Benzodiazepine Abuse, Addiction, and Dependence

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The amount of individuals experiencing substance use disorders continues to grow throughout the United States. In 2020, approximately 40.3 million individuals were diagnosed with a substance use disorder. (1) In 2021, this number increased to 46.3 million individuals meeting the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder. (2) Benzodiazepine is a substance that heavily contributes to the substance use epidemic. When used for short-term use, benzodiazepines are effective and safe, however, if used repeatedly or chronically, dependence and addiction can develop.

No matter the substance, at Guardian Recovery Network, we are dedicated to providing comprehensive treatment options for those finding it difficult to control their substance use. With benzodiazepine specific detoxification services and therapeutic interventions, we pride ourselves on utilizing evidence-based treatment options. Contact us today to begin your recovery and wellness journey.

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What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that are prescribed to help treat insomnia, anxiety, and seizures. Benzodiazepines are classified as a Schedule IV substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration. (3) This means that benzodiazepines are legally allowed to be used for medical purposes, but are not generally available over the counter. Benzodiazepines work by depressing, or slowing down the central nervous system.

The most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include: (4)

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Temazepam (Restoril)

Can Using Benzodiazepine as Prescribed Cause Dependence?

If an individual repeatedly engages in benzodiazepine use, they can become dependent on the substance, even if they are using it as prescribed. Benzodiazepines that begin working rapidly are often misused due to the euphoric effects that they elicit. Some individuals may seek to receive multiple prescriptions from different doctors, or may forge prescriptions, in order to maintain their benzodiazepine use. Medical professionals do not recommend individuals taking benzodiazepines for over 2 weeks. (5)

What Are the Addiction Rates from Benzodiazepine Use?

In 2021, approximately 3.9 million individuals, 12 years of age or older, reported that they engaged in benzodiazepine misuse within a 12 month period. (6) Research has found that benzodiazepine misuse is highest amongst those ages 18 to 25. (7)

Causes & Risk Factors for Benzodiazepine Abuse & Addiction Development

Risk factors are characteristics that can influence, or impact, an individual’s chances of developing a substance use disorder. Effective treatment practices help target and reduce negative risk factors.

Common risk factors associated with benzodiazepine addiction include: (8)

  • Having a family or personal history of substance use.
  • Having a family or personal history of mental health concerns.
  • Experiencing childhood neglect or trauma.
  • Being exposed to crime or violence.
  • Living in poverty or having a low socioeconomic status.
  • Having low levels of education.

Benzodiazepine Use & Its Effect on Mental Health

Benzodiazepine use can change the way that the brain functions. Due to how they slow down the central nervous system, benzodiazepines can lead to sleepiness and feelings of relaxation. (9) Overtime, benzodiazepines can lead to the development of hostility, irritability, and distressing dreams.

What Demographics Are Most at Risk of Benzodiazepine Abuse?

Certain demographics are at a higher risk of engaging in benzodiazepine abuse and developing a substance use disorder. Research has found that women are more likely to be at risk of developing a benzodiazepine addiction when compared to men. (10) Those experiencing depression, low education levels, a low economic status, and those not working are at more at risk of developing benzodiazepine use disorder. (11)

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Visible Signs Someone May Be Addicted to Benzodiazepines

There are signs and symptoms that are associated with benzodiazepine use disorder and addiction. Being able to understand and identify these signs can help determine if you or someone you love are experiencing benzodiazepine addiction.

Signs and symptoms associated with benzodiazepine use include:

  • Taking larger doses of benzodiazepine than intended for a longer period of time than intended.
  • Having unsuccessful attempts of trying to cut back or stop benzodiazepine use.
  • Continuing to engage in benzodiazepine use despite experiencing negative consequences.
  • Experiencing interpersonal problems or issues with close friends and family due to benzodiazepine use.
  • Experiencing legal and financial issues that are directly linked to benzodiazepine use.
  • Continuing to engage in benzodiazepine use despite receiving medical advice to cut back or quit.
  • Neglecting personal, occupational, or other important obligations and responsibilities due to benzodiazepine use.
  • Engaging in drug-seeking behaviors, such as stealing medications from close friends and family, or purchasing more quantities from a dealer.
  • Developing a physical tolerance, or requiring larger amounts of benzodiazepines in order to reach the desired effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when benzodiazepine use is cut back or stopped suddenly.

