Benzodiazepine Abuse Information

Understanding Benzo Addiction

Learn About Benzo Addiction & Abuse

Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are a class of medications that are typically prescribed to relieve symptoms of anxiety, seizures, and insomnia. Medications such as Xanax, Klonopin, Librium, Valium, and Ativan belong to the benzodiazepine family. Benzos are depressants, which means they reduce nervous system activity and thus can bring relief from anxiety and cause feelings of relaxation. Unfortunately, however, these positive feelings can encourage some people to take more of the medication than they need, or to take benzos recreationally, possibly leading to an addiction that can have severe negative effects on nearly all areas of a person’s life. Thankfully, however, with proper treatment it is possible to find freedom from a benzodiazepine use disorder.


Benzo Abuse Statistics

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, abuse of sedatives, hypnotics, and antianxiety medications occurs in an estimated 0.3% of 12- to 17-year-olds and 0.2% of adults in a given year. Among people older than 18, rates of abuse tend to be greater among males than females, though among people younger than 18, abuse is more common in females. People ages 18 to 29 are the most likely to abuse these drugs.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Benzo Abuse

Much like with other substances of abuse, there are numerous causes and risk factors for benzo abuse, such as:

Genetic: As with many other mental health and substance use disorders, genetic influences play a significant role as a potential risk factor for benzo abuse. People with family members who have substance use disorders are more likely to abuse benzos than are people without a family history of substance use.

Environmental: Much of the environmental influence on risk of benzo abuse relates to the availability of the drugs. Namely, people who are prescribed benzos are more likely to abuse them than are people who do not have easy access to benzos. In addition, other factors such peer influence and family environment can affect a person’s risk of benzo abuse.

Risk Factors:

  • Novelty-seeking temperament
  • Impulsive tendencies
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Ease of access to benzos
  • Presence of other co-occurring substance use disorders
  • Associating with peers who abuse benzos

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Benzo Abuse

People who are abusing benzos can show a range of signs and symptoms of abuse. While these signs and symptoms can vary according to an individual’s personality, the length of abuse, and the extent of abuse, the following are some common indicators that a person may be abusing these drugs:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Inappropriate sexual or aggressive behavior
  • Using benzos in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than intended
  • Unsuccessful efforts to reduce benzo use
  • Investing much time and energy in obtaining more of one’s benzo of choice, using the drug, or recovering from its effects
  • Failure to fulfill major social, academic, or work obligations as a result of use
  • Continuing to use benzos even in situations where use may be hazardous

Physical symptoms:

  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of coordination
  • Stumbling or difficulty walking
  • Uncontrollable eye movements
  • Experiencing tolerance, which means needing more of the drug in order to feel its effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal when discontinuing use

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Poor attention or memory
  • Amnesia or “blackouts”
  • Cravings for more of one’s benzo of choice

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Fluctuations in mood
  • Impaired social functioning
  • Continuing to use benzos despite recurrent interpersonal problems, such as relationship tension with a significant other
  • Avoiding or giving up important social, occupational, or academic activities in order to continue using benzos


Effects of Benzo Abuse


  • Social difficulties
  • Problems with performance at work or school
  • Job loss or academic expulsion
  • Financial difficulties
  • Relational strain
  • Loss of child custody
  • Onset or worsening of mental health symptoms
  • Polysubstance use, addiction, or chemical dependency
  • Legal problems
  • Overdose, especially if combined with alcohol


Co-Occurring Disorders

Benzo Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

People who struggle with benzodiazepine use disorder may meet criteria for other mental health disorders, such as:

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

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Benzo Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal: If a person attempts to stop using benzos after a long period of use, he or she may experience some of the following effects:

  • Elevated nervous system activity
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Short-duration hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Seizure

Effects of benzodiazepine overdose: When a person ingests more of a substance than his or her body can metabolize or excrete, he or she will experience an overdose. While accidental overdoses with benzos are typically not severe, overdoses are especially dangerous when a person is also using other substances simultaneously, such as alcohol, or is intentionally overdosing. Effects of an overdose can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty coordinating muscle movements
  • Slurred speech
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Amnesia
  • Slowed or shallow breathing
  • Coma

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