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Benzodiazepine Addiction

Benzodiazepines (commonly referred to as “benzos”) are a class of medications that act as central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which exert sedative, hypnotic, and anxiolytic effects.1, 2, 3 While benzodiazepines have several medical uses, they also have the potential for dependence and misuse.4 In the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 4.8 million people aged 12 years or older reported misuse of benzos in the past year.5
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What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a widely prescribed class of medications known as CNS depressants typically prescribed to treat anxiety and insomnia.1, 2 In addition to treating anxiety and anxiety-related conditions (such as acute stress reactions and panic attacks) and sleep problems (such as insomnia), benzos can also be prescribed to alleviate muscle spasms and reduce the occurrence of seizures.2, 6

Benzos are typically prescribed for short-term use due to an elevated risk of developing tolerance, dependence, or addiction with regular use.7 Benzos are Schedule IV substances, which means they have the potential for physiological dependence even if a person is taking them as prescribed.1, 4

Are Benzodiazepines Addictive?

There is potential for benzodiazepine addiction and dependence, and with regular use, a person may still develop a physical dependence on benzos even when taken as directed by a doctor.1 This can also happen for people who misuse benzos, particularly if they are taken in high doses.1 When someone is physically dependent on benzos, they experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking benzos or significantly reduce the amount they are taking. People may continue to use benzos to avoid withdrawal symptoms.1

People who misuse benzodiazepines often misuse other substances like cocaine, heroin, prescription opioids, or alcohol.2 Taking 2 or more drugs at the same time is known as polysubstance use.9 This can increase the risk of negative effects, such as an overdose, particularly when combining benzodiazepines with other drugs that slow breathing, such as alcohol, z-drugs (i.e., sleep aids like zolpidem, eszopiclone, and zaleplon), and opioids.18

Adverse Effects of Benzodiazepines

Taking benzodiazepines can result in adverse side effects. Some of the common adverse effects experienced related to benzo use include:3, 7

  • Problems with physical coordination and movement
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Memory problems
  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Confusion
  • Tremor
  • Fainting or passing out

Treatment for Benzodiazepine Addiction

Treatment for benzo addiction often begins with detoxification (detox) and withdrawal. Medical supervision during withdrawal can help safely manage potentially harmful or uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, particularly seizures and other symptoms associated with severe withdrawal.15, 16

Ongoing treatment for a substance use disorder can help a person to remain abstinent after detox.17

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