Benzo Addiction

Are Benzos Addictive?

According to the piece ‘Benzodiazepine Addiction & Abuse’, published by the UK Addiction Treatment Centers, Benzodiazepines are prescription drugs that cause long-lasting changes in the brain’s ‘reward system’ when taken for long periods. When a user takes benzodiazepines, they alter the levels of reward-producing natural chemicals, such as dopamine and norepinephrine. Over time, the brain physically adapts so that it is unable to produce these chemicals on its own and becomes reliant on the drugs to feel normal. These effects on the brain can easily lead a person to Benzo Addiction. 

There are well-recognized harms from the long-term use of benzodiazepines. These include dependency, cognitive decline, and falls. [2] 

This depends on the drug taken, but it is very possible to become addicted to the first use. Benzos are drugs that act on neurotransmitters in the brain causing feelings of relaxation. First marketed in the 1950s, Benzos were used as a treatment for anxiety and insomnia. They work by binding to GABA receptors in the brain, which inhibits signals to the central nervous system. How long to get addicted to Benzoz, might you wonder? Benzos have a high potential for abuse and addiction because they cause euphoria or calmness when taken at higher-than-prescribed doses, especially when used recreationally to “chill out.” Benzo addiction is using it daily for months to achieve these feelings of relaxation. Benzos should not be taken without a prescription due to the risk of physical dependence and addiction.

Like any drug, the more you take, the stronger the sensations are. However, more than other drugs, benzodiazepines can be the basis of low-level, functioning addictions, where the user treats the drug as a pharmaceutical medication, keeping the levels constantly ‘topped up.

Anyone who has struggled to stop using benzodiazepines will be aware of the serious effects they have on the mind and body. The drugs are designed to have an effect on almost every part of the brain – that is why they are so effective as anti-anxiety medication. But it is also why they can be so difficult to quit. [1]

Benzo Addiction Effects on the Brain

Benzo Addiction Treatment

Benzodiazepines work by literally slowing down the functioning of the brain. They do this by enhancing the actions of a particular chemical in the brain called GABA, or gamma-amino-butyric acid. GABA is a very important part of our brain’s natural sedating mechanism – it sends messages from brain cell to brain cell telling them to slow down or stop firing completely. Normally, it is released in times of high stress and acts as a leveler, allowing us to continue what we are doing without being overcome by anxiety. But when GABA levels are artificially increased by Benzodiazepines, it can lead to a number of effects, from slurring words to total blackouts.

One of the effects of GABA is the suppression of important natural ‘reward’ chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine. This, in turn, causes the increased release of a chemical called dopamine, which causes feelings of calm and contentment. However, when benzodiazepines are used for a long period, the brain responds by reducing the amount of these neurotransmitters it naturally produces, leading to a reliance on the drugs just to feel ‘normal’. [1]

Benzo Addiction Symptoms

As stated by the American Addiction Centers, in the piece ‘Benzodiazepine Addiction: Symptoms & Signs of Dependence’, although benzodiazepines have a calming effect, they are highly addictive, and a person who abuses them faces a host of symptoms. Some of the physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms of benzodiazepine abuse include: [3]

  • Weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Poor judgment or thinking
  • Doctor shopping
  • Asking friends, family, colleagues, and/or classmates for their benzodiazepine pills
  • Wanting to cut back on the volume of abuse but not being able to do so
  • Mood changes
  • Risk-taking behaviors, such as driving after abusing benzodiazepines
  • Combining benzodiazepines with alcohol or other drugs

If a person chronically abuses benzodiazepines, the following symptoms may emerge:

  • Anorexia
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Memory problems

Due to the natural process of building a tolerance, over time, a person will require a higher volume of benzodiazepines to reach the familiar high. When the abuse stops or the familiar dose is significantly cut down, withdrawal symptoms will emerge. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be particularly dangerous and even life-threatening. Undergoing medical detox under the direct care of a doctor is generally advised.

Benzo Addiction Withdrawal

Because the benzodiazepine withdrawal process can prove deadly, it’s important for anyone who’s potentially dependent or addicted to consult medical professionals or visit a medical detox facility before they begin to experience withdrawal. 

On the report of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, medical professionals can prescribe medications to manage a withdrawal, oversee the withdrawal and intervene if anything goes awry. They can also provide a safe environment for withdrawal-free from the temptation of mind-altering substances that might complicate or delay the process of quitting. [4]

Ironically, the withdrawal symptoms can bring about the same side effects that drove someone to medicate in the first place. This is because the body and mind have adapted to the presence of the drug, and the withdrawal symptoms are the body’s adjustment process to the absence of those chemicals. The body and mind have to reacclimate to their new realities, where the brain doesn’t naturally produce as many chemicals as the benzodiazepine produced. [4]

Benzo addiction
Medical professionals can prescribe medications to manage a withdrawal, oversee the withdrawal and intervene if anything goes awry.

The most commonly reported withdrawal symptoms for benzodiazepines are:

  • Body aches
  • Muscle spasms
  • Hyperventilation
  • Sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Trouble concentrating

Benzo Addiction Treatment

Addiction is classed as any pattern of behavior that causes negative consequences for the individual. So if the use of benzodiazepines has started to affect the everyday life of a person in a negative way, it is likely that they have an addiction. If this is the case, it is imperative to get treatment in order to regain control of your life.

According to the UK Addiction Treatment Centers, treatment may include a program of detoxification and rehabilitation. The person may or may not be prescribed a substitute drug to help with the withdrawal from the medication. Included may be a combination of the following treatments and therapies:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Contingency management
  • Group support and counselling
  • 12-step work
  • Relapse prevention strategies

To overcome an addiction to benzodiazepines, a detox will likely be necessary; this could potentially lead to a range of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. It is not recommended for a person suffering from Benzo Addiction to stop taking the medication abruptly as this can lead to severe symptoms.

During a detox, experienced staff will ensure you are comfortable and safe at all times and will monitor your progress while administering appropriate treatment. You may be advised to reduce your benzodiazepine consumption over the course of a few days until you are able to quit completely. You might be provided with a substitute drug to help prevent the worst symptoms from occurring.

Because of the severity of benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms, users generally start their recovery by gradually reducing their dosage. For most users, this can be done over the course of a few weeks, though for those on a high dosage the process may take longer. This is designed to wean the client off the drug as safely and comfortably as possible. Since the effects of the withdrawal can be painful and traumatic even when the dosage is tapered off, the client may be prescribed anti-anxiety and anticonvulsant medication to help them through the process. [1]

Benzo Addiction
The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology suggests that one of the most effective tools for this is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Detox is only the first part of the recovery process; for long-term success, treatment must focus on addressing the mental damage caused by benzo’s abuse, as well as the emotional difficulties that led to drug use in the first place. The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology suggests that one of the most effective tools for this is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), an active talking therapy designed to address difficulties and retrain the brain from destructive habits. [5]

CBT itself should be assisted by group therapy, in which people in recovery from benzo addiction work through difficulties together. A considerable amount of research shows that group therapy significantly increases the chances of recovery from any addiction.

Reclaim your life from Benzo Addiction

Benzo Addiction is a condition that can cause major health, social, and economic problems that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up Treatment Center can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from Benzo Addiction with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.

Sources

[1] ‘Benzodiazepine Addiction & Abuse’ – UK Addiction Treatment Centers (Ukat.co.uk)

[2] Brett, J., & Murnion, B. (2015). Management of benzodiazepine misuse and dependence. Australian prescriber. (Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

[3] Benzodiazepine Dependence, What Causes Benzo Addiction? Top Rated Benzo Addiction Treatment – We Level Up NJ Rehab

[4] The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology