Benzodiazepines are a class of sedative medication most commonly prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, seizures and alcohol withdrawal. These drugs work to cause depression of the nerves within the brain, calming the central nervous system and leading to feelings of sedation (marked by drowsiness Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a chemical within the brain that reduces the activity of nerves within the brain – it is an important neurotransmitter, one that benzodiazepines affect directly. When this specific medication is taken the GABA receptors are essentially blocked, and the brain doesn’t send messages to the central nervous system which ultimately works to sedate the individual and potentially prevent seizures or help calm the side effects of alcohol addiction withdrawal.
There are several other uses for benzodiazepines in addition to treating anxiety disorders, seizures and alcohol withdrawal. These drugs can also be used to treat muscle spasms, insomnia or other sleep-related disorders, and even premenstrual syndrome when the symptoms are exceptionally severe. These drugs are known to be habit forming, and can lead to serious substance abuse disorders when taken other than as prescribed. Those who abuse benzodiazepines will quickly develop a tolerance, meaning that more of the drug is required in order to produce the same results. Some common physical side effects of benzodiazepine abuse include drowsiness, memory impairment, changes in appetite leading to weight loss or weight gain, nausea, vomiting, reduced sex drive and constant fatigue. Below are several benzodiazepine addiction facts, which we’ve compiled from various reputable sources. If you are struggling with benzodiazepine abuse or addiction – or you know someone who might be – we are available to help. Our comprehensive program of benzodiazepine addiction treatment has been successful in helping men and women of all ages overcome addiction and go on to lead happy, productive, drug-free lives.
- Combining benzos with other drugs (especially alcohol) can be extremely dangerous. Those who mix benzos and alcohol are susceptible to respiratory depression, often leading to overdose-related death.
- Those who abuse benzos typically develop physical and mental addiction very quickly – within a matter of days. Researchers found that taking a greater amount of benzos than prescribed causes dopamine levels to surge significantly. This sudden surge of feel good chemicals results in euphoria – a feeling that can be very addictive, especially to those struggling with underlying mental health disorders.
- The addictive power of benzodiazepines is similar to the addictive power of heroin. Researchers have found that even one use can result in addiction.
- Researchers have also discovered that as benzos continue to build up within the body, they permanently alter the functioning of receptors within the brain. These changes increase surges of dopamine even further, increasing feelings of euphoria even more. Of course feelings of euphoria are short-lived, and when the drugs exit the body feelings of depression can be overwhelming.
- Doctors have recently become aware of a disturbing trend amongst patients who have been using benzos (even as prescribed) for a number of years. Those who have been on the medication for extended lengths of time are susceptible to lasting cognitive impairment. Memory loss can become permanent, and it is not uncommon for long-time benzo users to forget simple skills that they once knew.
- Those who use benzos regularly are also at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Out of all prescription medications, benzos are associated with the greatest number of untimely deaths.
- Benzos are often referred to as the most widely prescribed drug in the country – and beyond. In 1999, there were roughly $21 billion dollars in sales globally.
Benzodiazepine Addiction Statistics
If you have not experienced the devastation of benzo abuse or addiction firsthand, it can be difficult to wrap your mind around just how emotionally, mentally and physically devastating active addiction can be. Take a look at the statistics listed below, and remember that if you are struggling with a benzo addiction of any kind there is no need for you to become just another statistic. We have developed a personalized and cohesive curriculum of care geared towards helping men and women of all ages overcome benzodiazepine addiction and go on to lead fulfilled, drug-free lives.
- The number of benzo-related emergency room visits increased by 150% from 2004 to 2011.
An estimated 44% of benzo users will eventually develop a physical dependency.
- In recent years, the rates of benzodiazepine prescription amongst men and women of all ages has increased significantly. However, use amongst the elderly has increased the most dramatically. 31.4% of people over the age of 65 are currently taking benzos, while 14.7% of people between the ages of 18 and 35 are taking benzos.
- Individuals who have taken benzos for more than 6 months consistently have an 84% higher chance of developing a neurodegenerative disorder like Alzheimer’s.
- It is estimated that around 60% of benzo users will start to develop a tolerance in between four to six weeks.
- In 2018, drugabuse.gov published a study stating that 12.5% of American adults were currently taking benzos (because they had been prescribed the drug by a medical professional). This comes out to nearly 30.5 million users nationwide. Out of those users, over 17% were actively abusing the drug.
- In 2008, there were nearly 75 million prescriptions for benzos written in the U.S. alone.
It is estimated that up to 18% of Americans have abused tranquilizers of some kind during at least one point in their lives.
- In 2010, there was an estimated “new abuser” total of 186,000 individuals.
- The rates of benzo abuse more than tripled from 1998 to 2008. Although the rates of abuse tripled, the rates of admission into inpatient treatment programs only increased by 11%. This means that a great portion of those struggling with benzo addiction were not receiving the professional help that they needed.
Benzodiazepine Addiction Recovery
Quitting benzos cold turkey is dangerous, and any attempts to quit should be professionally overseen in a medical detox facility. Common symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include profuse sweating, nausea, muscle pain and stiffness, headaches, changes in perception, difficulty concentrating, insomnia and other sleep disturbances, high levels of anxiety, panic attacks, muscle tremors and heart palpitations. The severity of withdrawal symptoms will depend heavily on how long an individual has been abusing the drug and in what amount. For example, someone who has been abusing benzos by taking two or three pills daily for six months will experience less severe symptoms of withdrawal than someone who has been taking ten pills a day for two years. If addiction is severe, withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.
At Guardian IOP we focus on newly sober men and women who have already completed detox and inpatient drug rehab. We help those who are used to living life under the influence of benzodiazepines navigate their new, drug-free lives. We believe that recovery is possible for everyone because we have personally seen even the most “hopeless” cases recover in full. If you would like to learn more about our program or about benzodiazepine addiction in general, give us a call. We are available to answer any questions you might have about the process of recovery. Leaving a life of long-term drug abuse behind can seem overwhelming – even impossible. With our help and support we are confident that you can finally break the vicious cycle of benzodiazepine addiction, and go on to lead the life we know you deserve.
Reviewed for accuracy by:
Anna Marie Barrett LCSW, CYT
Anna earned her Masters of Social Work at Barry University in Miami, FL in 2017 and completed her internship in co-occurring disorders. Anna has a Bachelors of Art in Religious Studies from Naropa University and is a certified yoga and meditation instructor. Anna has received specialized training in somatic counseling with an emphasis on body-centered psychotherapy.