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Benzodiazepine Addiction and Abuse

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October 2022

Benzodiazepine Addiction

As one of the most common prescription drug classes, benzodiazepines naturally lend themselves to high rates of abuse. Typically, those who suffer from benzo addiction begin using in an attempt to legitimately treat conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder, epilepsy, muscle spasms, panic disorders or even withdrawal from other substances. As they become attached to the resultant effects of the drug, their use spirals into benzodiazepine addiction. The list of commonly abused benzos includes:

  • Ativan
  • Librium
  • Halcion
  • Klonopin
  • Valium
  • Xanax

Benzodiazepine addiction leads to increased tolerance over time. As users experience heightened levels of physical and mental dependence on their chosen benzo, they may find themselves unable to feed their addiction through the number of pills typically prescribed. Since the pills are highly potent, increased dosage during benzo addiction may lead to a number of adverse physical and mental side effects.

Effects and Abuse of Benzos

The effects of benzodiazepine abuse stem largely from the effects of benzo addiction on the user’s brain chemistry. Benzodiazepines affect a class of inhibitory neurotransmitters known as GABA receptors, causing certain brain functions to slow down. This is why benzos can relief muscle spasms and mental anxiety.

While the sedation effect may be optimal in very specific circumstances, however, it can also be dangerous when those suffering benzodiazepine addiction use in high doses. Some common forms of benzo abuse, such as snorting crushed pills, may also be dangerous due to the increased potency associated with certain routes of administration. Generally speaking, any recreational or non-medical use of benzodiazepines can be considered abuse. Those fortunate enough to recognize the dangers of their use before developing a benzo addiction should stop immediately before the problem progresses.

Benzodiazepine Abuse Statistics

Statistics regarding benzodiazepine addiction in the United States indicate a widespread problem. Every year, doctors write out as many as fifty million or more prescriptions for benzodiazepines, and 11-15% of Americans take benzos annually. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, while only 1-2% of Americans take benzos on a daily basis, the population of benzodiazepine users among those struggling with substance use disorder tends to skew fairly high.

In fact, the number of overdose deaths involving benzos—which rose from approximately 2,000 in 2002 to approximately 9,000 by 2015—may be at least partially related to the high rates at which those who suffer from benzo addiction tend to combine their use with other drugs.

Common Benzo Drug Combinations

Benzodiazepines are classed as central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and mixing them with other CNS depressants increases their inherent dangers. Unfortunately, alcohol—another CNS depressant—is often a substance of choice among those suffering from benzodiazepine addiction. Up to 41% of alcoholics report instances of benzo abuse, whether habitual or simply for the purposes of overcoming withdrawal symptoms.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, benzo addiction is particularly common among those who use cocaine and heroin. Approximately 15% of heroin addicts use benzos daily, while up to 73% abuse benzos weekly. Up to 90% of methadone users engage in benzodiazepine abuse as well. Taking all other addictive substances into account, about 80% of those struggling with benzodiazepine addiction are polydrug users. This indicates that benzodiazepines are not necessarily a common drug of choice on their own, but rather a common side addiction among those who abuse other substances.