Benzodiazepine Addiction: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment
Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are prescription drugs that slow down various activities in the central nervous system. This makes them highly effective at helping people deal with anxiety and insomnia, as well as help reduce or eliminate seizures. Benzodiazepine is sold under many different name-brand medications, each of which can be used to treat these problems. The most common of these medications include:
Even when used appropriately, these medicines can have side effects. These include sleepiness, dizziness, weakness, and problems standing or walking. Some people may also have changes in their moods, headaches, vivid dreams, irritability, or problems remembering things. Although they have a calming effect, benzos can be quite addictive even when taken under a doctor’s supervision. And people who abuse them are at an even higher risk of developing an addiction to these medications.
How Do People Abuse Benzodiazepine?
Many people think that if they have a prescription for a medication, that means they are not abusing it. But this simply is not true. Most of the people who end up addicted to benzodiazepine started by taking this medication as part of a treatment plan from their doctor. Benzos are so addictive because of how easy it is to use them to get high. When you take too big of a dose, benzodiazepine creates a feeling of relaxation and euphoria. Once a person is addicted, they may start crushing the pills to inhale them, or to dissolve the powder in water so that they can inject it.
Some people also start combining benzos with opioids because this can enhance their high. But combining these two medications is extremely risky, as it increases the chances that you will experience an overdose. In fact, studies have found that the overdose rate for people that were taking both an opioid and benzodiazepine was 10 times higher than for people who were only taking opioids. Unfortunately, people who combine these medications often end up having a fatal overdose. Roughly 60 percent of the people who died from an opioid overdose each year also had benzodiazepine in their system.
Signs of Benzodiazepine Addiction
For people who have been prescribed benzos, an addiction to this medication can be so gradual that you do not realize you have a problem. Even so, a benzodiazepine addiction will lead to at least a few different physical, psychological, and behavioral side effects. These effects can include:
- Noticeable weight loss.
- Problems sleeping.
- Increased or new anxiety problems.
- Problems with short-term memory.
- Withdrawing from friends and family.
- Trouble performing at work or school, missing an excessive number of days, or quitting entirely.
- Spending excessive amounts of money on benzos, or even stealing to be able to pay for them.
- Constantly thinking about benzos or worrying about getting more.
- A lack of interest in your appearance or personal hygiene.
- Secretive behavior to avoid suspicion of drug abuse.
- Extreme mood swings or changes in personality.
- Tremors, especially in your hands or feet.
- Frequent headaches.
What are the Signs of a Benzodiazepine Overdose?
For people who take benzodiazepine according to their doctor’s directions, they have little to worry about when it comes to overdosing. But if you are abusing this medication by taking too large of a dose, or combining it with other drugs, you are at an increased risk of experiencing overdose. An estimated 10,000 people die each year from an untreated benzo overdose. Some signs of an overdose include:
- Blue tint to your fingernails or lips
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty breathing
- Slurred speech
- Unresponsiveness or weakness
The symptoms of a benzodiazepine overdose can vary depending on how much you took, if you combined it with other drugs or alcohol, and what way you took the drug. If you are ever concerned that you may be experiencing an overdose, it is extremely important that you call for help right away. Medical treatment can help reverse a benzo overdose, preventing permanent health problems or even death.
What is Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Like?
When someone is addicted to benzodiazepine, this means that their body is used to having it in their system. So when they stop taking benzos, they are likely to experience negative symptoms called withdrawal. They can show up within a day or two of stopping benzos, and can be very difficult to deal with. This is because benzo withdrawal has three different phases, with the third phase being very difficult to deal with. The phases include:
- Early Withdrawal
During this phase, people usually experience an increase in their anxiety or insomnia symptoms. You may also experience decreased appetite and headaches. Early withdrawal usually lasts for one to two days.
- Acute Withdrawal
This phase is the longest and often the most difficult part of benzodiazepine withdrawal. You may experience agitation, blurred vision, brain fog, cravings, diarrhea, irritability, hallucinations, insomnia, mood swings, nausea, problems concentrating, seizures, vomiting, and weight loss. Acute withdrawal usually lasts for three to seven days before slowly tapering off.
- Protracted Withdrawal
Around 10 percent of benzo addicts experience something called protracted withdrawal. The symptoms can include prolonged anxiety, depression, insomnia, mood swings, muscle twitches, and tingling in your arms and legs. These symptoms often come and go without warning, but will eventually go away. This phase can last several months or even years.
There is no set time frame that benzo withdrawal can last. It can depend on how long you have been abusing benzodiazepine, how much you have been taking, and how you have been taking it. But because the symptoms can be so difficult to deal with, it is very important to have the support of a recovery center in order to overcome a benzo addiction. Because rehab centers have a medical staff on hand 24/7, you can rest assured knowing that, if an emergency arises, you will get the help that you need.
What to Expect During Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment
Benzos addiction treatment includes both medical treatment and behavioral therapy treatment. There are many different options, as no single program works for all patients. Because of how difficult benzodiazepine withdrawal can be, most people begin with a medical detox program. These programs help wean you off of benzos over time, which helps to reduce withdrawal symptoms. You will also have the option of medical treatment for any symptoms that do come up, so that you are as comfortable as possible. After you have completely detoxed, the next step in the benzo addiction treatment process is behavioral therapy. There are many different therapy programs available, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and more. These programs aim to help you to address any underlying mental health issues you may have, as well as to give you healthy ways to deal with stress and avoid future drug use. It will give you the tools you need to overcome the obstacles that have made you keep abusing benzodiazepine.
Benzodiazepine addiction can be an exceedingly difficult thing to overcome due to the severity of the withdrawal process. But you do not have to let this addiction continue to control your life. With the help of a quality rehab program, you can detox more safely and comfortably. And once detox is complete, you can learn ways to avoid abusing benzos again in the future. This means that you can get back to living a normal life, instead of one that is ruled by your addiction.