Common Symptoms & Side Effects of Benzodiazepine Dependence

There are various symptoms and side-effects associated with benzodiazepine use and dependence. These side effects can be both physical and psychological.

Physical

Physical symptoms and side effects associated with benzodiazepine dependence include: (12)

  • Drowsiness
  • Impaired coordination
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Seizures

Psychological

Psychological symptoms and side effects associated with benzodiazepine dependence include: (13)

  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Increased anxiety
  • Memory impairments
  • Increased risk taking behaviors
  • Delirium, especially in older individuals

What to Do if Someone Overdoses on Benzodiazepines

If you or someone you know experience overdose symptoms due to benzodiazepine use, it is important to seek emergency medical care. Experiencing a benzodiazepine overdose can lead to premature death.

Signs associated with a benzodiazepine overdose include: (14)

  • Extreme drowsiness or sedation
  • Slow breathing and heart rate
  • Experiencing confusion and difficulties thinking
  • Muscle control loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Coma

Benzodiazepine Overdose Statistics

Benzodiazepines use can be fatal if an individual uses them with other substances, is older, or takes a dose that is too much. In 2021, approximately 12,499 individuals died due to experiencing a fatal overdose involving benzodiazepines. (15)

Treatment Options Available for Those Who Suffer From Benzodiazepine Addiction

There are different treatment options available for those experiencing benzodiazepine addiction. At Guardian Recovery Network, we offer medical detoxification for those wanting to stop their benzodiazepine use in a safe environment. Additionally, we offer various therapeutic interventions and psychoeducation regarding benzodiazepine use and addiction.

Therapeutic Interventions

At Guardian Recovery Network, we offer therapy sessions to help those experiencing benzodiazepine use get to their root of their substance use, and develop adaptive coping techniques needed for long-term sobriety.

Therapeutic interventions available at Guardian Recovery Network include:

Each of our therapy sessions are conducted by a licensed clinician and utilizes modalities such as Cognitive-Behavioral TherapyDialectical Behavioral TherapyExperiential TherapyMotivational Interviewing, and Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing.

Medication

The combination of therapy and medication management has been found to be effective in the treatment of benzodiazepine use disorder. At Guardian Recovery Network, we offer Medication Assisted Treatment to help reduce any unwanted withdrawal symptoms that may occur during the treatment process.

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If you suspect that you or someone you love are experiencing a benzodiazepine or other substance use disorder, Guardian Recovery Network is here to help. We are dedicated to reducing the amount of individuals negatively impacted by substance use. Offering dual diagnosis options, we can provide treatment for those experiencing substance use and mental health disorders simultaneously. Contact us to receive an initial assessment and a free, no obligation insurance benefits check. Start the journey to recovery today with Guardian Recovery Network.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/dotw/substance-use-disorders/index.html#:~:text=According%20to%20the%202020%20National,SUD
  2. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2023/01/04/samhsa-announces-national-survey-drug-use-health-results-detailing-mental-illness-substance-use-levels-2021.html
  3. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/benzo.pdf
  4. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/benzo.pdf
  5. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/262809
  6. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/what-scope-prescription-drug-misuse
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6358464/
  8. https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/20190718-samhsa-risk-protective-factors.pdf
  9. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Benzodiazepenes-2020_1.pdf
  10. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-019-6933-8
  11. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-019-6933-8
  12. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/262809
  13. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/262809
  14. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/262809
  15. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/what-scope-prescription-drug-misuse

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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