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Benzodiazepine Abuse & Addiction | List, Side Effects, Withdrawal, & Treatment Options

Published on October 12, 2020
benzos xanax alprazolam

Benzodiazepines are commonly used for managing anxiety or insomnia, but benzodiazepine misuse can lead to addiction. 

These depressant medications can have serious side effects and increase the risk of an overdose when they’re abused. Professional substance abuse rehab programs can provide effective ways to overcome benzodiazepine addiction.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressant medications that are often used for treating or managing anxiety disorders or insomnia. These medications have a sedative effect that can help people sleep better and feel less anxious.

Learn more about How Benzodiazepines Work

Here are some important things you should know about benzodiazepines:

  • Different types of benzodiazepines are available, such as alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), and clonazepam (Klonopin).
  • Benzodiazepines come in different forms, including pills, syrups, and injections.
  • Uses of benzodiazepines include treating anxiety disorders, insomnia, seizure disorders, alcohol withdrawal, and muscle relaxation.
  • Benzodiazepines are also known as benzos or downers.
  • Benzodiazepines can produce a euphoric feeling, vivid dreams, hostility, and amnesia.
  • Some people combine benzodiazepines with opioids, or other depressants like alcohol, in order to produce a stronger or more intense euphoric feeling.

List Of Benzodiazepines

There are several types of benzodiazepines available for prescription use. The abuse of benzodiazepines includes taking a higher dose than prescribed, using them without a prescription, or combining them with other substances.

Xanax (Alprazolam)

Xanax is a prescription drug that’s designed to address panic and anxiety disorders. This sedative is common and comes with warnings about addiction and abuse potential, as well as the risks of mixing it with other substances like alcohol.

Learn more about Xanax Abuse & Addiction 

Ativan (Lorazepam)

Ativan is prescribed to reduce anxiety. Like many benzos, this medication works by slowing down brain activity and increasing relaxation. Because of its effects of sedation, there is a significant potential for drug abuse.

Learn more about Ativan Abuse & Addiction

Valium (Diazepam)

Valium has a variety of approved uses, including treating anxiety, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal. Long-term Valium use can lead to dependence, tolerance, and dangerous withdrawal symptoms if you abruptly stop use.

Learn more about Valium Abuse & Addiction

Klonopin (Clonazepam)

Klonopin is a prescription drug specifically designed for controlling and preventing seizures. This medication has a strong potential for abuse, and can be especially dangerous when combined with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol or opioids.

Learn more about Klonopin Abuse & Addiction

Halcion (Triazolam)

Halcion is a benzodiazepine that’s used to treat severe sleeping problems like insomnia. This effective tranquilizer is one of the most commonly prescribed prescription drugs in the United States, and long-term use increases the risk for addiction.

Learn more about Halcion Abuse & Addiction

Librium (Chlordiazepoxide)

Librium, and other brand names containing chlordiazepoxide, is a sedative-hypnotic medication that has approved uses for alcohol withdrawal, anxiety, and sleep problems.

Learn more about Librium Abuse & Addiction

Restoril (Temazepam)

Due to its sedative effects, Restoril is not recommended for long-term use. This medication treats sleeping problems, and can cause withdrawal symptoms when the dose is rapidly decreased or discontinued altogether.

Learn more about Restoril Abuse & Addiction

Serax (Oxazepam)

Oxazepam, including brand names like Serax , is a short-acting benzodiazepine that has approved usage for treating withdrawal symptoms from alcohol abuse, insomnia, and anxiety. Abuse can occur if you take high doses of Serax for long periods of time.

Learn more about Serax Abuse & Addiction

Effects Of Benzodiazepine Addiction

Having an addiction to benzodiazepines can raise the risk of drug overdose or severe physical and psychological symptoms, such as seizures or psychosis. 

Knowing how to identify signs of addiction can help you understand when to seek treatment for yourself or a loved one or family member. 

