What Are Benzodiazepines? How Do You Treat a “Benzos” Addiction?

Benzodiazepines are depressants that slow down the going messages between the brain and body. They are usually prescribed by doctors to treat anxiety, insomnia, and epilepsy. Due to the calming effects caused by benzodiazepines, users of the drug are at risk for substance abuse disorder and addiction, especially when used for long periods of time. Continue below to learn about the side effects, dangers, and signs of benzodiazepine addiction.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines, often referred to simply as “benzos,” are depressants prescribed primarily to treat anxiety and insomnia. Sometimes they are used to treat muscle spasms and reduce seizures too. The most commonly abused benzodiazepines are Ativan, Xanax, Valium, Halcion, Klonopin, and Librium. This class of drugs slows down the central nervous system, and causes a sleepy and relaxing effect on the mind and body. Although these pills are often prescribed for legitimate reasons, there is a high potential for abuse and developing a benzodiazepine addiction can happen whether individuals have a prescription or not.

What Are Common Street Names For Benzodiazepines?

Popular names for benzodiazepines include:

  • Benzos
  • Blues
  • Candy
  • Chill pills
  • Downers
  • Ludes
  • School bus
  • Sleeping pills
  • Tranks
  • White girls

What Do Benzodiazepines Look Like?

Benzodiazepines are most commonly found in pill and capsule form. Color, size, and shape vary depending on the specific prescription medication. Benzodiazepines can also be found in the form of a syrup and injectable preparation.

How Are Benzodiazepines Used?

Benzodiazepines are taken either orally or crushed and snorted. Some users inject benzodiazepines.

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are often taken by individuals who suffer from insomnia or epilepsy, as they can cause drowsiness and reduce seizures. Individuals suffering with muscle spasms or anxiety may take benzodiazepines to alleviate their symptoms as well. Though they provide temporary comfort for some, benzodiazepines are easily misused – they are a factor in approximately 30 percent of overdoses across the United States. Some of the common short-term effects of benzodiazepine addiction may include:

  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Feelings of isolation or euphoria
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Impaired coordination
  • Increased anxiety

Why Are Benzodiazepines Harmful?

Benzodiazepines’ potential for harm is often underestimated because they are typically prescribed. Unfortunately, though they are intended for short-term use, many individuals unintentionally develop a tolerance to the drug, taking higher doses to produce the same calming effect, and become addicted.

Another concern associated with benzodiazepines is the risk of overdose in individuals who do not take the drug as instructed. Users sometimes mix benzodiazepines with opioids, which can have a fatal impact on users, as each drug suppresses breathing and brain function. Combining benzodiazepines with any other drugs can be unpredictable and dangerous, and increases one’s risk of overdose.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse?

Repeated misuse can lead to benzodiazepine addiction and various health problems, such as:

  • Suicidal ideation
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Aggressive and impulsive behavior
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Memory loss or impaired thinking
  • Disturbing, vivid dreams
  • Drowsiness

Individuals who abuse benzodiazepines in large doses may experience serious health complications such as pneumonia, muscle damage, brain damage. If you or a loved one shows any of these symptoms due to benzodiazepine use, seek immediate medical attention.

What Are the Signs of Benzodiazepine Addiction?

Over time, benzodiazepine abuse can cause neurological dependence on the depressant. Since benzodiazepines are meant for short-term use, continuing to use them for prolonged periods of time can make the body dependent on the medication and increase chances of addiction. Signs of benzodiazepine addiction may include:

 Psychosocial Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability and hostility

 Physical Signs

  • Vertigo
  • Double vision
  • Muscle weakness
  • Increased respiratory infections

What Does a Benzodiazepine Overdose Look Like?

Benzodiazepine overdoses are responsible for many prescription drug overdoses. They occur when an individual takes a toxic number of benzodiazepines or combines them with alcohol or other drugs. Slowed breathing and deep sleep are common signs of a benzodiazepine overdose. Other common signs of a benzodiazepine overdose include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Lack of muscle coordination
  • Profoundly altered mental state
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Tremors
  • Trouble breathing
  • Clammy skin
  • Weak and rapid pulse
  • Bluish nails and lips

Overdose may be fatal, especially if an individual uses benzodiazepines with alcohol or opioids. Anyone showing signs of a benzodiazepine overdose requires immediate medical attention.

How Do You Treat Benzodiazepine Addiction?

Benzodiazepine Detox

As with many other substances, the first step to overcoming a benzodiazepine dependency is with detox. As the drug leaves the body, individuals may experience withdrawal symptoms which can be both physically and emotionally painful and, in some cases, life-threatening. It is strongly recommended that individuals seek a medically-monitored detox under the supervision of professionals. This ensures the individual’s safety and reduces the risk of relapse. Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Numbness, itching, or skin crawling
  • Tension
  • Difficulty walking
  • Perceptual distortion

Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment

Once the body has been stabilized, individuals should continue with a comprehensive treatment plan that can provide them with the necessary drug counseling and substance abuse education to properly address the behavioral issues that have developed because of their use. Treatment offerings available for benzodiazepine addiction include inpatient (residential)extended care, and outpatient programs.

Because addiction is a disease that impacts the entire body ⎼ mentally, physically, and spiritually ⎼ it is important that individuals pursue holistic forms of therapy. Those recovering from benzodiazepine addiction can particularly benefit from activities that promote relaxation and positivity. Individuals who took benzodiazepines for the anxiety relief they provided may find solace and a sense of accomplishment through horticultural therapy, which quiets the mind by encouraging it to focus on nurturing plant life. Former benzodiazepine users can alternatively achieve a state of tranquility through qi gong, which calms the mind and body through coordinated movement and breathwork. Those who relied on benzodiazepines to deal with feelings of hopelessness can develop a more upbeat attitude and a greater sense of control over negative feelings through personal empowerment.

Read our Wellness page to learn about other holistic therapies to inspire and strengthen your mind and body.

An estimated 44 percent of individuals who take benzodiazepines become dependent on them. Know the signs of abuse. If you or a loved one is struggling with prescription drugs, reach out for help. Our compassionate team of experts is here to help.