Benzodiazepine (Benzo) Abuse Guide

Benzos are highly addictive drugs used widely in conventional medical care and by individual abusers. 

According to estimates, the use of benzos is rising. 30.6 million people reported using the drugs every year  – 25.3 million as prescribed, and 5.3 million in various forms of misuse. 

In this guide, we explore everything you need to know about benzos, including what they are, why people use them, and how to recover from them. Read on to learn more.

What Are Benzos?

The term “benzos” is an abbreviation of benzodiazepines – tranquilizers developed to treat insomnia, seizures, anxiety, and muscle spasms.

This class of drug is one of the most prescribed medications and has become widely abused. Benzodiazepines used alone do not usually lead to immediate medical problems, though it is because of this that they are widely taken alongside other drugs, such as alcohol. Mixing drugs can lead to serious issues and overdose.

Kidney and brain damage, as. well as the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease has been linked to long-term use of benzodiazepines.

Why Do People Use Benzos?

In medical settings, healthcare professionals prescribe benzos for both mental and physical relaxation. The FDA approves the use of these drugs for: 

  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Insomnia
  • Panic disorders
  • Seizure disorders

Some doctors will also prescribe these medications off-label, including for various other sleep disorders, bipolar disorder and to ease alcohol withdrawal. 

People use them to achieve levels of relaxation and peace they feel they cannot attain otherwise. Unfortunately, benzos are among the most dependency-forming of all substances, requiring abusers to continually increase their dosages to get the same effect. 

Types of Benzos

There are many different types of benzos that might lead to substance misuse. These include: 

  • Diazepam (also called Valium)
  • Lorazepam (also called Ativan)
  • Alprazolam (also called Xanax)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (also called Librium)
  • Clonazepam (also called Klonopin)
  • Clorazepate (also called Tranxene)
  • Oxazepam (also called Serax)
  • Estazolam (also called Prosom)
  • Temazepam (also called Restoril)
  • Midazolam( also called Versed)
  • Triazolam (also called Halcion)

Different benzos have different onset times and durations. Diazepam and clorazepate are fast-acting, exerting their effects within 30 to 60 minutes when taken orally. Others, such as oxazepam and clonazepam take longer to exert their effects on the body. 

Tiazolam and midazolam have shorter effect durations, generally lasting for between 3 and 8 hours. Lorazepam and temazepam last between 11 to 20 hours, depending on clearance, and some, such as diazepam, last for one to three days.

Side Effects of Benzodiazepines

Benzos help to make people feel calm and unencumbered but also entail many side effects.

After taking benzos, you may feel:

  • Sedated
  • Lethargic
  • Unsteady on your feet
  • Weak
  • Vision impairment
  • Breathing problems
  • Dizziness

Withdrawal & Other Risks

Withdrawal symptoms can be serious and even life threatening once an individual decides to stop taking benzodiazepines. These symptoms can include:

  • Body aches
  • Insomnia
  • Heart palpitations
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Delirium
  • Depression
  • Sweating

Benzos can cause rapid physical dependence. Even taking these substances once can cause the brain to want to seek them out again. People who stop using benzos may suddenly experience withdrawal symptoms, including low mood, sleeplessness and agitation. Those who have been using drugs for several months continuously may also experience vomiting, muscle cramps and tremors.

Symptoms of Benzo Abuse

People who misuse these medications over the long term put themselves at risk of serious side effects. These include: 

  • Behavioral changes, including increased risk-taking
  • Dependence on the substance (with withdrawal leading to the severe side effects described above)
  • Delirium, particularly in older adults
  • Trouble remembering new information
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Missing pills or pill bottles

People who overdose on benzos can experience a range of profound and potentially dangerous side effects. These include: 

  • Coma
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion and difficulty thinking
  • Low breathing rate
  • Loss of muscle control

Benzos can be particularly harmful when combined with other substances, such as alcohol or opioids. They are also more dangerous for older patients since their bodies are less able to eliminate the drug. 

How do people use benzos?

Benzos have a long history of medical use. Healthcare professionals use the drugs to reduce anxiety and panic, stop seizures, improve sleep, offer patients treatment under sedation and to relax muscles. It is also an occasional treatment for vomiting and depression. 

Conventionally, benzodiazepines are either used as a one-shot intervention (such as sedation for a dental extraction) or for a brief period – usually two to four weeks. People who abuse benzos take them outside of conventional medical settings and for reasons other than treatment of medical conditions. They also use them for longer than recommended treatment periods and without proper medical diagnosis. However, even when prescribed benzodiazepines in the course of conventional care, individuals can also become addicted. 

Most people take benzos through the mouth, either in pill form, or in a solution. In some cases, people administer benzos via injection, though this usually only happens during severe panic attacks or for sedation purposes. 

Both medical and illicit benzos come in tablet form. Pharmaceutical companies manufacture them in high volumes, increasing overall supply.

Detox from Benzos

Detox from benzos is potentially dangerous and so most patients choose medically-supervised residential care where doctors monitor their progress. How long benzo detox takes depends on how long a patient has been abusing and the half-life of the drug in the bloodstream. Some benzos only take a few hours to halve in concentration, while others take several days. 

Most detox strategies for benzos require slowly reducing the dosage over time. However, individuals should follow the recommendations of medical professionals at all times. 

What to do if someone is abusing benzodiazepines

There are many dangers that can come from withdrawal from benzodiazepines – It is vital you seek professional help if someone is suffering from benzo addiction.

Our dedicated team at Peaks Recovery Centers is here to answer any of the questions you may have, and thoroughly guide you through the steps of admissions and treatment.

Don’t wait. Get in touch with us today to overcome addiction.