Side effects of benzodiazepine misuse may include:

  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • anxiety
  • headaches
  • muscle aches
  • memory impairment
  • loss of coordination
  • depression

Learn more about the Side Effects Of Benzodiazepines

Signs of benzodiazepine addiction may include:

  • experiencing ongoing problems at work, home, or school due to benzodiazepine abuse
  • finding ways to obtain benzodiazepines that are illegal or unethical, such as stealing
  • taking larger or more frequent doses of benzodiazepines
  • going to multiple doctors to get benzodiazepine prescriptions

Benzodiazepine Overdose

Being familiar with possible signs of benzodiazepine overdose is important. If you or a loved one exhibit any of these signs, you’ll need to seek care at an emergency department to prevent potentially life-threatening reactions from occurring. 

Some of the signs of benzodiazepine overdose include:

  • lightheadedness
  • bluish lips or fingernails
  • breathing difficulties
  • anxiety
  • drowsiness
  • blurry vision
  • tremors
  • restlessness
  • coordination problems
  • confusion
  • weakness
  • loss of consciousness
  • slurred speech
  • mood swings
  • erratic or unusual behavior, such as sudden aggressiveness

Learn more about Benzodiazepine Overdose

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms & Detox

When you stop taking benzodiazepines, your body experiences a period of withdrawal while adjusting. This usually starts within a few days with rebound symptoms and can last for a week or more. 

The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on the type of benzodiazepine you’ve been using, how often you take it, and how much you take.

 Symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal may include:

  • cravings
  • headaches
  • anxiety
  • stiff or sore muscles
  • tremors in the hands
  • sleep problems, such as insomnia
  • trouble focusing or concentrating
  • heart palpitations
  • sweating more than usual
  • seizures
  • hallucinations
  • psychosis 

Since benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can be serious, such as seizures, you should go through a detoxification program. 

A professional benzodiazepine detox program can provide you with medical monitoring and support for severe symptoms. Although detox programs don’t treat benzodiazepine addiction, they help you prepare to enter a rehab program at an addiction treatment center.

Learn more about Benzodiazepine Withdrawal & Detox

Benzodiazepine Treatment Programs

When you struggle with benzodiazepine addiction, you don’t have to try to recover by yourself. In fact, seeking professional help is an important part of being able to successfully overcome substance use disorder and other mental health issues. 

Professional rehab programs for this kind of addiction are available in different forms.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient rehab has you stay in a rehab facility while you receive treatment from a team of professionals. This helps ensure that you have help and support available at all times, so you can focus on recovery.

You may also receive treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders, which are often viewed as an underlying condition that contributes to drug use. 

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient rehab programs are usually for milder cases of benzodiazepine addiction or for those who have finished inpatient care. When you’re in this kind of program, you’ll come in for treatment during the week, but you won’t be required to stay in a rehab facility.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy has been used as part of effective addiction treatment for many years. This kind of therapy can help you identify why you developed an addiction and how you can change the way you think and feel in order to overcome it.

If you’re suffering from benzodiazepine addiction, please contact Ark Behavioral Health for information on our treatment programs.

Benzodiazepine FAQ

What Are Short-Acting Benzodiazepines?

Short-acting benzodiazepines have a short half-life, meaning that they are processed more quickly and have a shorter length of effect than other intermediate or long-acting benzodiazepine drugs.

Short-acting benzodiazepines approved for use in the United States include midazolam (Versed) and triazolam (Halcion).

Learn more about Short-Acting Benzodiazepines

What Are Long-Acting Benzodiazepines?

Long-acting benzodiazepines last longer than other benzodiazepines. The length of time a benzo stays in your system relies mostly on its half-life or the time it takes half the drug to exit your body. Long-acting benzos have higher half-lives so they work and stay in your body longer.

Learn more about Long-Acting Benzodiazepines

What’s The Difference Between Benzodiazepines & Barbiturates?

