Benzodiazepine Addiction and Treatment
Benzodiazepines are one of the most widely prescribed medications in the world. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), benzodiazepines are used by an estimated 30.5 million adults in the United States, or roughly 12.5% of the adult population. When misused or taken for a long period, benzodiazepines can lead to physical dependence and addiction.
Stopping benzodiazepines abruptly after becoming dependent on these drugs can be dangerous and risky, especially since grand mal seizures are a potential withdrawal symptom. However, those who choose to withdraw from benzodiazepines in an addiction treatment setting can experience a safe and comfortable recovery.
Here’s more about benzodiazepines and their withdrawal symptoms, and how our team at Haven New England can help patients experience long-term recovery from this substance use disorder.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants that are commonly prescribed to treat insomnia, anxiety, and seizures. These drugs work by slowing down the central nervous system to help patients experience a sense of calm and relaxation and fall asleep more easily. When used for longer than a few weeks, benzodiazepines can often lead to tolerance and physical dependence.
Of the millions of benzodiazepine users in the U.S., about 17.1% misuse these drugs. The NIDA reports that in 2017, there were 11,537 overdose deaths caused by benzodiazepines — 85% of which also involved an opioid. Many people in the U.S. have prescriptions for both benzodiazepines and opioids but remain unaware that combining these drugs can increase the risk for an overdose.
Signs of Benzodiazepine Addiction
Fewer than 2% of benzodiazepine users in the U.S. suffer from benzodiazepine addiction, reports the NIDA. However, it’s possible to be physically dependent on this type of medication without being psychologically addicted to it.
Physical dependence on benzodiazepines is characterized by the presence of withdrawal symptoms when suddenly discontinuing these drugs. In comparison, addiction is more behavioral and characterized by compulsive drug seeking and continued drug use despite harmful consequences.
Signs of benzodiazepine addiction may include:
- Inability to control benzodiazepine use
- Spending a great deal of time obtaining benzodiazepines, using them, and recovering from the effects
- Decreased performance at work or school
- Spending more time alone, in isolation
- Strong cravings and urges to use benzodiazepines
- Continuing to use benzodiazepines despite knowing they are causing new or worsened health problems
- Higher tolerance, characterized by needing higher doses of benzodiazepines to achieve desired effects
- Doctor shopping or visiting multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions
- Sudden changes in mood
- Periods of drowsiness and sedation
- Slurred speech
Many people who struggle with benzodiazepine addiction will often prioritize drug use above all other important obligations and responsibilities — including those related to career, education, and family.
Health Risks Associated With Benzodiazepine Addiction
Benzodiazepines are typically only prescribed for one to two weeks to reduce anxiety and improve sleep disturbances. When used beyond two weeks, benzodiazepines can increase the risk for serious health problems, including dependence and addiction.
According to a study published in the Australian Prescriber, health risks associated with benzodiazepine addiction include driving impairment, cognitive decline, falls, and dementia. Long-term use of benzodiazepines can increase the risk for death related to withdrawal and overdose. Alprazolam is shown to have greater toxicity and higher rates of overdose and death compared with all other benzodiazepines.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms
Anyone who uses benzodiazepines for longer than two weeks is likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping these drugs abruptly.
According to the World Health Organization, withdrawal symptoms from short-acting benzodiazepines (e.g., alprazolam, oxazepam, temazepam) usually begin one to two days after the last dose and continue for between two and four weeks. Symptoms from long-acting benzodiazepines (e.g., diazepam, nitrazepam) usually begin two to seven days after the last dose and continue for two to eight weeks or longer in some cases.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Overactive reflexes
- Poor memory and concentration
- Muscle aches and tension
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased body temperature
- Drug cravings
Some people may experience a few mild withdrawal symptoms that last for only a few weeks, while others may experience several severe withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures. Factors that may affect the way a person responds to withdrawal include medical history, the length of time benzodiazepines were used, and whether they also have a mental illness.
Treatment Options for Benzodiazepine Addiction
Benzodiazepine addiction can be safely and effectively treated using medical detox and behavioral therapy. Medical detox is always the first stage of addiction treatment and manages the physical symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal. Behavioral therapy helps patients manage triggers and change harmful behaviors associated with substance abuse.
The safest way to withdraw from benzodiazepines is to gradually reduce dosages over time — a process known as tapering. The tapering method helps keep withdrawal symptoms to a minimum and reduces the risk for seizures, as it allows the body to adjust gradually to smaller dosages. Our treatment facility replaces the benzodiazepine of abuse with diazepam, which has a longer half-life than most other benzodiazepines. Over time, dosages are gradually reduced based on the severity of the patient’s symptoms.
Those who are psychologically addicted to benzodiazepines can start receiving therapy to change behaviors that may be driving their substance abuse. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps patients change negative attitudes and behaviors, while dual diagnosis therapy helps patients manage symptoms of comorbid mental health disorders. At Haven New England, we offer a wide range of behavioral therapies and recovery programs customized for each patient based on their unique situations.
Levels of Care
Our treatment facility offers several care levels to accommodate all patients at different stages of recovery. These levels of care include detox and residential programs, as well as outpatient programs, and sober living programs at our outpatient facility, the Recovery Team.
Our residential programs can last anywhere between a week to a month and allow patients to stay facility for as long as needed until they are ready to re-enter society and resume their careers, education, and family lives. Patients in residential programs often spend their days attending therapy sessions and engaging in a wide range of therapeutic activities that facilitate healing and motivate them to stay abstinent.
Patients who are ready to become more independent can transition from their residential program into one of several of our outpatient programs. They offer more freedom as patients can live at home while attending therapy sessions several hours per week. Outpatient programs are ideal for patients who are highly motivated to stay sober and ready to resume their lives outside of a treatment facility.
Treating Benzodiazepine Addiction at Haven New England
Benzodiazepine addiction can take over your life and cause serious health problems when left untreated. If you need help recovering from benzodiazepine addiction, contact Haven New England at (844) 933-4145 to learn more about your available treatment options.
Our medical staff will work closely with you to ensure you experience a safe, comfortable detox and develop a customized treatment plan that helps you achieve long-term recovery from addiction.
Let’s get you or a loved one help with a few simple steps.