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The Risks & Effects Of Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use

Published on March 31, 2021
The Risks & Effects Of Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use

Benzodiazepines are usually not prescribed long-term, or for more than a few months at a time. Long-term use of benzodiazepines can reduce their effectiveness and put you at risk for severe side effects.

Long-term benzodiazepine use can lead to addiction, physical dependence, and withdrawal symptoms. It is also linked to other serious health effects.

How Long Are Benzodiazepines Prescribed?

Many benzodiazepines are only prescribed in the short-term to treat anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Official labels for benzos like Xanax, Librium, and Valium warn physicians to make benzodiazepine prescriptions short-term.

Prescriptions for benzos tend to last for between one to four months. If drug use continues for longer, there is an increased risk of adverse effects. There is a concerning prevalence of mental health effects and physical health risks in long-term benzodiazepine patients.

Taking benzodiazepines for more than four months may be a sign of substance abuse. Even after your prescription ends, you may be looking for benzos to help manage your dependency. This is a telling sign that you may want to look out for in your loved ones as well.

Side Effects Of Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use

Benzodiazepines affect GABA receptors in the central nervous system.  Taking benzos for more than four months may change how your brain works, leading to a number of health effects. 

Chronic use may increase your risk for side effects of benzos, like drowsiness, psychomotor impairment, or sedation. Some studies have shown that long-term benzodiazepine use is connected to a higher risk of hip injury in geriatric patients, or older adults above the age of 65. 

Benzodiazepine use is also connected to permanent cognitive impairment, or a decline in general brain activity. People outside of the general population, in high-risk sub-groups, may be at higher risk of a toxic reaction to benzodiazepines, which can cause long-term sedation.

Risk Of Benzodiazepine Dependence, Addiction, & Withdrawal

Many benzodiazepines, including alprazolam, lorazepam, clonazepam, and diazepam, are controlled substances according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). They have a potential for substance abuse, up to and including drug addiction.

Risk factors for benzodiazepine abuse include a history of substance abuse and unstable mental health. The doctor prescribing you a benzodiazepine should know about your medical history to minimize your risk of adverse effects.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

It is possible to form a physical dependence on benzodiazepines. Depending on the type you are taking, you may experience withdrawal symptoms only hours after your last dose. This can start a cycle of substance abuse and addiction, as people may keep taking benzos to avoid withdrawal.

Depending on the type of benzo you are taking, withdrawal can start only hours after discontinuation. Symptoms can last for more than a month, and include:

  • insomnia
  • worsened anxiety
  • vomiting
  • tremors
  • seizures
  • hallucinations

Withdrawal can be difficult to go through on your own. If you want to quit benzodiazepines, but are struggling with withdrawal symptoms, seek out a professional treatment program.

Treating Benzodiazepine Abuse & Withdrawal

Benzodiazepines have many risks during long-term use. Alternatives like antidepressants are usually more effective anxiolytics, which are used to treat other mental health problems. However, benzodiazepines are still commonly prescribed today.

Treatments for benzodiazepine abuse exist, though they are not as proven compared to treatment for opioid abuse. One effective treatment method for benzos is tapering, where your dose is reduced over a long period of time to better manage withdrawal symptoms.

Benzodiazepine abuse is a serious problem that warrants proper treatment for yourself or a loved one. To find the treatment that works best for you, contact us today or talk to your healthcare professional or primary care physician.

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

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American Family Physician — Risks Associated with Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use
Emergency Medicine News — Benzodiazepine Withdrawal: Potentially Fatal, Commonly MissedFollowing benzodiazepine cessation, withdrawal symptoms may begin within 24 hours or take up to two weeks to develop
National Institute on Drug Abuse — Prescription CNS Depressants DrugFacts
Psychopharmacology Institute — Benzodiazepine Practicalities
PubMed — Benzodiazepine Pharmacology and Central Nervous System–Mediated Effects​​​
PubMed — The effects of benzodiazepines on cognition - PubMed
U.S. Food and Drug Administration — KLONOPIN TABLETS (clonazepam)
U.S. Food and Drug Administration — LIBRIUM (CHLORDIAZEPOXIDE HYDROCHLORIDE)
U.S. Food and Drug Administration — Xanax

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