Benzodiazepines Effects & Warning Signs

Benzodiazepines are a class of medications that act as depressants on the central nervous system. Medically, benzodiazepines are frequently used to treat conditions such as anxiety disorders, panic attacks, seizures, migraines, and several other ailments. Unfortunately, benzodiazepines are highly addictive and can rapidly produce both physical and psychological tolerance.

Due to their ability to successfully treat so many different types of medical and mental health conditions, the use of benzodiazepines, which are also commonly referred to as benzos, is widespread. And this widespread use does not only affect adults. Many adolescents and teenagers also abuse benzos as a way to reduce inhibitions and get high.

As individuals continuously use benzos, they develop a tolerance to the substance. This results in their having to take more and more of the substance in order to achieve the desired mood-altering and mind-altering effects. This increased intake can then ultimately result in dependence on the drug and the development of the devastating cycle of addiction. Once such an addiction has developed, it can be extremely difficult to overcome without professional intervention. Fortunately, there are treatment options available that can help put an end to benzodiazepine abuse and addiction.

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Statistics

In the United States, estimates have shown that between 11% and 15% of the adult population are using some form of benzodiazepine. Of that population, between 1% and 2% are said to have been abusing the substance for a period of longer than one year. Due to the fact that their availability is so widespread, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that benzodiazepines are the most commonly used for recreational purposes of all prescription medications.

Causes and Risk Factors for Benzodiazepine Abuse

The causes and risk factors that can impact an individual’s susceptibility to developing an addiction to benzodiazepines are described briefly in the following:

Genetic: As is true for addictions in general, those who have family members with a history of abusing benzodiazepines are more likely to abuse substances themselves than are those who do not have the same type of family history.

Environmental: Environmental factors can play a large role in an individual’s vulnerability to beginning to use and abuse benzodiazepines. For example, people who are exposed to highly stressful or chaotic environments and do not possess healthy coping skills are likely to seek out a means of numbing themselves from the turmoil that surrounds them. In some instances, that numbing agent may be found in the form of benzodiazepines. Additionally, individuals who are surrounded by other people who abuse substances like benzos, whether it be family members, coworkers, or peers, are more susceptible to engaging in the same type of behavior.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of mental illness, including anxiety disorders or bipolar disorder
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Family history of chemical dependency
  • Being the victim of abuse or neglect
  • Experiencing a trauma
  • Being exposed to chronically stressful or chaotic environments
  • Being able to obtain the drug with ease

Signs and Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Abuse

The signs and symptoms that are displayed by individuals who have been abusing benzodiazepines will vary from person to person, but may include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Forging prescriptions
  • Going to various doctors in order to obtain multiple prescriptions for benzodiazepines
  • Isolating oneself from family and friends
  • No longer meeting expectations at school
  • No longer meeting expectations at work
  • No longer participating in activities once interested in

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Headaches
  • Light-headedness
  • Fainting spells
  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Blurred vision

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Delayed thinking processes
  • Memory impairment
  • Reduced inhibition
  • Disturbances in perception
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Confusion

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Periods of emotional detachment
  • Hostility
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Sudden changes in mood
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse

When individuals are struggling with an addiction to benzodiazepines and do not receive the help they need to overcome their destructive habit, there are a number of detrimental consequences that can arise. Examples of effects that can come from untreated and unaddressed benzodiazepine abuse and addiction may include:

  • Drop in academic performance, potentially resulting in disciplinary action
  • Drop in occupational performance, potentially resulting in job loss
  • Decline in cognitive capabilities
  • Lacking emotional reactivity
  • Relationship disturbances
  • Discord arising within the family
  • Worsening of current, or onset of new, mental illness symptoms
  • Beginning to abuse other substances
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Overall decline of one’s mental health
  • Overall decline of one’s physical health

Co-Occurring Disorders

Those who struggle with benzodiazepine abuse and addiction often battle symptoms of other mental health conditions simultaneously. In some instances, individuals may have been prescribed a benzodiazepine medication in order to alleviate the symptoms of mental illness, but then struggled with using it under the physician’s guidelines and a pattern of abuse developed. Examples of some of the most common disorders that have been cited as co-occurring with benzodiazepine abuse and addiction include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Other substance use disorders

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal: When an individual’s body has become dependent on the presence of benzodiazepines, but then that substance is suddenly no longer being used, he or she will likely go through the uncomfortable period of withdrawal. Symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal can include:

  • Tension
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep problems
  • Sensory hypersensitivity
  • Perceptual distortions

Effects of benzodiazepine overdose: When benzodiazepines are consumed in such an excessive amount that an individual’s body is incapable of metabolizing them, he or she will likely experience an overdose. Overdosing on any type of substance, including benzos, should be viewed as a medical emergency and treatment should be sought immediately. Symptoms of benzodiazepine overdose can include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of coordination
  • Depression of the respiratory system
  • Dizziness
  • Sedation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Blurred vision
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