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Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment

Approximately 20% of adults prescribed benzodiazepines misused their medication and developed physical dependence. Due to these drugs’ calm and soothing effects, many people will become addicted to them, especially when taking them in different ways than prescribed.

Substance use disorder is a complex disease that can adversely impact a person’s relationships and physical and emotional health. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, learn the signs, causes and treatment options to get much-needed relief. 

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” are a class of drugs used to treat various conditions. Physicians commonly prescribe them to treat anxiety, insomnia and seizures. Benzodiazepines are relatively safe when used short-term and as directed by a doctor. However, long-term use of benzodiazepines can lead to drug addiction. Among the most commonly prescribed benzos are Xanax, Klonopin, Valium and Ativan.  

Benzodiazepines function by altering the activity of brain neurons that trigger stress and anxiety responses. Specifically, by enhancing the neurotransmitter GABA, these substances produce a calming effect in the body that can help reduce anxiety symptoms. 

The types of benzos differ in terms of how quickly the body absorbs them, their potency and their uses. Examples of benzodiazepines and some of their brand names include: 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved these drugs to treat conditions like:

  • Insomnia
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder 
  • Seizure disorders like epilepsy

Benzodiazepines might also be prescribed for muscle relaxation, alcohol withdrawal or as an anesthetic before surgeries

Due to their widespread availability, benzodiazepines are commonly misused. Taking these medications in amounts higher than prescribed or more frequently can cause substance use disorder, characterized by an excessive urge to use substances regardless of their financial, social or health consequences. 

Recreational use of benzos can be dangerous and cause serious health problems. It’s important to note that individuals can develop an addiction to these medications even when taking them as prescribed. That’s why it’s essential to understand the signs and symptoms of drug addiction if you suspect someone you know is misusing benzodiazepines. 

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Signs and Symptoms of Benzo Addiction

Anyone taking benzodiazepines is at risk of developing physical dependence within weeks of taking them. Even using these medications as directed can cause benzo addiction withdrawal when abruptly stopping them, resulting in dangerous and sometimes life-threatening symptoms. 

While it may be challenging to identify addiction within its early stages, noting any problems as soon as possible can prevent dangerous health risks. If you believe that you or a loved one is struggling with benzodiazepine addiction, watch for specific behavioral, physical and psychological changes: 

1. Misusing the Medication 

Substance use disorder often begins when a person takes more substances than prescribed or with alcohol or other drugs. Misusing benzodiazepines can become a routine that eventually develops into mental and physical dependence.

When drug tolerance sets in, individuals will often experience an uncontrollable urge to obtain more substances. They may seek refills through their doctor or obtain substances through illegal means. If you’re worried about a loved one, note how often they use benzos. They may have developed substance use disorder if they’re constantly leaving the house to find more drugs or asking for refills earlier than expected. They may lie to get more medication or become secretive about their activities.

Another sign of addiction is misusing the medication by taking it with alcohol or substances like opioids. People addicted to benzos often combine the medicine with other substances to increase its potency after becoming dependent and no longer getting the initial effects. Other signs of benzo misuse include injecting, snorting or smoking the drug.

2. Physical Symptoms 

Benzo addiction is associated with physical health changes, including: 

  • Muscle weakness
  • Unsteadiness
  • Light-headedness 
  • Headaches 
  • Drowsiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Fainting

A person struggling with substance use disorder may appear weak and unsteady when walking. They may have trouble staying awake throughout the day and have issues with their sight. Watch for these unexpected changes in yourself or a loved one if you suspect substance use disorder. 

3. Changes in Daily Habits 

Long-term benzodiazepine use can lead to symptoms like excessive drowsiness and fatigue. You may notice your loved one is avoiding daily tasks and appearing more tired than usual. They may physically move slower or resort to caffeine to keep them awake during the day. These effects can cause school or work performance problems and even disrupt their hygiene and personal schedules.

If you’re worried a loved one may be struggling with substance use disorder, take note of changes in their physical appearance and daily habits. Those experiencing addiction may be so exhausted that they cannot take care of basic needs like bathing or even eating. They may appear unshaven, unkempt or as if they haven’t showered in days. Additionally, they may skip work, school or other obligations to seek drugs, which can adversely impact their careers and cause financial problems. 

If you notice your loved one avoiding daily activities, they may need to seek addiction treatment. 

4. Partaking in Risky Behaviors

Some people with substance use disorder may spend time obtaining money and drugs through illegal means or endangering themselves while taking substances. They may neglect school or work to sustain their addiction and put themselves at risk of dangerous situations. 

