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Benzodiazepine Addiction

Addiction is a serious disease that affects millions of people all over the United States. In many cases, addiction involves dangerous illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin. But what if you become dependent on a substance that’s normally used for medication? It’s often assumed that medications that doctors prescribe are automatically safer than illegal drugs. However, that’s not always the case. Benzodiazepines are common prescriptions used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and muscle spasms. But they can be significantly addictive.

Benzodiazepine addiction can come from overusing the drug for medical purposes. They are designed for therapeutic use, and doctors typically prescribe them for short-term use.

Depending on the specific benzo, taking a medication of this kind for longer than a month can risk physical dependence. However, addiction can come with abuse.

Benzos can create a fast-acting euphoric high that’s similar to getting drunk. It’s common for people to use the drug recreationally and, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, benzos are commonly associated with polydrug use, or using more than one drug at a time, which can lead to a fatal overdose.

Benzo addiction can lead to dangerous consequences, but addiction is a treatable disease. Identifying the signs of addiction can help to avoid some of the dangerous repercussions you could face. Learn more about benzodiazepine addiction and how it can be treated.


Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs called central nervous system depressants along with alcohol and barbiturates. Depressants affect the nervous system by suppressing excitability. In benzodiazepines, this feature allows them to be useful in treating conditions in which the nervous system is overactive, such as insomnia or anxiety. Like other depressants, benzos can cause various symptoms of intoxication when abused.

When abused, benzos can cause a state that is similar to drunkenness that is characterized by a loss of motor control, a release of inhibitions, and slurred speech. Older people are especially affected by these side effects because people tend to lose their ability to process benzos as quickly as they age. For that reason, it’s recommended that older patients take low doses or avoid benzos altogether.

Benzodiazepines work in a way that’s similar to other depressants in the brain. Unlike other drugs, like opioids, benzos don’t directly cause the psychoactive effects it produces. Instead, it alters an existing chemical in the brain called gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA. GABA and its receptor are responsible for managing excitability in the nervous system. When you are alert, startled, energized, and stimulated, it is GABA’s job to bring you back down when it’s time to rest and relax. This process may be hindered in people who have anxiety disorders or sleep problems.

Benzodiazepines bind to GABA receptors on a different site than the GABA binding site. 

Then, it increases the efficacy of GABA in a way that leads to hypnosis, anti-anxiety, and sedation. In some cases, benzos also can be used to treat muscle spasms and epilepsy.

Like other depressants, benzos have a significant risk of causing chemical dependence. As your body gets used to the drug, it may start to rely on it to maintain normal functioning. It may even start to counter the drug with its own naturally occurring excitatory chemicals. If you become dependent, you may start to have intense cravings that lead to withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit or cut back.

Benzos are less toxic than their barbiturate predecessors, but if they are mixed with certain other drugs or taken in high doses, they can cause a fatal overdose. Benzos are sometimes abused for their intoxicating effects, but abuse increases the risk for dependence and overdose.


Benzodiazepine addiction is a serious disease that can affect anyone who uses the drug for too long or abuses it recreationally. Addiction is a complex, severe substance use disorder that is marked by the compulsive use of a drug, despite the negative consequences. However, there are a few warning signs that can present themselves as an addiction develops.

One of the first telltale signs that benzodiazepine use is becoming a substance use disorder is a growing tolerance. As you continue to use the drug, it may start to lose some of its potency. However, this is actually because your body is getting used to the drug and balancing brain chemistry in a way that counteracts some of the drug’s effectiveness. After a while, this can start to develop into dependence.

Dependence occurs when your brain stops producing some of its own chemicals and starts to rely on a steady stream of the foreign drug. You might notice dependence if you miss a dose, try to cut back, or try to stop using altogether. This can cause unpleasant, and even dangerous, withdrawal symptoms. Most psychoactive substances cause uncomfortable and even painful withdrawal, but depressants like benzos can be potentially deadly. If you stop using abruptly, your body won’t be used to producing the chemicals necessary to keep your nervous system in check, and it will go into overdrive.

An overactive nervous system can cause the following symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Tremors
  • Restless legs
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Delirium tremens

Delirium tremens is a serious medical complication that is characterized by a sudden onset of confusion, panic, the feeling of impending doom, catatonia (abnormal movements, behaviors), and, in some cases, death. However, delirium tremens can be treated, and seeking medical treatment during depressant withdrawal greatly decreases your chance of experiencing life-threatening symptoms. If you do start to feel depressant withdrawal symptoms, seek medical help as soon as possible. If you think you’ve developed a substance abuse disorder involving a benzodiazepine, you should speak to a doctor before quitting cold turkey.


Because depressants like benzodiazepines can cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms, the safest way to begin addiction treatment is to go through medical detox. Detoxification is the process your body goes through when readjusting to life without a drug. The withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant and sometimes dangerous, but medical detox offers care and medications to treat symptoms. Medical detox typically lasts one week and involves 24 hours of medically managed treatment.

After detox, you may continue on through the continuum of care or other levels of treatment based on your needs. In treatment, you will go through addiction therapies that are tailored to your individual needs. Your treatment plan can include individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and behavioral therapies. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common options, and it’s useful for creating a relapse prevention plan.

Once you complete therapy, clinicians can help connect you to community resources and continued support and education through an aftercare program.


Benzos can cause an overdose in people who abuse the drug recreationally, especially when it is mixed with other drugs that suppress the nervous system, such as barbiturates, alcohol, and opioids. Though it’s less toxic during an overdose than barbiturates, it can be deadly when mixed with other substances. Benzos are also dangerous during withdrawal, causing seizures and delirium tremens. Without medical treatment, this can be dangerous, but the prognosis is dramatically improved with medical care.


  • Nearly 9,000 people died of opioid overdose incidents that involved benzos, in 2016.
  • In total, 10,684 people died in overdose deaths involving benzos, in 2016.
  • In 2013, 13.5 million people had benzodiazapine prescriptions.


American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from

BENZODIAZEPINES (Street Names: Benzos, Downers, Nerve … (2013, January). Retrieved from

Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2016, December). Benzodiazepines | Johns Hopkins Guides. Retrieved from

Kennedy, M. (2016, February 26). Benzodiazepine prescriptions, overdose deaths on the rise in U.S. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, August 09). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved from

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