• Addiction & recovery

Are Benzodiazepines The Next Addiction Crisis? | FAQ about Benzos

Nzinga Harrison

June 9, 2020


Since the COVID-19 pandemic, benzodiazepine prescriptions, commonly used in the treatment of anxiety, have been on the rise. According to a recent study of 3 million people, prescriptions for benzodiazepines increased by 34% from mid-February to mid-March. This spike aligns with the timeline related to coronavirus information becoming more widespread in the news and social media, while millions of Americans grappled with stress and worries related to their job security and health.

While this class of medications can be helpful in the short run, benzodiazepines are associated with serious long-term risks and addiction. Here is what you need to know.

What are benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a class of psychoactive medications that depress the brain’s central nervous system and produce a calming, sedative effect. Often referred to as benzos, some of the most familiar brand names include Valium, Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin. Benzodiazepines are commonly used to treat a variety of conditions, including:

  • Insomnia

  • Anxiety

  • Panic disorder

  • Seizures

  • Muscle spasms

  • Alcohol withdrawal

How addictive are benzodiazepines?

While benzodiazepines can be very beneficial for treating symptoms in temporary situations, in no short time, these medications can create a dependency risk for the person taking them. Benzodiazepines are habit-forming, even when they are prescribed at therapeutic doses. In as little as 30 days, a person can become physically dependent on the medication, which is generally why they would only receive a short-term prescription, in addition to other behavioral or medical health resources.

What are the signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine addiction?

It’s not always clear to tell if someone is addicted to benzodiazepines, especially because they might keep their drug use private and not show public or obvious signs of it. If you are concerned that you or someone you know has a problem with benzodiazepines, some signs of addiction include:

  • Having a strong craving to use benzodiazepines every day or several times throughout the day

  • Needing to use more of the same drug to have the same effect

  • Not feeling “normal” when not using drugs

  • Continuing to take drugs even though doing so causes problems with loved ones, work, and other commitments

  • Feeling sick when trying to quit

What are the dangers of benzodiazepine misuse?

Taking benzodiazepine drugs as directed for short-term use presents little risk. However, misusing the medication or taking it in addition to other substances can be very dangerous.

Alcohol and benzodiazepines have a similar depressant effect on the brain, so when taken together, this effect is intensified. Mixing benzodiazepines with opioids can also produce a strong sedative effect that puts a person at risk for serious respiratory difficulties that can even be fatal.

What is benzodiazepine withdrawal like?

Once physical dependency sets in, withdrawal symptoms can happen as soon the dose is reduced or stopped abruptly. With shorter-acting drugs like Xanax and Ativan, symptoms typically begin with 24 hours and peak after 72 hours. For longer-acting drugs like Klonopin and Valium, withdrawal usually begins within 48 hours to one week after the last dose. Symptoms of withdrawal can include:

  • Seizures

  • Muscle spasms and tremors

  • Dizziness and lightheadedness

  • Ringing in the ears, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light

  • Anxiety, panic attacks, and depression

  • Insomnia

  • Headache

The most severe form of benzo withdrawal is delirium tremens (dTs), which most commonly develop in individuals dependent on shorter-acting benzodiazepines like Xanax and Ativan but can also occur with longer-acting benzos. If a person develops any dT symptoms from benzodiazepine withdrawal, seek medical attention immediately.

Struggling with benzo usage? Eleanor Health can help you to get through it. Contact our Treatment Specialists today for more information.

If you need help with your substance use disorder, we are here to help you build your confidence and momentum towards the future you want. We provide treatment services for adults with alcohol, opioid, and other substance use disorders. We are currently located in Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, and Washington.

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