Risky behaviors associated with drug addiction include:

  • Driving under the influence of benzos
  • Taking their medication with substances like alcohol or opioids
  • Legal problems arising through the use of benzos
  • A loss of control over how frequently they take substances, increasing their risk of overdose

Another sign might be that they’ve begun lying about where their money has gone or stealing from friends or family members. Take note of any unusual changes to their bank account statements and flag unexplained purchases if possible. 

Additionally, people addicted to substances may lie about how they spend their money or resort to stealing it from you to obtain more drugs. Take note of unusual changes to their bank accounts and watch for other drug-seeking behaviors like selling off prized possessions. 

5. Cognitive Symptoms and Mood Swings

A person struggling with benzodiazepine use may appear confused or have difficulties remembering necessary plans or obligations. They may also find it difficult to concentrate on tasks that require sustained focus. 

Other cognitive issues associated with benzo addiction include:

  • Slowed thought processes
  • Perceptual disturbances
  • Poor concentration
  • Reduced inhibition
  • Memory difficulties
  • Impaired judgment

Additionally, people addicted to benzodiazepines may experience mood swings such as anger, hostility or depression, especially when denied access to substances. As a result, individuals with addictions may withdraw from friends and family members or lose interest in previously enjoyed hobbies and activities. These mood swings may also result in damaged relationships. Those struggling will often continue to use substances without regard to the personal and relationship difficulties it causes. 

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What Causes Benzodiazepine Addiction?

Experts believe that several factors can contribute to substance use disorder. Benzodiazepines are habit-forming sedatives, meaning anyone taking them is at risk of becoming addicted to them. People who chronically take benzos can experience unsafe levels of calm and require more of the drug to experience these desired effects. 

The drug’s wide availability is also a contributing factor. Between 2014 and 2016, 65.9 million patients left their doctors’ offices with benzodiazepine prescriptions. Even with a benzo prescription, individuals can grow tolerant of the medication and experience painful benzo addiction withdrawal. 

The fear of withdrawal is often a reason a person will continue taking benzos. And by combining the drug with substances or taking it for longer than prescribed, people can experience a higher risk of developing an addiction. 

Studies also suggest that co-occurring mental health conditions, genes and external stress can all put one at risk of developing a benzodiazepine addiction: 

Genetics

A person’s vulnerability to addiction has a genetic component. Studies show that those with family members with substance use disorder are more at risk of developing an addiction themselves.

Genetics can alter various factors that may contribute to developing a substance use disorder, including:

  • How an individual responds to stress
  • How likely an individual is to engage in risky behaviors
  • The risk of developing a mental health disorder
  • Whether or not a person finds a drug pleasurable
  • How long drugs remain in the body

While research is ongoing, studies suggest a link between biology and drug addiction. But it’s not all black and white — in the nature versus nurture debate, experts believe a combination of genetics and environment is more likely to contribute to a substance use disorder.  

External Stressors 

Benzodiazepine misuse isn’t limited to those with prescriptions. Young adults might receive pills from friends or grow up surrounded by family members who misuse substances. Studies show that students and teens are at a higher risk of developing Xanax addiction, and rates of benzo addiction are climbing among those aged 18 to 25

These students may use benzos to deal with academic stress due to the drug’s calming, sedative effects and its wide availability. Similarly, those who live a chaotic lifestyle surrounded by community violence, poverty or abusive family members may use substances in an attempt to cope. 

People who have witnessed or experienced trauma may use these substances to numb themselves from the emotional pain. Others may have chronic pain that causes them to turn to benzos in an attempt to relax muscle tension. 

Co-Occurring Mental Health Conditions

Many college students who misuse benzos often have untreated or undiagnosed mental health conditions. Because benzodiazepines can quell symptoms of anxiety disorders, individuals may turn to the medical field to treat this condition. However, if they develop a tolerance and use it in higher doses to achieve relief, they may develop benzo addiction withdrawal and other health risks.

Those with other mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression may turn to benzos for euphoria and an escape from their mental health disorder symptoms. Approximately 9.2 million adults with substance use disorders have a co-occurring condition. 

Short- and Long-Term Effects of Benzo Addiction

When taken short-term as directed by a physician, benzodiazepines can be an effective treatment for several conditions. However, continual misuse of these substances can cause social, economic, physical and mental health problems. That’s why it’s essential to carefully follow your doctor’s orders to avoid misusing these drugs. 

Long-term benzodiazepine use can lead to addiction or obsessive cravings over time. Addiction can cause a person to prioritize using these substances over all aspects of life, from their career to academics and relationships. Chronic misuse is also associated with uncomfortable and often painful withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit. Misuse can also lead to overdose and even death. 