There are numerous differences between benzodiazepines and barbiturates, even though they’re both considered CNS depressants and sedative/hypnotics. Some differences include potency, side effects, and what they’re prescribed for.

Learn more about Barbiturates Vs. Benzodiazepines

What Are Some Non-Addictive Substitutes For Benzodiazepines?

Non-addictive substitutes for benzodiazepines include buspirone, hydroxyzine, gabapentin, and many selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. While these substances also have risks, they are generally less habit-forming than benzodiazepines, and can be taken long-term.

Learn more about Non-Addictive Anti-Anxiety Medications

What Are The Risks Of Taking Benzos For Anxiety?

Some risks of taking benzodiazepines for anxiety include abusing the drugs for their intoxicating effects, developing a dependence after weeks of use, and experiencing impaired cognition that lead to movement difficulties, poor judgement, and accidental injuries.

Learn more about the Risks Of Treating Anxiety With Benzodiazepines

What Is Benzo Belly?

Benzo belly is a symptom of benzodiazepine withdrawal that often results in chronic bloating and digestion issues. Benzo belly may cause numerous side effects, including stomach upset, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. 

Symptoms can occur during withdrawal but may linger long after other withdrawal symptoms disappear. 

Learn more about Benzo Belly

Is There An Antidote For Benzodiazepine Overdose?

Flumazenil is an FDA-approved antidote for a benzodiazepine overdose. Flumazenil is used as an intravenous (IV) infusion that reverses the effects of benzodiazepines on the central nervous system. 

Flumazenil will only work if the overdose is caused by benzodiazepines alone. Ingestion of multiple drugs, like opioids or alcohol, may interfere with flumazenil’s reversal effects. 

To learn more, read How Flumazenil Works As A Benzodiazepine Antidote

What Is Benzodiazepine Dependence?

Benzodiazepine dependence is a natural process where the body begins to adjust to the drug, developing tolerance to its effects over time. Dependence develops quickly, in as little as a few weeks, and is more severe when the drug is misused in higher doses.

Once dependence forms, you are likely to experience potentially severe withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the drug.

Learn more about Benzodiazepine Dependence

What Are The Long-Term Risks Of Benzodiazepine Use?

Benzodiazepine dependence and withdrawal are harmful long-term risks of benzodiazepine use. Benzodiazepines have also been linked to higher risks of hip injuries, car accidents, and reduced brain functions in the long-term.

Learn more about The Risks & Effects Of Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use

How Long Do Benzos Stay In Your System?

How long a benzodiazepine stays in your system depends on a number of different factors. This includes what benzo you’re taking and it’s short-acting or long-acting, as well as your age, gender, and body composition. They can stay in your system for hours, days, or sometimes longer.

To learn more, read How Long Do Benzodiazepines Stay In Your System?

What Helps With Anxiety Besides Benzodiazepines?

While benzodiazepines can be useful in curbing anxiety symptoms, the best long-term treatments don’t involve medication at all. Exercise, nature therapy, massage, yoga, breath training, hypnosis, and cognitive behavioral therapy are all effective alternatives to consider.

Learn more about Benzodiazepine Alternatives

Is It Safe To Take Benzodiazepines While Pregnant?

Whether benzodiazepines are safe to take while pregnant all depends on the one you’re taking. Some are safe while others are not. Your doctor may recommend taking benzodiazepines with proven safety track records and the lowest dosage possible.

Learn more about Using Benzodiazepines During Pregnancy

Is It Safe To Use Opioids & Benzodiazepines Together?

According to CDC Guidelines, benzodiazepines and opioids are generally not safe to use together as both cause central nervous system depression. This means that when taken together these drugs may trigger an overdose and suppress breathing, which can be fatal.

Warnings are included to highlight this interaction. However, both benzodiazepines and opioids are common drugs of abuse and a significant percentage of opioid-related deaths also involve concurrent use of benzodiazepines.

Learn more about Benzodiazepines & Opioids

Can You Take More Than One Benzo At Once?

