October 10th, 2023
Benzodiazepines are a large group of pharmaceutical drugs, with twelve million prescriptions issued per year; a staggering 1.5 million people deal with benzodiazepine addiction in the UK, stemming from misusing prescription drugs such as Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan and Ambien. If you are dealing with benzodiazepine addiction, you should know you are not alone. The addictive nature of benzodiazepine drugs is constantly catching people, from all walks of life, off guard and inducing a full-blown addiction before too long, making it essential to never underestimate the dangers posed by pharmaceutical drugs.
On this page, we will define what benzodiazepine addiction is, how it develops, the health risks involved, warning signs and symptoms to look out for and identify the best first step of recovery.
What are benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are prescription drugs used to treat a number of medical conditions. A doctor may prescribe benzodiazepines for anxiety, panic disorders and insomnia. In the UK, benzodiazepines are often recreationally consumed as they have a calming and pleasurable effect, leading to abuse and addiction.
What is benzodiazepine addiction?
Benzodiazepines are prescribed to alleviate the insufficient production of GABA, a brain chemical.
When benzodiazepines enter your brain, they stimulate GABA releasing neurotransmitters. Once stimulated, you will experience feelings of contentment, relaxation and wellbeing. These pleasurable feelings encourage you to keep consuming benzodiazepines, even when you no longer require their medical qualities.
When abusing benzodiazepines, your brain develops a dependency on the drug to stimulate your neurotransmitters. This is a slippery slope which can lead to benzodiazepine addiction.
The development of benzodiazepine addiction
Benzodiazepine addiction primarily occurs when you self-medicate. More often than not, this stems from underlying issues that have been left undealt with, such as grief, mental health problems, trauma or financial concern. Benzodiazepine abuse can lead to addiction; you will naturally build a tolerance to any drug if you continue to use it, responsibly or not, over a long period. This can creep in slowly, and many people do not realise that addiction is taking hold until it has had a significant impact. Unfortunately, most people don’t realise what constitutes prescription drug abuse, making benzodiazepine addiction common amongst people from all walks of life.
Taking more benzodiazepines than prescribed is classed as abuse, as is taking someone else’s prescription. It is crucial to understand benzodiazepines can only be used for short periods. When the effects start to diminish, addiction can easily creep in. If this occurs, it is of utmost importance to consult your medical professional before increasing your dosage.
Benzodiazepine dependence versus benzodiazepine addiction
Addiction causes drug-seeking behaviour and a compulsion to use the drug even when knowing that doing so will cause negative side effects. Benzodiazepine addiction is the inability to stop using the drug despite numerous attempts.
Physical dependence can occur with long-term benzodiazepine use, even when the drug is taken as prescribed. You will feel the need to consume benzodiazepines to function as per usual.
Benzodiazepine health risks
Although benzodiazepines can be effective for the short-term treatment of conditions such as seizures, panic attacks, anxiety, and alcohol withdrawal, they come with several risks, not least of which is the potential for overdose.
Benzodiazepine overdose occurs quite often as there is a strong potential for abuse due to its addictive nature. A tolerance to the effects of these drugs tends to happen quite quickly, with many people increasing their dosage to feel satisfied. However, taking more benzodiazepines than advised by a doctor can lead to an overdose, particularly combining it with another sedative substance such as alcohol or opiates. If you inject benzodiazepines, you increase the risk of overdose dramatically.
Signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine overdose include:
- Blurred vision
- Extreme dizziness
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the above symptoms, we urge you to contact us for support and guidance.
Short-term health impact of benzodiazepine abuse
If you are taking more benzodiazepines than you should, in the short term, you may experience mental confusion and feelings of anxiety.
Other short-term symptoms of abusing benzodiazepines include:
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Lack coordination
- Difficulty breathing
Long-term health impact of benzodiazepine abuse
Long-term abuse of benzodiazepines can result in problems with cognitive functioning. As the brain becomes dependent on the drug, it almost ‘rewires’ itself around it and subsequently, how it transfers and processes information is altered.
Chronic benzodiazepine use can cause the brain to not function properly without the drug. Over time, chronic abuse of “benzos” can lead to an increased risk of memory loss and the onset of dementia.
The following are long-term symptoms of abusing benzodiazepines:
- Memory impairment
- Emotional blunting
- Reduced coping mechanisms
- Low blood pressure
- Suicidal thoughts
Spotting the signs of benzodiazepine addiction
Not everyone who abuses benzodiazepines will develop an addiction, but the risk will be greater. When a physical dependence does occur, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms when in need of the medication. You might find that these symptoms subside when you take your usual dose.
If you are addicted to benzodiazepines, you will experience an overwhelming need to continue using these drugs, even if you know that doing so is likely to cause harm to yourself and others.
Below we list some of the signs of benzodiazepine dependence and addiction to be aware of:
- An intense craving for the drug whenever the effects wear off.
- The presence of withdrawal symptoms when the effects of the drug wear off.
- A feeling that the medication is not having the same effect that it once did; is known as an increased tolerance.
- Being unable to make good decisions. You might be taking unnecessary risks while under the influence of the medication.
- Exhibiting drug-seeking behaviour. You might be visiting more than one doctor to get repeat prescriptions, or you may be buying benzodiazepines elsewhere.
- Neglecting your responsibilities at home or work, as benzodiazepine use takes priority.
DID YOU KNOW?…
The Royal College of Psychiatrists states that forty per cent of people who take benzodiazepines for longer than six weeks will go on to develop a benzodiazepine addiction. It also recommends that benzodiazepines should be taken for no longer than four weeks.
The British Medical Association (BMA) states that 12 million benzodiazepine prescriptions were issued in 2015 at the cost of more than £50 million.
The BMA also said that a recent survey registered in Bradford showed that there are between 265,000 and 295,000 patients aged between 16 and 80 in the UK taking benzodiazepines and Z-drugs (Zolpidem, zopiclone, and zaleplon) for longer than a year.
The same report found that 35% of all patients taking benzodiazepines have been taking them for at least twelve times longer than the recommended 2-4 weeks as per the British National Formulary (BNF).
How to handle benzodiazepine addiction
Benzo addiction is difficult to overcome, and you will need all the support available to help you through recovery. It is essential to acknowledge that clearing your system of benzos is the first step to making a full recovery. This can be achieved with benzodiazepine detox, which will help you regain your health and strength.
UKAT offers a safe and comfortable setting to overcome addiction with the right psychological tools and skills. Read more about our approach to benzodiazepine rehab and how we can support you through your recovery journey.
Frequently asked questions
Are benzodiazepines safe?
You should always consume any drug carefully, whether that is pharmaceutical or illicit drugs, as they all present a great health risk. If you vigilantly follow the doctors’ instructions, abide by your prescribed dosage and never consume it for a long period, benzodiazepine consumption can be safe.
How can I manage a benzodiazepine addiction?
Benzodiazepine addiction is all-consuming and will dictate your thoughts and actions, making it dangerous to manage alone. Benzodiazepine addiction will have you acting out of character, continuously placing yourself at risk. When you have decided to take control, you will require professional medical help to secure your mental and physical health.
Where can I get help for benzodiazepine addiction?
Fortunately, you have the best possible chance of making a successful recovery right here in the UK. Blessed with experienced professional medical staff, the facilities in the UK offer safe and comfortable treatment. UKAT has helped thousands of people overcome benzodiazepine addiction and continues to do so today, read on to find the best rehab centre for you