Signs Of Benzodiazepine Abuse

Benzodiazepines, commonly referred to as “benzos”, are drugs that are classified as depressants. These medications are primarily prescribed for their sedative and calming properties, which help with reducing anxiety, inducing sleep, and preventing or reducing seizures. Unfortunately, benzos are often misused and abused.

Recognizing symptoms of benzodiazepine abuse is the crucial first step in getting someone you care about the help they need.

For many, benzo abuse develops slowly over time, as one begins to develop a tolerance to the medication. One of the downfalls to the fast-acting aspect of these medications is that tolerance grows rapidly, with some people developing a tolerance to their initial dosage within two to three months. This can lead to a self-prescribed increase in dosage due to the feeling that the medication is not working as well as it used to.

This process often develops into a pattern of justifying one’s behavior, which can develop into a substance use disorder (SUD) over time.

Unfortunately, loved ones are often unable to recognize this pattern until it becomes quite noticeable. By that time, misuse behaviors are usually displayed by the individual. Some common behaviors to be aware of when someone is struggling with benzodiazepine misuse include:

  • Frequent impairment that presents like alcohol intoxication
  • Taking more medication than prescribed
  • Spending a significant amount of time talking about benzodiazepines
  • Requiring higher dosages to achieve the same effect
  • Difficulty with daily responsibilities
  • Appearing increasingly angry or upset while using or craving benzodiazepines
  • Doctor shopping or visiting multiple doctors to obtain benzodiazepines
  • Stealing or using other’s medication without their knowledge
  • Obtaining benzodiazepines illegally

These warning signs are often an indicator that substance misuse is occurring and potentially has developed into a SUD.

Benzodiazepine Addiction Diagnosis

The actual diagnosis used in the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the classification system for behavioral health conditions, is called a sedative or anxiolytic use disorder. This disorder includes benzodiazepine use and, to be diagnosed with this condition, a formal evaluation from a licensed professional is required. During the evaluation, they will look for a variety of different behaviors and experiences that may result in a potential diagnosis and treatment plan.

The following criteria is used to determine if misuse or a SUD is present:

  • Benzodiazepines are taken in larger amounts and over longer periods than originally intended.
  • Experiencing failed attempts at reducing or controlling usage.
  • Extensive time and effort are spent on obtaining benzodiazepines or recovering from their effects.
  • Experiencing cravings for benzodiazepines.
  • Difficulty maintaining employment, education, or home responsibilities due to benzodiazepine use.
  • Experiencing recurrent risky situations that can cause physical harm while using benzodiazepines (e.g., driving under the influence)
  • Continued benzodiazepines use regardless of problems it creates in personal relationships.
  • Continued benzodiazepine use regardless of the physical and psychological effects.
  • Important social and recreational activities are interrupted or stopped due to benzodiazepine use.
  • Tolerance to benzodiazepines is observed and/or reported.
  • Withdrawal symptoms occur when withheld.

For someone to be diagnosed with a SUD, they require at least two of these criteria to be met within 12 months.

It is important to remember that some people who are prescribed Benzodiazepines will not experience any of these abuse behaviors or symptoms, however, for those that are currently experiencing them, treatment is encouraged.

Side Effects Of Abuse

Harmful side effects from benzodiazepines might arise during use or abuse and just after their “high” has subsided. Some immediate side effects include:

  • Mental confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Forgetfulness
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue

Some long-term side effects from benzodiazepines include:

  • Disinhibition
  • Impaired concentration and memory
  • Drowsiness
  • Increased reaction time
  • Loss of coordination

  • Permanent cognitive deficits
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Depression
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Dementia

Withdrawal Symptoms

Because benzodiazepines influence brain function and because they are depressants, very serious medical conditions can develop when they are used for longer or at larger doses than recommended.

Some of the most serious cases of substance use withdrawal occur from benzodiazepine use due to a serious risk of life-threatening conditions developing as the body struggles without the drug.

There are many variables involved when assessing for benzodiazepine withdrawal as a person’s age, gender, medical history, and many other factors that can impact how the body responds.

Symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Profuse sweating
  • Heart palpitations
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Delusions or paranoia
  • Muscle pains
  • Irritability
  • Poor memory

If someone is experiencing any of these benzodiazepine abuse symptoms after ending use, there is a potential need for medical care, as there is a risk for overdose without medical involvement.

Find Support For Benzodiazepine Abuse

The risk of becoming physically and psychologically dependent on benzodiazepines grows with continued usage over time. Benzodiazepines also have a high potential for concurrent use with other substances, particularly alcohol, which can result in potential overdose events.

Treatment for benzodiazepine misuse usually requires a combination of detoxification (to safely decrease drug levels in the body) and inpatient treatment (to treat the addiction and reduce the chance of relapse). Most treatments for benzodiazepine withdrawal will include a safe taper, or slow reduction, of benzodiazepines to help regulate and reduce its level in the body without symptoms developing. This usually requires a medical setting such as a hospital or inpatient treatment program.

If you or a loved one are ready to end an addiction to benzodiazepines, contact a treatment provider today to start the journey toward recovery.