the medication
  • A medical detox facility
  • Rehab or residential treatment
  • Therapy to address underlying concerns or conditions
  • Learning skills to cope with anxiety, stress, or insomnia
  • Attending self-help or support groups
Addiction to Benzodiazepine

How Can Essence Healthcare Help with Benzodiazepine Addiction?

Benzodiazepine is a sedative that if used improperly can become addictive. While the medication can help with reducing anxiety, the patient can develop a tolerance and dependence on it. One can develop further anxiety when he or she becomes addicted.

Withdrawing from an addiction to benzodiazepine may bring symptoms such as agitation, depression, and seizures. Fortunately, there are treatment options available to overcome the addiction with medical experts.

Treatment Opportunities

The programs at Essence Healthcare provide individualized treatment for a variety of addiction and mental health conditions. Our program offers:
This array of treatment options is designed to provide you with a safe and supportive environment to give you the best chance at recovery.

Reach Out and Learn More Today

For more information on benzodiazepine addiction or Essence Healthcare’ treatment programs, contact us today at 818.491.7288 or contact-us.

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