What Is Benzodiazepine Addiction?

Benzodiazepine addiction is when a person becomes dependent on benzodiazepines (benzos) and is unable to cut back or stop use. Benzodiazepine addiction can develop quickly due to the wide availability and prescription of the drugs and their strong physiological and physical effects.

Addiction may entail not only physiological changes but several harmful behavioral changes adversely impacting every aspect of your life. The development of a benzo addiction is accompanied by functional changes within your brain that can affect your motivation, thought processes, and behaviors so much that benzo use becomes prioritized above everything else.

Signs Of Benzodiazepine Addiction

Signs associated with benzodiazepine addiction include physical, mental, and behavioral aspects, as addiction affects many parts of your body and mind.

Behavioral Signs

  • Engaging in impulsive and high-risk behaviors
  • Mixing benzos with alcohol or other drugs
  • Taking more benzos than prescribed
  • Spending a significant amount of time talking about benzos
  • Experiencing disruptions of daily responsibilities due to benzo use
  • Being irritable or agitated when unable to use benzos
  • Visiting multiple doctors to obtain benzos (known as doctor shopping)
  • Acquiring someone else’s benzos without their knowledge
  • Purchasing or using benzos without a prescription
  • Experiencing conflict in personal relationships and changes in social circles
  • Having no interest in previous hobbies or passions

Physical Signs

  • Intoxication that presents like “being drunk”
  • Slurring words
  • Loss of balance
  • Bloodshot eyes

Mental And Emotional Signs

Emotion Regulation And Distress Tolerance

Although benzodiazepines are prescribed to help treat symptoms of anxiety, panic, and insomnia, prolonged use can worsen a person’s ability to regulate their emotions and deal with emotional distress. This results from a combination of altered brain functioning and overreliance on benzos to cope with emotional experiences. This overreliance can lead to emotional instability, exaggerated emotional responses, and severe fluctuations in mood.


One of the hallmarks of addiction is intense cravings and urges to use the substance. People with a benzodiazepine addiction have frequent thoughts about benzos and compulsive urges to use them. These cravings are driven by their beliefs that these medications will help reduce their unpleasant feelings or distress.

Memory And Attention

Benzodiazepine use, even as prescribed, can impair attention and memory while they are active in a person’s brain. However, long-term use can cause attention and memory problems that persist even when the person is not using them. These cognitive effects are more likely in older people, even at low doses. Even short-term use of benzodiazepines by people over age 65 can cause cognitive impairment.

Featured Centers Offering Treatment for Benzodiazepine Addiction

Common Benzodiazepines

There are a wide array of medications in the benzodiazepine class, and their generic pharmaceutical names typically end with -pam.

Benzodiazepines are further classified into three categories known as long-acting, medium-acting, and short-acting, depending on their rate of onset and duration of effect.

In general, short-acting benzodiazepines tend to carry a higher addiction potential and have more substantial withdrawal effects. They act quickly and hit hard, but the effects do not last long. Long-acting benzodiazepines take longer to have an effect but stay in the body for a longer duration. Suppose a person is prescribed a long-acting benzodiazepine but does not feel the effects quickly enough. In that case, they may take a short-acting benzodiazepine or another dose of their long-acting benzodiazepine. This dangerous misuse can increase the likelihood of undesirable symptoms and can lead to a higher chance of tolerance and dependence.

Some of the most prescribed and misused benzodiazepines include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax): Medium-acting
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin): Medium-acting
  • Diazepam (Valium): Long-acting

  • Lorazepam (Ativan): Medium-acting
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium): Long-acting
  • Midazolam (Versed): Short-acting

What Causes Benzodiazepine Addiction?

Since benzodiazepines are prescription medications, many people initially use them for legitimate medical use, such as to treat anxiety disorder, insomnia, or seizure disorders.

However, because they produce a calming and euphoric sensation in the body, they have a high misuse potential. Benzos are a class of central nervous system depressants that bind to GABA receptors in the brain and reduce physical and emotional tension while also hijacking the brain’s reward system. Dopamine is the main “feel good” brain chemical that is released during pleasurable activities. Over time, benzos interfere with the dopamine levels in the brain, and a person naturally wants more of these “feel good” brain chemicals.

Chasing the feelings of relaxation and euphoria can lead people to misuse benzodiazepines. Misuse is defined as using a medication other than how it was prescribed. A person can misuse benzodiazepines by taking more than prescribed, taking them to feel a high, or taking a friend’s benzodiazepine prescription. Although misuse is not considered an addiction, continued misuse over time can lead to a benzodiazepine addiction.

Tolerance And Dependence

If someone has a tolerance to benzodiazepines or is dependent on them, it does not mean they have an addiction. However, over time, a person will likely require a higher dosage or more frequent use of a benzodiazepine to feel the desired effects; this is known as tolerance. Tolerance can build up even when the person is taking benzodiazepines exactly how they are prescribed, but it can also build up when an individual misuses benzodiazepines.

Dependence is when the person develops a physiological adaptation to benzodiazepines. Misuse over time causes the body to become so used to the benzodiazepine in the system that when the person cuts back on their use or quits, withdrawal symptoms emerge. In other words, a person feels like they need this drug to feel and function normally. With significant levels of physiological dependence, a person may continue to use benzodiazepines to avoid unwanted withdrawal symptoms compulsively.

Diagnosing A Benzodiazepine Addiction

A benzodiazepine addiction is formally known as a benzodiazepine use disorder. While healthcare professionals should make a formal diagnosis, the following criteria can help identify a substance use disorder (SUD).

If you or a loved one has experienced two or more of the following in the past 12 months, it may be time to seek professional help from an addiction treatment center:

  • Taking benzos in larger amounts or for a more extended period than initially intended.
  • Persistent desire to decrease benzo use without success.
  • Significant time spent obtaining, using, or recovering from benzodiazepine use and its effects.
  • Most daily activities revolve around the substance.
  • Cravings or an intense desire to use benzos.
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at work, school, or home due to benzo use.
  • Continued benzodiazepine use even when social or interpersonal consequences arise.
  • Giving up or being less involved in important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of benzo use.
  • Recurrent benzo use even in situations where it is physically hazardous, like driving.
  • Continued benzo use despite knowing that physical or psychological problems are being caused by or intensified by it.
  • Tolerance.
  • Withdrawal.

Get Help For Benzodiazepine Addiction

If you or a loved one are experiencing signs of benzodiazepine misuse or addiction, it is essential to seek appropriate treatment.

Contact a treatment provider today or explore the rehab directory to find treatment options near you and get started on the road to recovery.