Similar to opioids, an addiction to benzodiazepines typically occurs when you begin misusing a prescription given by a medical professional which then results in buying the drug illegally, taking it in larger doses, and/or using it for an extended period of time. Similar to most drugs, benzos are habit forming, highly addictive and dangerous when used independently. It’s important when addressing any addiction to speak in confidence to someone who can help. Call our admissions staff to arrange a free addiction assessment and find out which treatment options are available to you. 

What Are Benzodiazepines?

“Benzos” are psychoactive drugs, meaning they affect your brain chemistry. Benzodiazepines are sedative-hypnotics also known as depressants or sedatives and are commonly prescribed medication. These drugs come in many different forms but, in essence, their main effects are the same, and work by slowing down your brain activity. This makes it useful in helping those who struggle physically, for example, people who suffer from convulsions, as well as anyone suffering from mental disabilities such as severe anxiety. 

There are two primary types of benzodiazepines, short-acting and long-acting. Each class of benzo is prescribed for different needs. Short-acting benzos include Xanax and Ativan which stay in the body for a short period of time, usually just a few hours. Long-acting benzos such as Valium and Librium tend to stay in the body for many hours.

What Are Benzodiazepines Used For?

This classification of drug is most commonly prescribed to people who suffer from anxiety, insomnia or other sleep disorders. The properties of these prescription medications make them useful in a variety of clinical situations. In addition to being an anti-anxiety medication, they are also used as a muscle relaxant and are sometimes used by doctors as an anaesthetic before surgery. People who suffer from convulsive disorders such as cerebral palsy may also benefit from a benzodiazepine prescription. 

Doctors may prescribe a benzodiazepine for the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Anaesthetic 
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Seizures
  • Muscle relaxation

Benzodiazepines have also been used as a “date rape” drug, in the form of Rohypnol or GHB, because they can significantly impair functions that would usually allow someone to resist any form of sexual aggression or assault. In these cases, the drug is added to drinks in the form of a powder or liquid, making it very difficult to taste.

The Effects of Benzodiazepines

The immediate effects of benzodiazepines are often felt within an hour after consumption. This timeline will also depend on whether they are short, intermediate or long-acting. They can last from anywhere between 2½ to 160 hours.

Benzodiazepines differ from other addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroin because they aren’t as fast-acting, and their effects aren’t as intense. In comparison, the effects of benzos develop more gradually, leaving you with a sense of calm that can last for many hours. Of course, the more you take, the stronger these effects will feel.

Benzodiazepines work by interacting with the brain and eventually slowing down its functions.

They do this by enhancing the actions of a particular chemical in the brain called GABA, or gamma-amino-butyric acid. GABA is the natural sedating mechanism found in the brain and is responsible for sending messages from brain cells to brain cells to tell the brain to slow down.                                                                                                                               

However, when GABA levels are artificially increased by drugs such as Benzodiazepines, it can lead to a number of effects, from slurring words to total blackouts.

Some of the most common immediately effects of benzodiazepine use include:

  • confusion
  • feelings of isolation
  • feelings of euphoria
  • memory loss
  • impaired thinking
  • headache
  • drowsiness and sleepiness
  • vertigo (feeling dizzy, lightheaded and unsteady)
  • dry mouth
  • slurred speech or stuttering
  • double or blurred vision

Signs and Symptoms of Abuse

An addiction is unlikely to occur if you take the medication as prescribed. Unfortunately, some people become accustomed to the relaxed feeling of calm brought on by these drugs and eventually struggle to function without them. However, high doses of benzodiazepines can produce very serious side effects. 

Signs of acute toxicity or benzodiazepine overdose include: 

  • Memory loss
  • Weakness
  • Mood swings
  • Aggression 
  • Suicidal thoughts and tendencies 
  • Depression
  • Nightmares or vivid dreams 
  • Impaired judgement 
  • Cognitive impairment 
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Confusion

Physical signs of addiction are difficult to hide if you know what to look for.

Someone struggling with a benzodiazepine addiction may be suffering physically from the following:

  • Cognitive dysfunction- this includes 
    • Slurred speech
    • Slow reflexes 
    • Impaired coordination 
  • Extreme tiredness 
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Shallow breathing 
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Pale and cold skin
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

As with any addiction, the most common indicator is often changes in behaviour and attitudes. If someone you know is addicted to benzos, their life will revolve around getting their ‘fix’. They may cut themselves off from loved ones, struggle financially and have terrible mood swings. If you recognise any of these signs in yourself, it’s time to get help. 

Other symptoms include:

  • Disinterest in activities and/or hobbies they once enjoyed
  • Mood swings
  • Legal issues
  • Financial issues
  • Doctor shopping 
  • Missing work/school
  • Interpersonal relationship issues
  • Negative thoughts and talk
  • Low mood, depression

Dangers and Risks of a Benzo Addiction

One of the biggest contributing risk factors for benzo addiction is how easily accessible this drug is. Millions of people around the world are leaving their doctor’s office with a prescription in hand. Premature death is also a possibility from excessive use of benzodiazepines. This risk is rapidly increasing as more people are using these drugs alongside other psycho-active drugs and overdosing.

Benzodiazepine Dependence

Although benzodiazepines are prescribed for the treatment of conditions such as panic disorder, anxiety, and insomnia, it is recommended by most medical professionals that they are prescribed for short-term use only due to the high potential for abuse.

Due to the way in which these drugs can affect the brain, there is a tendency for a tolerance to develop. This basically means that you might find that you are not achieving the same level of relief from your medication that you did when you first started to take it as your brain and body has adapted to its presence.

If you increase your consumption of benzodiazepines in order to achieve a specific level of relief, you might also begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the effects of the medication wear off. Benzodiazepine abuse tends to intensify once a physical dependence has developed, and this is typically caused by a need to avoid the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms associated with not taking the medication rather than to achieve perceived pleasurable feelings.

Recovery

Overcoming a benzodiazepine addiction is possible, but it can be very difficult if done without professional help. Benzodiazepine rehabilitation begins with a steady detoxification process. Like alcohol, a benzo detox, if not managed professionally, can be fatal. Attempting to wean yourself off benzos alone is not while attempting to decrease the severity of the symptoms of withdrawal should always be done with a professional. Intensive psychological therapy is heavily recommended following a detox, in order to address the underlying causes of your addiction.

Getting Help for Benzodiazepine Addiction

Benzodiazepine addiction is a debilitating illness, one which should be treated under the supervision of trained medical professionals. At CATCH Recovery, London, our team of nurses and addiction specialists have years of experience treating people suffering from addiction. 

Our outpatient clinic is based in South West London, which is accessible from anywhere in the UK. If you need support but don’t live in the South East of England, you may benefit from the tele-health services we offer. If you require residential rehab, we also provide referrals to rehabs in the UK and Ireland. Call us today to discuss the different options that are available.