Learn about the short- and long-term effects of benzo use and addiction: 

Initial Side Effects

The initial side effects of taking benzodiazepines may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired coordination or balance issues
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Increased anxiety

The harmful immediate side effects that can arise during benzo use or just after a “high” subsides can include: 

  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Forgetfulness
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue

The above symptoms may worsen the longer the misuse or addiction continues, which is why many physicians will discourage the long-term use of benzodiazepines. 

Withdrawal

A wide range of benzo addiction withdrawal symptoms can occur when someone quits their medication “cold turkey” or without professional medical help. They include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Anxiety and panic
  • Headaches and muscle pain
  • Dizziness
  • Tremors
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Seizures
  • Sleeping problems
  • Sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Gastrointestinal problems

It’s essential to follow a physician’s instructions when stopping the use of benzodiazepines. Tapering slowly through professional help can prevent these painful and unwanted side effects. 

Overdose

Benzos have also been attributed to overdose, especially when taken with alcohol or opioids. In 2020, there were 12,290 overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines — that number is the combined total between overdoses involving just benzos and those involving benzos and an opioid. Since benzodiazepines function by suppressing the central nervous system, when combined with other suppressors, they can lower a person’s heart and breathing rate to dangerous levels.

Benzo toxicity can also occur by taking a higher dosage than a person is used to, which can happen when someone relapses or takes more benzos to reach the initial euphoric effects. An overdose can also be fatal for elderly patients who mistakenly take too much of the drug.

Benzodiazepine overdose symptoms can include: 

  • Extreme sedation or drowsiness
  • Lowered breathing rate
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Loss of muscle control

Anyone who experiences an adverse reaction or overdose after taking benzos will require immediate medical attention. To counteract the toxic effects of benzodiazepines, doctors may administer an antidote called flumazenil to reverse the sedative effect. 

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Long-Term Effects

Benzodiazepines can be challenging to quit due to the cognitive impact they may have on some individuals. These severe reactions often occur when abruptly stopping the medication due to the brain’s new chemical dependency on the drug. Over time, the brain’s neurological network may adjust and be unable to function correctly. 

Substance use disorder can also lead to dangerous outcomes and increased risk-taking, such as driving while taking substances. The effects of long-term benzodiazepine use can include: 

  • Disinhibition
  • Impaired concentration and memory
  • Drowsiness
  • Ataxia, or balance and coordination problems
  • Amnesia
  • Hallucinations
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Feelings of unreality 
  • Motor vehicle crashes
  • Depression
  • Delirium
  • Possible increased risk of dementia

How to Know When It’s Time for Treatment

Benzo addictions can develop without the affected person or their loved ones noticing anything has changed. Addiction can develop even when taking these medications within a doctor’s recommendation. Once their prescription expires or a person starts desiring more potent effects, mood swings and risky behaviors might emerge that indicate a drug addiction. 

If your loved one expresses any of the following behaviors, they may need professional help:

  • Taking another person’s medications for their own use
  • Visiting multiple doctors to acquire various prescriptions
  • Forging prescriptions
  • Spending the majority of their time searching for, using and recovering from benzos
  • Purchasing benzodiazepines illegally, such as through a street dealer
  • Using benzos longer than intended
  • Experiencing cravings and withdrawal symptoms 
  • Needing more of the substance to get the same initial effects
  • Injecting, smoking or snorting pills
  • Unsuccessful attempts to quit benzos
  • Diminished work or school performance 

If you’re unsure whether someone you know has developed an addiction, a doctor can diagnose substance use disorder. This type of disease can significantly impact a person’s life. While it can be challenging to admit that you need help, reaching out for professional treatment as soon as possible can help break the addiction cycle. 

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Types of Benzo Addiction Treatment

While drug addiction may feel like a defeating disease, know that you are not alone in your recovery. Several treatment methods can help, though addressing your addiction both medically and professionally increases your chances of a successful recovery.  

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a highly effective method of treating substance use disorders. Depending on the length and intensity of the addiction, those struggling with benzo use disorder might receive professional care in a hospital, residential or outpatient treatment program. These programs are personalized to meet your unique needs. Behavioral therapies can help clients adjust their behaviors that may contribute to drug misuse while minimizing future relapse chances. 

The goal of rehabilitation centers is to help clients curb drug cravings, reach sobriety and maintain their newfound healthy lifestyle after treatment. 

