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Benzodiazepine Addiction

Primarily used to treat acute anxiety, benzodiazepines are defined by sedative-psychoactive properties. Benzodiazepines, more commonly known as benzos, may be effective in the short-term treatment of anxiety, seizures, insomnia, and others, but it has a high rate of addiction and benzodiazepine addiction is among one of the most dangerous.

Tolerance to benzodiazepines builds very quickly, and constant abuse and misuse of them (accidentally or recreationally) will quickly lead to an addiction. In building a tolerance, a benzodiazepine user begins to up their doses more and more, so early detection and treatment is a very critical weapon in fighting addiction.

Benzodiazepines are commonly used to treat conditions such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Withdrawal from alcohol
  • Muscle spasms
  • Agitation

Benzodiazepines are intended for short-term use only, and long-term use is viewed as dangerous and habit-forming. Long-term use of benzodiazepines does not only lead to an increased chance of becoming addicted, but chronic abuse very often causes various physical and psychological side effects. Benzodiazepines are viewed as safe and effective for short-term use only. Long-term use of benzodiazepines not only causes addiction but can lead to other physical and psychological effects. Benzodiazepines are highly addictive and they are known to cause severe withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal

In any case of benzodiazepine addiction, withdrawal can be potentially fatal if not medically advised. In many cases, victims of benzodiazepine addiction will attempt to go cold turkey in order to treat their own addiction. Quitting cold turkey is dangerous, and any benzodiazepine addiction treated through quitting cold turkey will produce deadly withdrawals that may result in death.

When a victim of benzodiazepine addiction quits cold turkey, they will attempt at self-detoxing themselves by immediately stopping all intake of the addictive substance. While it may sound good on paper, quitting cold turkey gives your body no time to readjust back to sobriety and thus brings upon many uncomfortable, severe withdrawal symptoms. When someone is addicted to a benzodiazepine, they are under constant fire from the sedative effects of the drug. As a result, the victim’s body is forced to accommodate accordingly and work overtime to keep the body awake. When all of the sedative is quickly removed from the body via cold turkey, the body is denied the time it requires to slowly taper off of the drug.

Instantly ceasing all benzodiazepine intake via cold turkey undoubtedly has among some of the most uncomfortable and dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Severe withdrawal symptoms that can emerge as a result of quitting cold turkey include:

  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Depersonalization
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Visual disturbances
  • Convulsions that can result in death
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Manic episodes
  • Hypertension
  • Increased heart rate

Benzodiazepines are not all bad, however. They can be used to treat those who are prescribed it, and they are very effective. On the other hand, even those who do get prescribed benzodiazepines are at a high risk of addiction, due to the drug’s naturally addictive components and having a high risk of abuse. Whenever a benzodiazepine is abused, it almost always leads to negative consequences, so it is important to only them as prescribed by your doctor.

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Benzodiazepines and the Brain

Benzodiazepines chemically alter the functionality of the brain, affecting mainly the major inhibitory transmitters in the central nervous system. By creating an abnormal surge in dopamine levels, the pleasure receptors in the brain are rewarded. On the other hand, continuous abnormalities in dopamine levels in the brain cause the brain to get used to the influx, resulting in a building of tolerance. 

With the unnaturally large amount of dopamine in a person’s brain, the brain eventually just stops producing its own dopamine, relying solely on the drug or other dopamine-associated substances.

The long-term use of benzodiazepine studies shows direct correlates to brain damage. Benzodiazepine addiction affects the GABA receptors in the brain, and dependency can form much easier than you think. Continuous abuse can lead to the person not being unable to treat their anxiety or any other disorder without the use of benzodiazepines. Benzo addiction is identified by the fact that a user will often find themselves incapable of quitting or controlling their intake despite the severe negative side-effects associated with benzodiazepine addiction and abuse.

When used in the long-term, benzodiazepines quickly become ineffective in treating symptoms and do more damage to a victim than help. Short-term use is the only use for benzodiazepines, and heeding the caution and warnings is extremely recommended and effective in benzodiazepine addiction prevention.

