Benzodiazepines, commonly used for the treatment of anxiety disorders, are among the most widely prescribed medications in the U.S. Examples of brand name benzodiazepines include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin. Because rates of prescription are so high, benzodiazepines remain relatively easy to obtain and are one of the most commonly misused prescription drugs in the country. Not only are they highly addictive, but the symptoms associated with benzodiazepine withdrawal can be severe — even life-threatening when left untreated. If you or someone you love has been struggling with benzodiazepine misuse or dependence, there is help available.

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines, also frequently called “benzos,” are a class of prescription medication used to treat moderate and severe anxiety, sleep-related issues like insomnia, seizures, and severe cases of alcohol withdrawal. Benzodiazepines are depressant drugs, meaning they work by slowing down the function of the central nervous system. When this type of medication is prescribed for the treatment of a legitimate mental health disorder or physical illness, it is generally only prescribed to be taken at the onset of symptoms or for a short period of time. This is because benzodiazepines are extremely habit-forming. They are considered a Schedule IV substance under the Controlled Substances Act. This means while they have a high potential for misuse, they are not as addictive as illegal drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine, and other prescription medications like prescription opioids (oxycodone and hydrocodone, for example). They do serve a legitimate medical purpose, and are generally safe to use when used exactly as prescribed. However, a tolerance can occur in a short matter of weeks even when benzodiazepines are taken as directed.

Benzodiazepine Use in the U.S.

The American Psychiatric Association reports, “A total of 30.6 million adults (12.6%) reported past-year benzodiazepine use — 25.3 million (10.4%) as prescribed and 5.3 million (2.2%) misuse. Misuse accounted for 17.2% of overall use. Adults ages 50-64 had the highest prescribed use (12.9%). Those ages 18-25 had the highest misuse (5.2%), and those ages ≥65 had the lowest (.6%).” In many cases, individuals who misused benzodiazepines were found to concurrently misuse another substance, more specifically opioid narcotics or prescription stimulants. The majority of people who obtained benzodiazepine medication without a written prescription either received it or purchased it from a close friend or relative. Adults over the age of 50 were more likely to misuse a prescribed benzodiazepine than younger adults. The predominant reason behind older adult benzodiazepine misuse was to help with sleep, or because a physical tolerance developed over time.

Misuse of a benzodiazepine refers to one or more of the following:

  • Using a benzodiazepine medication in a higher dose than prescribed or more frequently than prescribed.
  • Using a benzodiazepine medication without a prescription written for you by a licensed medical professional.
  • Combining benzodiazepines with other chemical substances, like opioid narcotics, stimulants, or alcohol.

If you or someone close to you has been struggling with a benzodiazepine use disorder of any severity, we are available to help. Contact us today to learn more about the addiction treatment options available in your area.

  1. https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ps.201800321

Benzodiazepine Use Disorder Criteria

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), outlines a list of diagnostic criteria associated with substance use disorders. If you answer “yes” to more than two of the following questions, there is a good chance you would benefit from some degree of treatment. To learn more about the treatment options available to you, contact us today.

  1. Do you often use a higher dose of benzodiazepines than you intended?
  2. Have you attempted to quit benzodiazepine use on your own with limited success?
  3. Do you experience cravings for benzodiazepines throughout the day?
  4. Do you spend a significant amount of time obtaining benzodiazepines, using benzodiazepines, and recovering from the effects of benzodiazepine use?
  5. Have you started to experience problems at work or at school directly related to your benzodiazepine use?
  6. Do you continue to use benzodiazepines despite newly developing or worsening physical and psychological symptoms?
  7. Have you been instructed to cut back on your benzodiazepine use by a licensed healthcare professional?
  8. Do you engage in risk-taking behavior while under the influence of benzodiazepines, like driving while under the influence or mixing benzodiazepines with other substances?
  9. Have you started to neglect activities you previously enjoyed?
  10. Have you developed a physical tolerance, meaning a higher dose of the benzodiazepine is required in order for the desired effects to be achieved?
  11. Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to cut out benzodiazepines or reduce your dose significantly?

If you believe you might be suffering from a benzodiazepine use disorder, there are many available treatment options to choose from. Fortunately, choosing the right option for you and your unique clinical needs is not a task you need to take on alone. Contact us today for more information on the next appropriate steps to take.

Treatment Options for Benzodiazepine Addiction

When it comes to the effective, long-term treatment of benzodiazepine addiction, a multi-staged approach tends to lend itself to higher success rates. This means a program of recovery that includes the following levels of care in succession:

  • Medically monitored detoxification.
  • Inpatient addiction treatment.
  • Partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient treatment.
  • Outpatient treatment.
  • Aftercare.

As is the case with other substance use disorders, the most effective treatment for benzodiazepine addiction incorporates evidence-based therapies, holistic treatment options, and an introduction to peer support programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Whether you were initially prescribed a benzodiazepine medication or you began misusing a medication like Xanax, Valium, or Klonopin recreationally, you are at risk of developing a physical and psychological dependence if you take the drug other than as prescribed for any length of time. If you have attempted to quit entirely or cut back on your dose with limited success, some degree of treatment involvement is likely a good idea. Because the side effects associated with benzodiazepine withdrawal can be life-threatening, entering into a short-term medical detox program is always a recommended first step. If you are ready to reclaim your life and overcome benzodiazepine once and for all, contact us directly.