Benzo addiction treatment options include: 

  • Hospital-based treatment: Partial hospitalization programs can help people struggling with severe medical problems due to addiction. You’ll follow a structured care program while receiving medical detox and medications for any co-occurring mental health disorders. A clinic or hospital can also provide counseling services or behavioral therapy to help individuals overcome addiction. 
  • Residential inpatient care: When you enter an inpatient or residential treatment center, you’ll live with peers who have substance use disorder. You’ll attend group counseling to help each other overcome addiction while receiving one-on-one therapy sessions with highly trained therapists. Residential treatment facilities typically provide nutritious meals, exercise and support groups to meet your ongoing recovery needs. 
  • Withdrawal management: Benzodiazepine dependence can cause uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous symptoms when abruptly quitting the medication. That’s why you may receive detox from medical professionals. You may receive medicines designed to help you safely taper from benzos and reduce withdrawal symptoms through medical detox. This way, you can comfortably attend therapy and other forms of treatment. 
  • Therapy and support groups: A support system is often crucial for individuals recovering from addiction. In a professional setting, you can attend individual and group therapy sessions with highly trained counselors or group leaders. You’ll listen to others’ stories about their recovery journey and provide your own goals and setbacks. Peers and counselors can also offer tips for coping with stress and other addiction triggers.
  • Outpatient services: Outpatient services provide flexibility for people with substance use disorder. These programs allow you to attend addiction treatment during the day and return home at night. As a result, outpatient care can be less intensive than inpatient care, but it’s beneficial for those with other obligations, such as school, work or childcare. Clients might attend one-on-one therapy sessions or attend support groups in outpatient programs.

The Process of Treating Benzo Addiction

Receiving professional and medical treatment for your benzodiazepine addiction can give you a higher chance of healing from and overcoming this disease. Medical professionals can determine the severity of your addiction and simultaneously treat any underlying co-occurring disorders. It’s also essential to undergo safe supervision under professionals who can care for your benzo addiction withdrawal symptoms and ensure a smoother recovery process.

While benzodiazepines may provide temporary, short-term relief, the long-term effects can be damaging mentally, financially and socially. You may even experience life-threatening symptoms with continual benzo misuse. When you decide to seek treatment, you’ll find a highly trained team of physicians, counselors and peers eager to listen and support you through recovery. 

Benzo addiction treatment centers can help you get your life back on track. Recovering from benzodiazepine dependence can take time, though you’ll receive support and ongoing care when you enter a professional treatment center. 

The process of treating a benzo addiction typically includes:

1. Medical Evaluation 

A reputable facility will evaluate an individual to learn critical information about their addiction and medical history. This might include how long the drug has been used, the dosage they consumed, and any other substances they may have taken. A benzo addiction specialist may also ask questions about how your substance use interacts with other areas of life. This way, they can make a careful diagnosis and determine an appropriate case management and treatment route. 

Therapists may also discuss your addiction history and other relevant information about your past. Once the treatment specialists determine the severity of the addiction, they may begin a medical detox. 

2. Medical Detox

The time it takes to withdraw from benzos will depend on the severity of your condition and the type of drug taken. Medical professionals can safely and gradually taper the medication from your body while supervising your condition. Detox can be uncomfortable, but professionals can prescribe medications to alleviate the discomfort. 

3. Treatment Program

When withdrawal symptoms subside, clients will learn the tools to manage their addiction through inpatient, outpatient or partial hospitalization programs. Benzo addiction specialists will evaluate your condition to determine the proper level of care you need and design treatment plans that appropriately address your addiction.

Clients can receive medical detox through these programs while attending therapy sessions or group counseling. Professionals will also work with you to help you heal and recover from the changes your addiction has caused and establish treatment plans for your ongoing health and wellness. 

Professionals might use the following therapeutic methods to support your recovery: 

  • Motivational interviewing: Motivational interviews can help you gain the encouragement needed to beat addiction. Therapists will work with clients to help them envision their life without substances and enter treatment with an optimistic outlook. 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): With this type of behavioral therapy, specialists will help you learn how to cope with stressors and other triggers of drug addiction healthily. You might also receive help for any co-occurring health conditions linked to your substance use disorder. CBT is often an excellent form of ongoing treatment, as you can use the sobriety tools you learn in therapy outside the facility.
  • Support groups: Support groups and group counseling provide a safe environment for discussing your addiction journey with like-minded peers. With the support of others going through the same struggles, you’ll have the courage to work toward sobriety and stay on a healthy path. Counselors can also help you meet goals and provide tips for maintaining sobriety. 

4. Aftercare

Once you complete a residential or intensive inpatient program, outpatient care can be highly beneficial and help you meet your ongoing care needs. You can use the skills you learn in treatment outside the facility, including regular therapy sessions or support groups.

You might use outpatient programs for scheduling flexibility or as an aftercare route. In outpatient care, you can attend individual or group therapy sessions and follow a treatment plan similar to inpatient care. While attending treatment, you’ll also have the opportunity to tend to your home life, work or school obligations as needed. 

