Benzo Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Benzodiazepines, also commonly referred to as benzos, are a group of drugs prescribed to treat ailments such as anxiety and insomnia. They are referred to as depressants because they slow down, or depress, nervous system activity in the body. Common drugs such as Xanax, Ativan, and Valium are in the benzodiazepine family. Benzodiazepines are also used to help alleviate symptoms when someone is in detox from alcohol.

Understanding Benzo Addiction

Understanding benzodiazepine addiction

Although benzodiazepines help millions of people live better lives, they also have the potential to be abused. Because of their ability to relax the user, people can use them as an escape, just like any other drug. When monitored closely and used according to the guidelines of one’s prescribing physician, benzodiazepines can serve a beneficial purpose. However, sometimes people use them in excess of their prescribed dosage. In these situations, people can develop an addiction. Benzos may also be used in conjunction with other drugs, such as to help people come down from their high after using stimulants like cocaine.

Although benzodiazepine abuse can have dramatic negative effects on a person’s life, help is available for those who seek it.


Benzo Addiction Statistics

Although between 11% and 15% of individuals in the U.S. use benzodiazepines, only 1-2% have abused benzodiazepines for longer than 12 months. About 80% of those who abuse benzodiazepines also abuse another drug.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Benzo Addiction

Experts suggests that both genetic and environmental factors can contribute to a person becoming addicted to benzodiazepines. These influences include the following:

Genetic: People’s susceptibility to addiction has a genetic component. Those with family members who have substance addictions are more at risk for developing a substance addiction themselves.

Environmental: In conjunction with genes, a person’s environment can powerfully influence his or her chance of developing an addiction to benzos. High levels of stress or chaos can cause someone to seek a prescription for benzodiazepines, but these same high levels of stress can also cause a person to use more of the medication than was prescribed. People who have experienced trauma and are struggling to cope with it are also at greater risk for developing an addiction to benzodiazepines as they may use this substance to numb themselves from the pain of the trauma.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal or family history of substance use
  • Personal or family history of mental illness
  • Chaotic environment or chronic stress
  • Experiencing a trauma
  • Being the victim of abuse or neglect
  • Ease of access to benzodiazepines

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Benzo Addiction

Someone struggling with a benzodiazepine addiction may exhibit some or all of the following signs and symptoms:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Isolating from family
  • No longer participating in formerly-enjoyable activities
  • Failing to meet expectations at work or at home
  • Forging prescriptions
  • Visiting multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions

Physical symptoms:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Drowsiness
  • Unsteadiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Fainting
  • Light-headedness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Slowed thought processes
  • Poor concentration
  • Reduced inhibition
  • Impaired judgment
  • Perceptual disturbances
  • Memory difficulties

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feelings of hostility
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Emotional detachment
  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Intense irritability or anger, especially when access to the drug is limited or denied


Effects of Benzo Addiction

Abuse of any substance, either prescription medication or illicit drug, has far-reaching harmful effects on a person’s life. These include:

  • Memory impairment or amnesia
  • Blunted emotions
  • Decline in physical and mental health
  • Isolation or estrangement from family and friends
  • Social isolation
  • Poor job performance or job loss
  • Symptoms of other mental health disorders
  • Self-harming behavior
  • Suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Types of Benzo Addiction Treatment Offered at Wellness Resource Center

Because benzodiazepines are often prescribed for people who are already suffering from a psychological disorder, some co-occurring disorders are to be expected. However, others abuse the substance in an attempt to deal with the effects of a traumatic experience or chronic stress. The following disorders can occur along with benzodiazepine abuse:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Other substance use disorders


Effects of Benzo Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal: When a person has abused benzodiazepines for a period of time, the body becomes accustomed to the presence of the drug. When a person chooses to stop using, the body no longer has the drug available and, as a result, undergoes a painful and difficult process of readjusting to the absence of the drug. This process is called withdrawal and may include the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of tension
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty walking
  • Perceptual disturbances
  • Sensory hypersensitivity

Effects of benzodiazepine overdose: As a person uses a substance, his or her body may develop a tolerance to it, necessitating that the person take more and more to achieve the same effect. When a person takes too much of a substance for his or her body to process, an overdose can occur. Overdoses are very serious and can even be fatal. Because benzodiazepines are depressants, symptoms of an overdose will generally include reductions in activity. People who overdose may take so much of the medication that their hearts can stop completely. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms after using benzodiazepines, call 9-1-1 immediately.

  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden lack of coordination
  • Significantly lowered respiratory activity
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sedation
  • Coma or death

Thanks to Wellness Resource Center, I'm approaching 3 years of sobriety. I used to need Benzos for my anxiety, but I soon became addicted. I didn't think I'd ever get my life back on track, but Wellness helped me do just that!

– Anna C.