Common Benzodiazepines

Ativan

Ativan (general name – Lorazepam)  is a benzodiazepine prescribed by a doctor usually used to treat anxiety, sleep disorders, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, seizures, and epilepsy. As one of the safest but still effective medications in drug addiction treatment, it is a common medication in the detox stage of addiction treatment. Although it is common and considered relatively safe for use, Ativan can still cause a benzodiazepine addiction and should only be used if instructed to by a doctor. Ativan is also the most common drug used to treat alcohol addiction and its dangerous side effects and delirium tremens.

Halcion

Halcion (general name – Triazolam)  is similar to almost every other benzodiazepine in the way that it is a hypnotic-sedative drug. Halcion is primarily issued in order to treat any sleeping disorders someone may have, but it is sometimes used to treat anxiety and epilepsy. While halcion may sound like a stereotypical benzodiazepine, used to treat anxiety and insomnia, it excels in treating sleep disorders. The similarities of halcion and other benzodiazepines do not simply end there, and halcion is highly addictive and has much room for abuse and addiction when used long-term.

Klonopin

Klonopin (general name – Clonazepam)  is similar to Ativan in its traits. Generally used to treat seizures, anxiety, sleep disorders, and panic disorders, Klonopin is fast-acting and effective in performing its function. Unfortunately, an addiction to Klonopin forms much faster than usual. Because benzodiazepine addiction is common in the cases of fast-acting drugs like Klonopin, we recommend only short-term use of Klonopin.

Librium

Librium (generic name – Chlordiazepoxide) is a medication similar to Ativan as well, used to treat anxiety and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Librium is commonly used before and after surgeries or dental procedures to curb any acute anxiety or panic that a patient may have. As a benzodiazepine, Librium is prescribed for short-term use and is very addictive.

Oxazepam

Oxazepam is a sedative in the benzodiazepine drug class that is commonly used to combat the side effects of withdrawal (a majority of which is alcohol withdrawal) associated with depression and anxiety. By targeting the chemicals in the brain that cause anxiety and depression, oxazepam is a very effective antidepressant used in drug treatment.

Xanax

Xanax (generic name – Alprazolam) is the most commonly abused benzodiazepine recreationally and is effective in treating anxiety and panic disorders. Xanax is relatively easy to be prescribed or obtained by illicit methods, resulting in Xanax being the most commonly abused benzodiazepine. Similar to other benzodiazepines, Xanax is strongly recommended to only be used short-term. Long-term users risk abusing, becoming dependent, and even addicted. On the street, Xanax is extremely dangerous. As a matter of fact, there have been a number of reports of people selling fentanyl (an extremely deadly drug) pressed down into a pill that looks like Xanax.

Valium

Valium (generic name – Diazepam) is a medication commonly administered to treat anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizures. Similar to other benzodiazepines, it has a high risk of abuse and addiction and should only be used short-term to avoid developing tolerance and dependency. Valium is also effective in easing the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal while a patient may be detoxing from alcohol.

Sources

Drugs.com. Benzodiazepines. (Febraury 5, 2019) Fookes, C. BPharm from https://www.drugs.com/drug-class/benzodiazepines.html

Haefly W. (June, 1984). Benzodiazepine interaction with GABA receptors.. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6147796

Unknown Author (July, 2016). Counterfeit Prescription Pills Containing Fentanyls: A Global Threat. from http://content.govdelivery.com/attachments/USDOJDEA/2016/07/22/file_attachments/590360/fentanyl%2Bpills%2Breport.pdf

Stewart, SA The effects of benzodiazepines on cognition. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15762814

NIDA Notes Staff (April, 2012) Well-Known Mechanism Underlies Benzodiazepines' Addictive Properties. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2012/04/well-known-mechanism-underlies-benzodiazepines-addictive-properties

Verywellmind. How Long Does Withdrawal From Benzodiazepines Last? (July 17, 2019) O’Keefe Osborn, C., Gans, S. MD from https://www.verywellmind.com/benzodiazepine-withdrawal-4588452

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