Doctors usually prescribe benzos for short-term use only. Chronic benzo abuse can impact your life and health in many ways, including:
- Depression and anxiety. With chronic abuse, these drugs can cause or increase the person’s underlying anxiety and depression. This side effect creates a vicious cycle, as the person takes more and more of the drug to temporarily ease the depression and anxiety even while the drug itself increases these conditions.
- Homelessness and poverty. Benzo abuse can make it harder to maintain employment, which can ultimately result in homelessness and having no money for food, shelter, clothing, or other necessities.
- Criminal charges and incarceration. People addicted to benzos may resort to criminal activities to pay for their habit.
- Suicidal ideation. Long-term use of benzos can lead to suicidal thoughts and attempted or completed suicide.
- Deteriorating mental and physical health. Over time, people addicted to benzos will suffer worsening mental health issues.
The Definition of Benzos
Benzodiazepines (“benzos”) are psychoactive drugs that have legitimate medical purposes, like relieving insomnia and anxiety disorders, preventing seizures, and aiding in muscle relaxation. Benzos are also one of the most commonly abused drugs. Many people take benzos without a prescription for their intoxicating or sedating effects.
Most people start taking benzos after a doctor prescribes it for them or a family member. If used for the short-term as prescribed, benzos can be effective in treating a variety of symptoms. Unfortunately, long-term use can easily lead to dependence, tolerance, and addiction. Taking higher doses than prescribed can harm the body or even be fatal.
Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Addiction
Long-term misuse of benzos can cause changes to the brain, other aspects of physical health, mental health, and the ability to function.
The physical signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine addiction can include:
- Double vision
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Muscle weakness
- More frequent respiratory infections
- Physical dependence on the drug, needing higher and higher doses
Taking benzos long-term can also cause these cognitive symptoms:
- Problems with memory
- Confusion that increases with continued use of the drug
- Delayed processing time
- Slowed reaction time
- Amnesia about recent events (anterograde amnesia)
Chronic addiction to benzos can cause a person to experience mood swings, depression, hostility, irritability, and increased anxiety. These conditions can have a negative impact on a person’s ability to get along with others and keep a job. Social isolation and unemployment can often result.
Mental Health Disorders That Often Accompany Benzodiazepine Addiction
Many people who chronically abuse benzos also have other mental health disorders, which can make it more difficult to overcome the benzo addiction. Some of these co-occurring disorders are:
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Depressive disorders
- Anxiety disorders
What Can Happen During Benzodiazepine Withdrawal
The body becomes dependent on a steady supply of benzos after a person becomes addicted. Within four hours of a dose, the body can call out for more of the drug. These are called cravings. If a person does not take another dose, these symptoms of benzo withdrawal can happen:
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Aches and pains
- Suicidal thoughts and attempts
How Too Much Benzodiazepine Can Affect a Person
The body quickly becomes dependent on benzos, leading the person to take higher and higher doses. At standard dosage, the drug is usually safe for short periods of time. Benzos can be dangerous when misused, causing these adverse reactions:
- Suppressed breathing
- Respiratory arrest
- Difficulty with coordination
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Impaired judgment
- Misuse of benzodiazepines also carries the risk of overdose. Over 30 percent of overdoses involving opioids involve benzos, reports the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Risk Factors for Benzodiazepine Addiction
People who work in the field of addiction say that, while there is no single cause of addiction, there are risk factors that can make a person more likely to get addicted to benzos or other drugs.
- Genetic component. A person with a first-degree relative, such as a sibling or parent, who has experienced addiction issues is more likely to have similar struggles.
- Environmental aspects. Researchers say there is sometimes a correlation between environmental factors, like growing up around drug abuse, multiple family tragedies, and high levels of stress, and the development of addiction to benzos or other drugs.
- Structural changes in the brain. Long-term use of benzos can alter the physical structure and function of the brain. As a result, the brain cannot work correctly without the drug.