It’s not safe to use more than one type of benzodiazepine at the same time without the help of a doctor or medical professional. Dangerous side effects, including overdose, can occur if you mix benzodiazepines with other central nervous system depressants.

Learn more about Mixing Benzos With Other Depressants

What Is The Strongest Benzodiazepine?

The strongest benzodiazepine is clonazepam (Klonopin), a drug prescribed for anxiety, panic attacks, and seizures. It’s considered stronger than others because it has a high potency and stays in your system for a long time. 

Learn more by reading List Of Commonly Abused Benzodiazepines | Strongest To Weakest

How Do Patients Taper Off Benzodiazepines?

Tapering off benzodiazepines can involve any combination of gradual dose reduction, cognitive behavioral therapy, and adjunctive medications. Tapering with constant medical supervision can increase your chances of recovery while avoiding withdrawal symptoms or relapse.

Learn more about How To Taper Off Benzodiazepines

Can You Mix Benzodiazepines With Kratom?

It can be dangerous to mix benzodiazepines with kratom. You may be at a higher risk for side effects such as drowsiness, impairment, constipation, and seizures. Taking both substances together may also increase your risk of an overdose.

Learn more about Mixing Kratom With Benzodiazepines

What Does A Benzo High Feel Like?

A benzo high may feel like everything is slowed down. Your reflexes might be reduced, while you may also feel sleepy and relaxed. The effects of benzos on the central nervous system cause this high.

To learn more, read What Does A Benzo High Feel Like?

Where Do Benzodiazepines Come From?

Benzodiazepines were first discovered in the mid to late 1900s. They are synthetic substances, meaning that they were and are man-made chemicals produced in laboratories and not derived from any natural sources.

To learn more, read A Short History Of Benzodiazepine Abuse & Dependence

Can Benzodiazepines Cause Brain Damage?

Long-term high-dose use of benzodiazepines may result in some form of structural brain damage, as well as memory dysfunction, motor impairment, impaired concentration, depression, anxiety, and other cognitive effects. 

Learn more about Brain Damage From Long-Term Benzodiazepine Abuse

Are Designer Benzodiazepines Legal?

Despite being dangerous and unpredictable, designer benzodiazepines exist in a legal gray area as of 2021. They are not formally scheduled and are also not explicitly covered under Controlled Substances Analogue Enforcement Act.

However, a variety of other state and federal-level laws may apply depending on the specific details of your situation.

Learn more about Designer Benzodiazepdines

What Are Benzodiazepines Called On The Street?

Common street names for benzodiazepines include:

  • benzos
  • chill pills
  • downers
  • nerve pills
  • tranks

Some benzodiazepines also have unique street names. For example, Xanax tablets are often called bars, zannies, and Z-bars, while Klonopin is often called K, K-Pin, and Super Valium. 

Learn more about Benzodiazepine Street Names

What Happens When You Snort Benzodiazepines?

People may snort benzodiazepines because it produces more rapid and intense effects. However, this can also increase unwanted side-effects, like slowed breathing and heart rate. 

When combined with other drugs, snorting benzodiazepines can result in a dangerous overdose. Snorting can also lead to infections, nasal damage, and respiratory problems. 

Learn more about Snorting Benzodiazepines

Can Benzodiazepines Treat OCD?

Because benzodiazepines slow down your thinking and make you feel relaxed, they can ease anxiety symptoms caused by OCD. 

However, most doctors only prescribe benzodiazepines for short-term use. That’s because they pose a high risk of abuse and addiction. 

Learn more about OCD & Benzodiazepine Abuse

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Drug Enforcement Administration - Benzodiazepines
Drug Enforcement Administration - Drug Fact Sheet: Benzodiazepines
Harvard Health Publishing - Benzodiazepines and the Alternatives
National Institute on Drug Abuse - Benzodiazepines and Opioids
National Institute on Drug Abuse - Overdose Death Rates

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