An addiction to benzodiazepines is a serious illness of the brain that can destroy the life of the abuser. Because it is difficult to tell when benzo use has progressed to abuse, it is important to be aware of the symptoms and warning signs. Knowing how to spot the dangers could prevent you from developing a full-blown addiction that will almost certainly require professional help for you to get your life back on track.
Most people who use benzodiazepines do so because they have been prescribed this medication for a medical condition such as anxiety, seizures, panic disorder, or insomnia. However, as benzodiazepines are highly addictive, they are prone to being abused and there are some individuals who take them for recreational purposes.
Abuse of benzodiazepines means taking more of the medication than advised to by your doctor or taking them in a manner that was not prescribed. So, if you are taking these drugs to change the way that you feel and not to treat a medical condition, this is classed as abuse. Likewise, if you are taking higher doses of benzodiazepines or taking it at increasingly frequent intervals, this is also classed as abuse.
It is important to be alert to the symptoms and warning signs of benzodiazepine abuse, whether this is in yourself or in others. The following paragraphs should give you an idea of what to look out for.
How Do Benzodiazepines Work?
The brain is made up of billions of neurons, or nerve cells, and it directs everything you do by passing electrical impulses from one neuron to another. In order for these electrical impulses to pass from one to the other though, they must travel the length of one neuron and then cross a gap known as a synapse to reach the next. To facilitate this process, the brain releases specific chemicals called neurotransmitters.
One such neurotransmitter is known as GABA (gamma amino-butyric acid). GABA is responsible for keeping you calm and relaxed, but it is thought that an imbalance of chemicals in the brain is responsible for feelings of panic and unease. By stimulating production of GABA, benzodiazepines help to make the user feel more relaxed and relieve the symptoms of anxiety.
Benzodiazepine Abuse Warnings
One of the first signs of benzodiazepine abuse is a need to use more of the drug to achieve the same level of satisfaction. This occurs due to an increased tolerance to the effects of the benzodiazepines. When the brain gets used to the presence of the medication, it adjusts its production of ‘feel-good’ chemicals.
This could have the effect of making you feel as though the medication is not working as well as it used to, so you might then start increasing the dosage. It could be the case that you start taking higher doses at each interval or taking the medication more often than prescribed, ultimately meaning that you are taking more than you should each day.
If you are taking more benzodiazepines than advised by a medical professional, you might begin to notice symptoms such as:
- slurred speech
- lack of coordination
- blurred vision
- trouble breathing.
Benzodiazepine Abuse Causes
It can be very difficult to pinpoint an exact cause of benzodiazepine abuse as there are so many different reasons why this medication is abused. Although there is certainly evidence to suggest that substance abuse and addiction can run in families, there are numerous other factors that can result in abuse of the medication.
For example, if you have experienced a traumatic experience, you may be more likely to abuse mood-altering substances such as benzodiazepines to help relieve painful memories. Other factors such as peer pressure, unemployment, and poor quality of life can all contribute directly or indirectly to substance abuse.
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Benzos Warning Signs and Dangers
Although benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed by medical professionals, the general recommendation from NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) is that they should only be prescribed for short-term use (2 to 4 weeks). Longer use of these drugs can lead to an increased tolerance and a subsequent physical dependence.
Abuse of benzos can result in overdose as well, which although rarely fatal when the drug is taken by itself, can lead to devastating consequences when combined with other substances such as alcohol or opiate drugs (both of which are central nervous system depressants).
Other dangers include:
- Severe slowdown in breathing
- Drastic decrease in heart rate
- Extreme fatigue
- Uncontrollable sleepiness
The Signs of Benzodiazepine Dependence and Addiction
Not everyone who abuses benzodiazepines will develop an addiction, but the risk is obviously going to 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 probably feel an overwhelming need to continue using these drugs, even knowing when doing so is likely to cause harm to yourself and/or 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; this 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 at work. You may be isolating yourself from others and you might be performing badly at work; this can lead to relationship problems.
- Struggling with finances. As you spend increasingly more time under the influence of the medication, your inability to work properly could be affecting your income. You might also be spending more money sourcing the medication you crave, which can leave you in financial difficulty.
Signs of Chronic Long-Term Abuse of Benzodiazepines
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 the way in which 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.
Other signs of chronic long-term abuse of benzodiazepine abuse include:
- low blood pressure
- suicidal thoughts
- severe depression.
Signs of Short-Term Abuse of Benzos
If you are taking more benzodiazepines than you should, in the short term you may experience mental confusion and feelings of anxiety. You could become:
- Slightly anxious
If you or a loved one are experiencing these symptoms, you should consider discussing them with your doctor. It is possible that a slight change in the prescription dosages or schedule could noticeably improve your very everyday life.
