Benzodiazepines Addiction: Risks and Treatments

Benzodiazepines addiction occurs when an individual develops a physical and mental dependence on Benzodiazepines (BZDs), a class of drugs that offer sedative effects and are used to treat anxiety and other mental health and brain-related conditions. While benzodiazepines offer short-term relief for those struggling with mental health issues, their addictive nature poses significant dangers.

Symptoms of benzodiazepine addiction include intense craving, desire to use the drug despite knowledge of the negative consequences, tolerance and withdrawal symptoms.

Addiction to benzodiazepines develops rapidly, leading to physical dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms when use is discontinued. The long-term use of these drugs increases the chances of cognitive impairment, memory problems, and the risk of accidents and injury.

Treatment options for benzodiazepine addiction include detoxification, behavioral therapy, medication-assisted treatment, and support groups.

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a group of psychoactive drugs commonly prescribed for the treatment of a variety of conditions, primarily anxiety, muscle spasms, insomnia, and panic attacks. They are one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the country due to their effectiveness in managing symptoms caused by the conditions mentioned above. According to a National Survey in Drug Use and Health published in 2021, over 25 million people aged 12 and above used benzodiazepines as prescribed.

Benzodiazepines work by enhancing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter in the brain that aids in anxiety and stress regulation. By increasing GABA activity, benzodiazepines produce anxiolytic and sedative effects that alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and promote sleep.

While benzodiazepines can be highly effective in managing acute symptoms of anxiety and sleep disorders, long-term use must be carefully monitored to avoid dependence, misuse, and other adverse effects.

Benzodiazepines are also commonly misused by people who use them for nonmedical purposes. These people take more than the recommended dose in a bid to increase potency or to elicit a euphoric effect. Others use it to enhance or reduce the effect of other substances. 

How are Benzodiazepines Classified?

According to the Controlled Substances Act, Benzodiazepines are classified as Schedule IV controlled substances based on their potential for abuse and dependence. These substances have a lower potential for abuse compared to drugs in higher schedules but they still carry a risk of dependence and misuse.

Schedule IV drugs are considered to have a currently accepted medical use and are prescribed by healthcare professionals, but they are subject to stricter regulations compared to medications in lower schedules.

How Does Benzodiazepine Addiction Develop?

Benzodiazepine addiction occurs when physical or psychological dependence on the drug starts to cause harm. This addiction typically comes through two main routes:

  • Prescribed usage that develops into addiction.
  • Unprescribed usage (typically for recreation) that develops into an addiction

Addiction to Benzodiazepine, as with other psychoactive drugs, is due to a complex interaction of innate, social, and environmental factors.

Physical Dependence

Prolonged use of Benzodiazepine leads to a form of physical dependence where the body adapts to the presence of the drug and requires it to function normally. Abruptly stopping the use at this point often triggers withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, tremors, and seizures. The fear of experiencing these symptoms further contributes to the continued use of the drug.

Psychological Dependence

Individuals with physical dependence on Benzodiazepines stand an increased chance of developing psychological dependence on this drug which shapes the patterns of use. This psychological dependence is intense and sometimes consuming.

People with this dependence start to take above the maximum dose of the drug as they try to stop all forms of anxiety. Eventually, they come to rely on the drug to cope with stress, anxiety, or other emotional issues. Over time, the use of benzodiazepines may become intertwined with coping mechanisms, leading to cravings and compulsive drug-seeking behavior.

How Does Benzodiazepine Addiction Develop?

What are the Signs of Benzodiazepine Addiction?

The American Psychiatric Association in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) specified that sedative or anxiolytic use disorders, including Benzodiazepine addiction, are characterized by a pattern of use that leads to at least two of these symptoms occurring within a year:

  • A persistent urge to use the drug or numerous unsuccessful attempts at stopping.
  • Use of the drug in higher doses or longer than intended.
  • Spending excessive time in pursuit of the drug.
  • Use starts to interfere with responsibilities.
  • Use in an environment where bodily harm is possible.
  • Continued usage even when aware of the negative impact.
  • Tolerance and withdrawal symptoms.

People with these symptoms are advised to seek help from a healthcare professional, to get a proper diagnosis and start treatment.

What are the Risks of Benzodiazepine Addiction?

Benzodiazepine addiction poses various risks to an individual’s physical, psychological, and social well-being. Here are some of the key risks associated with Benzodiazepine addiction:

  • Prolonged use of benzodiazepines increases the chances of numerous health complications, including respiratory depression, dizziness, blurred vision, impaired coordination, and increased risk of falls and accidents. 
  • Continued abuse of benzodiazepines results in the development of tolerance, where higher doses are needed to achieve the desired effects.
  • Individuals suffering from this condition also tend to have withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe and include anxiety, agitation, insomnia, muscle cramps, nausea, seizures, and even life-threatening complications.
  • Benzodiazepine addiction causes profound psychological effects, including cognitive impairment, memory problems, confusion, disorientation, and mood disturbances.
  • Addiction to benzodiazepines significantly impairs an individual’s ability to fulfill their social and occupational responsibilities.
  • Misuse or abuse of benzodiazepines, particularly when combined with other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol or opioids, increases the risk of overdose.

