Signs & Symptoms of Benzo Abuse

Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are a group of psychoactive medications known as tranquilizers that often are abused because of their sedating effects and widespread availability.

Understanding Benzodiazepines

Learn More About Benzo Abuse

Doctors often prescribe benzodiazepines for legitimate medical conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, alcohol withdrawal, seizure control, or muscle relaxation. These medications work on the central nervous system to produce sedation and lower anxiety levels. The most common types of benzodiazepines that are prescribed include Klonopin, Ativan, Valium, and Xanax.

Benzos are an ideal medication for those who are suffering from conditions such as severe anxiety because they usually work rapidly and can quickly alleviate the unpleasant symptoms associated with an anxiety disorder. While the majority of people who receive prescriptions for benzodiazepine medications do not go on to abuse the substance, the rush of feelings of relaxation that one receives after taking the medication can lead some to begin to abuse it. Abuse of benzodiazepines is defined as using the substance for recreational purposes or using the drug in larger quantities or for longer periods of time than intended.


Statistics of Benzo Abuse

It is said that at any given time in the United States, approximately 11%-15% of the adult population has used some form of benzodiazepine medication during the prior year. However, estimates show that only 1%-2% of those individuals have consistently taken a benzo daily for a period longer than 12 months. Professionals in the field believe that nearly 80% of people who begin to abuse benzos are using another substance at the same time.

Causes and Risks

Causes and Risk Factors of Benzo Abuse

There is no one specific cause that leads a person to develop a problem with benzodiazepines, but instead it is the combination of different factors working together. Some of the most commonly noted causes include:

Genetic: The development of addiction has long been established as having a strong genetic component. When a person has a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, who is addicted to benzos or another type of substance, that person is at a greater risk of developing an addiction as well.

Physical: Benzos work by enhancing the effect of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is the neurotransmitter responsible for reducing the activity of the specific neurons that cause anxiety and stress.

Environmental: Certain environmental factors can exacerbate a person’s susceptibility to developing an addiction. For example, living in an unstable and chaotic home life can put an individual at an increased risk for developing symptoms of a mental health disorder like anxiety and so they turn to medication to help reduce those symptoms.

Risk Factors:

  • History of mental health disorders
  • History of abusing other substances
  • Being female
  • Elderly age group
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Unemployment

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Benzo Abuse

The signs and symptoms of benzo abuse will vary from person to person depending on the person’s genetic makeup, the reason behind the person first receiving a prescription for the medication, the amount that the person uses, and the length of time in which the person has been using. Some common symptoms that may be indicative of the presence of benzodiazepine abuse can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Going to different doctors to obtain new prescriptions or “doctor shopping”
  • Forging prescriptions
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Failure to meet expectations at home, work, or school
  • Stealing from friends or loved ones
  • Taking the medication in increasingly larger doses than intended, for longer periods of time than intended

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Stomach cramps
  • Headaches
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Muscle weakness
  • Motor coordination difficulties
  • Increased respiratory infections

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Slowed thinking
  • Increased sense of confusion
  • Anterograde amnesia
  • Memory impairment
  • Perception difficulties
  • Impaired ability to concentrate

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • General agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Clouded emotional functioning
  • Paradoxical feelings of hostility, irritability, and excitement
  • Decline in mental health


Effects of Benzo Abuse

The abuse of benzodiazepines can lead to possible adverse effects on cognitive functioning, physical health, and mental health. The severity of these effects will vary depending on the amount that a person uses and the length of time that he or she has been abusing these drugs. Some common effects of chronic benzo abuse may include:

  • Occupational or academic failure
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Hostile behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Experimentation with other substances
  • Addiction to other substances
  • Physical and psychological dependence
  • Accidental overdose
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Benzo Addiction & Co-Occurring Disorders

Most people are introduced to benzos after receiving a prescription from a doctor in order to alleviate certain symptoms. Many times, the symptoms that the person is experiencing are indicative of the presence of a mental health disorder. The most common disorders that have been linked to benzodiazepine abuse include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • PTSD
  • ADHD
  • ODD
  • OCD
  • Substance abuse disorders

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

If you have been using benzos for a long time, a sudden stop in the use of these drugs can cause the development of withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can begin as soon as a few hours after you stop using or may take a few days. Additionally, symptoms can occur for a month or longer. Some symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include:

  • Increased confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Hallucinations
  • Restlessness
  • Delirium
  • Psychosis
  • Bodily aches and pains
  • Intense anxiety, including panic attacks
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Overdosing on benzodiazepines can produce severe side effects and should be taken extremely serious. Since dependence quickly leads to tolerance, a person needs to take higher dosages of the substance in order to gain the same pleasurable effects. As the dosage increases, so does the risk of overdose because a person may be unaware of how much their body is able to handle. Some signs that an individual may be overdosing on benzos include:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden weakness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Coma
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Death

Sonora has truly helped me make positive changes in my life. I haven't touched benzos in years. My therapist there was the best I've ever had.

– Emily C.