Many people believe prescription drugs, like benzodiazepines, aren’t as dangerous as illegal drugs, such as heroin or cocaine. The truth is, any kind of drug abuse has the potential to be harmful. Benzos have a high abuse risk, in part because they’re effective at treating certain disorders.

If you’re thinking about using benzos, it’s important to understand the risks. If you’re abusing benzodiazepines, learning about the risks might give you the motivation you need to break free. Check out these facts about benzodiazepines to help you make more informed choices.

1. Benzos Have Legitimate Uses but Are Easy to Abuse

Benzodiazepines are usually prescribed for anxiety and panic disorder, insomnia and similar problems. They calm anxiety by acting on a neurotransmitter called GABA. One of the most frequently asked questions about these drugs is, “Are benzos addictive?” The answer is a definite yes. Doctors prescribe benzos for anxiety and insomnia because the drugs are so effective. This is also the main reason they’re so addictive and why so many people abuse them.

Benzos increase dopamine in your brain, which induces strong feelings of well-being. These drugs calm feelings of anxiety and panic and make you feel good. They do this just as effectively as opioid drugs do. That’s why users have a high risk of addiction and how benzo addiction happens so quickly.

Between 2002 and 2016, there was an eightfold increase in the number of people dying from benzodiazepine overdoses in the U.S. The death rate rose from 0.6 per 100,000 people to 4.4 per 100,000 people.

It’s rare for someone to die from an overdose on benzodiazepines alone. The biggest risk of harm or death comes from mixing benzos with alcohol or other drugs. The combination of benzos with alcohol or opiates, for instance, can lead to a fatal overdose because the central nervous system is suppressed.

This doesn’t mean benzodiazepines are a “safe” drug to be addicted to. There’s still a risk of physical and mental harm. And even though the risk of overdosing is low in comparison to other drugs, it still exists.

2. Benzodiazepines Affect Your Physical and Mental Health

Most doctors agree that benzodiazepines are safe for short-term use but that there’s a risk of harm in the long term.

Physical Side Effects

Benzos affect motor skills. They impair your:

  • Reflexes
  • Coordination
  • Muscle strength
  • Alertness

But people who use benzos often don’t realize they’re less in control than usual. Impairment and lack of awareness can lead to a greater risk of accidents at home and while driving.

Mental Health Side Effects

Benzo use can affect your emotional health too. People who take benzos often have depressive symptoms, especially at higher doses. They may also start to have trouble feeling and expressing emotions. Benzo use can lead to an increased risk of suicide.

Another issue with benzodiazepine abuse is that it causes many of the same problems taking the drugs is supposed to help. In the long term, benzo abuse can lead to anxiety and insomnia, as well as loss of appetite, headaches and muscle weakness. Often this causes people to take even higher doses, which only increases their dependency.

3. Benzo Use Can Cause Cognitive Impairment

There’s more than your physical and mental health at stake, if you’re a benzo user. People who use benzos often start to have memory problems. They forget things they once knew or things they once knew how to do. It’s also common for benzo addicts to have a reduced attention span. There’s some evidence that long-term benzodiazepine use may lead to dementia. Even if the dementia link isn’t confirmed, there’s clear evidence that using these drugs impairs your thinking, memory and motor skills.

This means benzos might be impacting your life in ways you’re not aware of. Is your job performance suffering, and you haven’t noticed yet? Are you forgetting to run errands, or forgetting birthdays and other special occasions? Are you more isolated than you used to be? Think about how much you might have to gain by quitting the drugs.

4. Benzo Users Often Abuse Other Drugs Too

Up to 80% of benzodiazepine addicts use other drugs, such as alcohol or opioids, as well as benzos. Some heroin or alcohol addicts use benzos to enhance the effects of their drug of choice or to make withdrawal symptoms easier to deal with. These people risk becoming addicted to benzos and any drugs they’re already dependent on. They also risk a dangerous overdose because the risk is much higher when combining two or more depressant drugs.

5. Benzodiazepine Addicts Need Medical Supervision to Withdraw Safely

If you’re addicted to benzodiazepines, it’s vital to know that if you stop taking them abruptly, you’re at risk. This is because your brain becomes physically dependent on the drugs when you take them for a long time. Stopping suddenly causes anxiety, irritability and insomnia. More serious symptoms are also possible. Some people have seizures or hallucinations, or develop a psychosis. Some people may even become suicidal.

This is why withdrawal is best done under medical supervision. The Ranch treatment center offers medical monitored detox, in addition to other addiction treatment options, like inpatient drug rehab. Withdrawal and recovery are difficult, but with hard work, we can help you pull through safely and get you free of the chains of your benzo addiction.

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Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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