Benzodiazepine addiction poses serious risks to an individual’s health, well-being, and quality of life. Seeking timely intervention and treatment is essential in addressing addiction and mitigating its harmful effects.

What is The Treatment For Benzodiazepine Addiction?

If someone gets diagnosed with Benzodiazepine addiction, here are a few treatment options available to them:

  • Individuals with severe cases of benzodiazepine dependence, usually start treatment with a medical detoxification handled by a medical professional.
  • These patients also get personalized treatment options that include:
    • Inpatient treatment
    • Outpatient treatment
    • Medication-assisted treatment
    • Aftercare
  • Patients with benzodiazepine therapy undergo a series of behavioral therapy as they help individuals address underlying issues contributing to addiction, develop coping skills, and modify maladaptive behaviors. The evidence-based approaches to this treatment include:
    • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
    • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
    • Motivational Interviewing (MI)
  • Patients also undergo counseling individually, with their family, or in support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous.

Effective treatment of benzodiazepine addiction requires a personalized approach tailored to the individual’s unique needs, preferences, and circumstances.

How do benzodiazepines interact with other medications and substances?

Benzodiazepines can interact with alcohol, opioids, and certain antidepressants, increasing the risk of adverse effects and overdose. It’s crucial to consult a healthcare provider before combining benzodiazepines with other substances.

Can benzodiazepine addiction affect mental health conditions?

Yes, benzodiazepine addiction can worsen symptoms of underlying mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Comprehensive treatment addressing both addiction and mental health issues is necessary for recovery.

Are there alternative treatments for anxiety and sleep disorders besides benzodiazepines?

Yes, non-pharmacological treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), relaxation techniques, and lifestyle modifications can effectively manage anxiety and improve sleep quality. Some antidepressants and anticonvulsants can also be alternatives to benzodiazepines.

How can I support a loved one struggling with benzodiazepine addiction?

Offer emotional support, encourage seeking professional help, and avoid enabling behaviors like providing access to benzodiazepines. Promote healthy coping mechanisms and connect them with support resources.

Can benzodiazepine addiction be treated successfully, and what are the contributing factors?

Yes, successful treatment involves motivation for change, access to evidence-based treatment, social support, coping skills, and addressing underlying issues like trauma or mental health disorders. By addressing these factors, individuals can achieve long-term recovery.

How does benzodiazepine addiction impact cognitive function?

Benzodiazepine addiction can have profound effects on cognitive function over time. According to WebMD, prolonged use of benzodiazepines is associated with memory impairment, decreased attention span, and difficulties in processing complex information. These cognitive deficits can impact daily functioning, affecting both personal and professional life.

Moreover, recovery and improvement in cognitive functions are possible with appropriate treatment for benzodiazepine addiction, emphasizing the importance of seeking help. Transitioning into a treatment program that includes a dual diagnosis approach can be beneficial, especially for individuals experiencing concurrent mental health issues alongside substance use disorder. This comprehensive treatment strategy addresses both the addiction and underlying cognitive or psychological issues, offering a path toward recovery and cognitive restoration.

What are the withdrawal symptoms of benzodiazepines, and how are they managed?

Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be challenging and may include symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and tremors, according to WebMD. The severity of withdrawal symptoms can vary based on the duration of benzodiazepine use, dosage, and individual health factors. It’s crucial to manage these symptoms under medical supervision to ensure safety and comfort during the detoxification process.

Effective management of benzodiazepine withdrawal often involves a gradual tapering of the medication to minimize withdrawal symptoms, along with support from healthcare professionals. Individuals experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms or those with a history of substance use may benefit from exploring treatment options such as Mephedrone addiction to address their needs comprehensively. This approach not only helps manage withdrawal symptoms but also addresses the broader spectrum of substance use, facilitating a smoother transition to recovery.

The Grove Editorial Team is a dynamic group of professionals at The Grove, a leading addiction treatment center in Indianapolis, Indiana. Comprising experienced therapists, medical experts, and dedicated support staff, this team brings a wealth of knowledge and compassionate insight into the complexities of addiction and recovery. Their collective expertise shines through in each article, offering readers valuable guidance, the latest in addiction science, and inspiring stories of healing and transformation. The Grove Editorial Team is committed to educating, supporting, and empowering individuals and families on their journey toward a healthier, substance-free life.

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