Benzo Addiction Causes and Effects

Sunrise Recovery Ranch provides benzo addiction treatment rooted in a science-based, research-supported clinical model to ensure a healthier, more satisfying life, without addiction.

Understanding Benzos

Learn about benzos and substance abuse

Benzodiazepines refer to a group of substances that work by depressing the central nervous system. Benzodiazepines themselves are anxiolytics and include prescription drugs like Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, and Ativan, all of which are frequently used to treat symptoms of anxiety disorders. In addition to anxiety disorders, benzodiazepines, also referred to simply as benzos, are used for such medical purposes as treating migraines, seizures, and other ailments. While these substances can serve an invaluable purpose for many individuals who experience distress from these types of conditions, benzodiazepines are also addictive in nature and therefore have the potential for abuse.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) groups benzodiazepines in a category of substances known as sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics. When individuals begin abusing this substance to the point where they experience clinically significant impairment or distress as a result, they have likely developed sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder. While this disorder, which includes an addiction to benzodiazepines, can be difficult to overcome, there are comprehensive treatment options available that can help individuals successfully overcome their compulsion to abuse benzodiazepines.


Benzo addiction statistics

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that, out of all prescription medications, benzodiazepines are the most commonly used for recreational purposes because they are so easily accessible. Of the adult population in the United States, between 11% and 15% are said to be using some form of benzodiazepine, with between 1% and 2% having abused them for a year or longer.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for benzo addiction

The causes and risks for sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder, including benzodiazepine addiction, are discussed briefly in the following:

Genetic: According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), a person’s genetic background is an especially important factor when looking into the origins of an addiction to anxiolytics like benzodiazepines. If there exists a family history of benzodiazepine abuse and addiction, then an individual’s vulnerability to suffering from similar concerns is increased.

Environmental: The APA reports that, due to the fact that benzodiazepines are pharmaceuticals, their availability to users is the most predominant environmental cause in their widespread use. Additionally, when individuals spend time in an environment where family members or peers are abusing substances, they are more susceptible to engaging in similar behaviors as well.

Risk Factors:

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

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of benzo addiction

The signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine abuse will vary from person to person depending upon the specific type of benzodiazepine that one is abusing, the length of time that he or she has been abusing it, the frequency with which the abuse takes place, and the amount of the drug that is consumed at any given time. Examples of various symptoms may include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

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

Physical symptoms:

  • Unsteady gait
  • Loss of coordination
  • Rapid, involuntary eye movement
  • Drowsiness

Cognitive symptoms:

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

Psychosocial symptoms:

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


Effects of benzo addiction

Allowing an addiction of any kind to persist can lead to the development of significant detriments in an individual’s life. When the chronic abuse of benzodiazepines is allowed to continue without intervention, users are susceptible to experiencing any number of devastating consequences in their personal, social, and occupational lives, as well as in regards to their physical health. Examples of such effects may include, but are not limited to, the following:

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

Co-Occurring Disorders

Benzo addiction and co-occurring disorders

Individuals who suffer from sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder may simultaneously suffer from symptoms of co-occurring mental health conditions as well. The following disorders are known to be diagnosed in individuals who struggle with this condition, which includes benzodiazepine addiction:

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

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of benzo withdrawal & overdose

Effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal: When someone has been abusing benzodiazepines and then ceases his or her use of the substance, he or she will likely experience an unpleasant period of withdrawal. During this withdrawal period, the individual will typically experience impairment in his or her ability to function appropriately. Examples of possible symptoms that may arise can include the following:

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

Effects of benzodiazepine overdose: Whenever someone ingests more of a substance than his or her body is capable of metabolizing, he or she is at risk for overdosing. Overdosing on benzodiazepines should be viewed as a medical emergency and treatment should be sought immediately. Signs that may indicate that someone has overdosed on benzodiazepines can include the following:

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

Thanks to Sunrise Recovery Ranch, my daughter was able to get the lasting recovery she deserved from her addiction and her co-occurring mental health disorder. I am super grateful!

– Michelle A.
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  • California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP)
  • Department of Health Care Services

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