Benzo Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Often times the signs of benzo addiction can be difficult to identify. One of the most important steps in the recovery journey is understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of benzo addiction.

Understanding Benzos

Learn about benzos and substance abuse

Benzodiazepines, more commonly known as “benzos”, are medications that are extremely effective at depressing the central nervous system – an effect that is oftentimes deemed clinically necessary in those who grapple with issues including anxiety disorders, migraines, and seizures. These medications, which are also known as anxiolytics, can be life-changing in a positive manner for some, however they can be easily abused and lead to the development of addiction.

According to the fifth and most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), benzos are categorized as sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics. When these substances are abused enough, an individual can begin experiencing significant impairment and/or distress. While an addiction to benzos, which is clinically referred to as sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder, can be difficult to defeat, there are treatment options available, such as a clinic or a rehab center, that can help individuals make their benzo addiction a thing of the past.


Benzo addiction statistics

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that benzos are the most commonly used prescription medications for recreational use, specifically because of their availability. Between 11% and 15% of the adult population of the United States are said to be abusing a benzo, with 1%-2% having abused it for one year or more.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for benzo addiction

The causes and risk factors for developing an addiction to benzodiazepines can include genetic and environmental factors. Consider the following:

Genetic: The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that one’s genetic makeup can serve as a factor in determining if he or she is more or less likely to develop an addiction to a substance like a benzo. If an individual has a family history of addiction, for example, he or she is then more likely to also develop an addiction.

Environmental: The APA also states that since benzos are pharmaceuticals, their availability serves as the top environmental cause for addiction. Also, when an individual spends time with others who abuse this substance, he or she becomes more likely to also begin abusing as well.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Being around other people who abuse drugs and/or alcohol
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Suffering from a mental health condition
  • Ease of availability with which one can obtain benzodiazepines
  • Suffering from a medical condition for which benzodiazepines are prescribed to treat
  • Having an impulsive temperament
  • Being female (The APA notes that females are at a greater risk for abusing prescription drugs than males are)
  • Beginning to abuse substances at an early age

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of benzo addiction

The signs and symptoms that an individual is addicted to benzos will vary from user to user based on the kind of benzo that is being abused, how long the abuse has been going on for, how much of the benzo is being consumed, and the frequency in which the abuse is happening. Some common symptoms of abuse can include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Repeated absences from work
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home
  • Participation in recreational activities that one once enjoyed declines
  • Limiting contact with friends and family members
  • Disinhibited behavior
  • Slurred speech
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at work
  • Visiting multiple doctors in order to obtain multiple prescriptions for benzodiazepines

Physical symptoms:

  • Rapid, involuntary eye movement
  • Unsteady gait
  • Incoordination
  • Drowsiness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Insensibility
  • Memory impairment
  • Attention difficulties
  • Cravings for continued use

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Euphoria
  • Anxiety
  • Dysregulation of emotions
  • Periods of emotional detachment
  • Depression


Effects of benzo addiction

If an addiction of any kind, including benzo addiction, continues, it can lead to the development of negative life circumstances. When treatment for the consistent abuse of benzos is not obtained either through a clinic, a center, or a rehab, individuals who are addicted to these substances can experience painful effects within their social, personal, and work lives, as well as on their physical health. Some of these effects can include the following:

  • Decline in cognition
  • Onset of new, or worsening of current, symptoms of other mental health conditions
  • Respiratory depression
  • Overall decline in physical health
  • Injuries and accidents that result from participating in high-risk behaviors while intoxicated
  • Hypotension
  • Drop in occupational performance, potentially resulting in demotion job loss
  • Disturbances within interpersonal relationships
  • Marital discord
  • Financial strain resulting from unemployment
  • Onset of severe depression, which can lead to suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors
  • Beginning to abuse other substances

Co-Occurring Disorders

Benzo addiction and co-occurring disorders

Individuals struggling with sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder might also grapple with symptoms related to co-occurring mental health issues at the same time. Some of the most common conditions one might experience can include the following:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Tobacco use disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Alcohol use disorder

Withdrawal and Overdose

Learn about benzo withdrawal and overdose

Effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal: When an individual has been abusing benzos and then stops his or her abuse, he or she will likely experience withdrawal. During withdrawal, a user can suffer impairment within all areas of his or her functioning. Some symptoms that can develop can occur:

  • Nausea
  • Increased pulse rate
  • Anxiety
  • Brief visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations
  • Hand tremors
  • Sweating
  • Grand mal seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Insomnia

Effects of benzodiazepine overdose: When an individual consumes more of a substance than his or her body is capable of metabolizing, he or she can experience an overdose. An overdose on benzos should be treated as a medical emergency and attention should be sought right away. Signs that an individual has overdosed on benzodiazepines can include:

  • Respiratory system depression
  • Extreme dizziness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sedation
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of coordination
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