Although benzodiazepines can be extremely effective for the short-term treatment of conditions such as seizures, panic attacks, anxiety, and alcohol withdrawal, they do come with a number of 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 their addictive nature. A tolerance to the effects of these drugs tends to happen quite quickly as well, with many people increasing their dosage to feel satisfied. However, taking more benzodiazepines than advised by a doctor can lead to an overdose, particularly if the drug is combined with another sedative substance such as alcohol or opiates.
Benzodiazepine Overdose Symptoms
Not everyone experiences the same symptoms when they overdose on benzodiazepines, but the following could be a sign that you or someone you care for has taken too much:
Benzodiazepine Overdose Treatment
A benzodiazepine overdose should be treated as a medical emergency because of the elevated risk of complications. While a fatal overdose is rare when benzodiazepines are taken by themselves, there is a risk of severe complications, such as muscle damage, brain damage, pneumonia, and death, when the drug is combined with other chemical substances.
Treatment for a benzodiazepine overdose typically involves intravenous fluids, medication to reverse the effects, and respiratory support. If medication is used, it will typically be a benzodiazepine receptor antagonise that helps to reverse the sedative effects. It works by helping those who are unconscious to come around again, at the same time reducing the chance of coma occurring.
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unconscious to come around again, at the same time reducing the chance of coma occurring.
Using benzodiazepines for longer than four weeks can lead to physical and psychological dependence. It is likely, therefore, that anybody trying to quit their medication after prolonged use will notice a few withdrawal symptoms.
As benzodiazepine withdrawal can be complicated, it is recommended that the drug is tapered off over a period of weeks to reduce the effects of said withdrawal. For those who have been chronically abusing benzodiazepines, withdrawal will usually take much longer, but this is to be expected. In some cases, a substitute drug is given to lessen the impact of withdrawal.
Symptoms of Withdrawal from Benzodiazepines
Abrupt cessation of benzodiazepines can result in life-threatening symptoms in some instances, so it is never really recommended. Nevertheless, even with reduced doses of the drug, withdrawal symptoms can, and probably will, occur. These can include:
- panic attacks
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal and Detox
To overcome an addiction to benzodiazepines, it will be necessary to undergo a programme of detoxification. It is highly recommended that this take place in a supervised facility where the effects of withdrawal can be effectively managed.
How long you have been taking benzodiazepines will determine the severity of the symptoms you experience during withdrawal, as will the amount of the drug you were using. The type of benzo will also have an impact on how quickly symptoms appear. Short-acting benzodiazepines usually cause intense symptoms that come on within six to eight hours of last use. For longer-acting versions, symptoms might not appear until 24-48 hours, but they tend to be less intense.
Benzodiazepine Treatment and Rehab
While a detox will help you to break the cycle of benzodiazepine abuse and addiction, it is unlikely to be sufficient if your aim is permanent sobriety. For that you will need to continue with a programme of rehabilitation, which can take place in either an inpatient or outpatient facility, depending on your preference.
You might be able to combine detox and rehabilitation in a private clinic to ensure continuity of care. Inpatient programmes are often seen as the more preferable choice because these provide a secure and distraction-free environment in which you can focus on your recovery and nothing else.
Treatment for a benzodiazepine will involve a series of counselling and therapy sessions, either on a one-to-one basis with a counsellor or therapist or in a group setting with other patients and one or more counsellors.
Frequently Asked Questions
When to seek medical care?
A benzodiazepine addiction is a serious problem that usually requires medical attention. If you are worried that you may have developed an addiction, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. As with all addictions, this illness will not go away by itself if you do nothing.
If you are worried about someone else and are concerned that he or she may have taken too much medication, it is vital that you seek medical care immediately as your loved one may require urgent treatment for a benzodiazepine overdose.
Getting help for benzodiazepine addiction
If you believe you might have developed an addiction to benzodiazepines, you can speak to your doctor who should be able to refer you to your local treatment service. You can also contact us here at UKAT about how we can help you to overcome addiction. We have a number of treatment facilities across the UK where you can access detox and rehabilitation programmes that will help you get your life back on track.
How do I know if someone is on benzos?
It can be hard to tell when someone is on benzos if they do not tell you. Nonetheless, there are certain signs of drug abuse that you can look out for, including changes to behaviour. If someone you care about has become secretive and withdrawn and you suspect that it could be due to substance abuse, you should look out for the symptoms of benzodiazepine abuse as described above.
When to go for rehab for benzodiazepine addiction?
If you believe you have an addiction to benzodiazepines, it is important to act as soon as possible. Quitting the drug is obviously important, but this should not be done abruptly due to the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms.
If you have a strong compulsion to use benzodiazepines despite knowing that it will cause negative consequences, you are likely to have an addiction that will require both detox and rehabilitation. Call us today for information on how we can help you.