While addiction recovery is an ongoing process, these treatment methods can significantly increase your chances of long-term sobriety and wellness. For example, 12-step groups like Narcotics Anonymous involve regularly scheduled meetings to help you maintain your sobriety and prevent relapse. You’ll gain the support of others experiencing similar issues and work to achieve a better quality of life. 

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Benefits of Seeking Treatment for Benzo Addiction

When you decide to seek addiction treatment, you’ll be welcomed by medical professionals eager to support you on your journey. Treatment centers provide encouragement, stability and accountability to help you reach sobriety and restore your mental and physical health. You can experience several benefits of benzo addiction treatment: 

A Safe and Supportive Environment

Treatment facilities provide the support system many need to reach successful sobriety. When you enter a professional treatment setting, you can experience a compassionate and non-judgmental environment for addressing your struggles. The sense of community and belonging from these treatment facilities may be just what you need to help address your addiction and triggers. 

With peers and like-minded individuals on your side, you’ll be surrounded by others on the same journey as you. Over time, you might feel less alone and more compelled to fight for your sobriety. Peer support is also necessary to prevent relapse and maintain an overall healthier and happier lifestyle. You’ll have countless opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals, whether that’s through support groups or group therapy. 

You’ll establish a support network to help you overcome any obstacles you may face along the way. Most importantly, you’ll have support to continue down a healthy path and a chance to help others recover. 

Structure and Accountability

Some who struggle with substance use disorder also live unpredictable lives. The lack of structure can cause these individuals to adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms and make it difficult for them to stay sober. One of the most significant benefits of treatment facilities is the structure and accountability they promote.

Residential treatment programs provide around-the-clock care and supervision to shield you from substances and help you reach sobriety. You’ll follow structured and organized care programs to guide you through this process. These programs emphasize daily routines and productive activities to keep you engaged and more likely to avoid relapse. 

You can also appreciate breaks between your programs to process what you’ve learned and practice implementing your new skills in a safe setting. You’ll replace the unhealthy habits and behaviors that may have contributed to addiction with positive ones that focus on healing. 

Overall Improved Health 

Treatment centers focus on improving overall health and wellness with several productive activities. These hobbies are excellent tools to promote a healthier mind and body post-treatment. 

Substance use can wreak havoc on your physical health, making it more challenging to heal and overcome addiction. Many treatment facilities have gyms and provide nutritionally rich foods. Healthy food and regular exercise can restore your physical and mental health and provide you with the optimism and energy needed for recovery.

Treatment centers also provide recreational activities to support your overall health. These activities might include: 

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Hiking and nature walks
  • Group games
  • Music and art therapy 

The above therapeutic activities can help you gain positive habits as you navigate your healthier lifestyle post-treatment. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Benzo Treatment

We’ll now answer some of the most commonly asked questions we receive about benzodiazepine treatment: 

What Medications Are Used in Treatment?

Medical professionals may administer medications like flumazenil to alleviate benzo addiction withdrawal symptoms and help you recover more comfortably. The medications you are given during withdrawal will depend on the treatment center, other drugs you have taken and other factors in your medical history.

What Are the Most Commonly Misused Benzos?

Some of the most commonly misused benzos include:

How Long Do Benzodiazepines Stay in Your System? 

A urine test can generally detect benzodiazepines for up to a week at a therapeutic dose and up to 30 days if the individual is chronically dosing. The time it takes for benzodiazepines to leave your system varies from person to person and dose to dose, with factors like age, weight, the specific drug ingested and more affecting these timeframes. 

Each class of benzodiazepines varies in its half-life. Xanax can remain in the body for six to 26 hours in a healthy individual. Fast-acting Valium has a half-life between one and three hours.

Find Benzo Addiction Treatment in Chicago, Il, at Gateway Foundation

Benzodiazepine addiction can damage the most meaningful parts of one’s life. Several factors can increase a person’s chances of developing substance use disorder, and the symptoms can adversely affect their mental and physical health. If you or a loved one is struggling with this complex disease, know that you are not alone. Treatment facilities can help you break the cycle of addiction and get your life back on track.

For over 50 years, Gateway Foundation has provided compassionate and high-quality benzo addiction treatment in Illinois. Through our individualized treatment programs, you can receive the care you need in a safe and welcoming environment. We focus on client safety and non-judgmental services to help you through the recovery process. Our benzo addiction treatment centers in Chicago, Illinois, and other programs prioritize sobriety and help clients maintain a balanced lifestyle post-treatment. 

To learn more about our programs, we invite you to contact us today.