Benzodiazepines are a psychoactive class of depressant, prescription medications most commonly used to treat anxiety and insomnia. The drugs have a number of uses, including use as a relaxant, sedative-hypnotic and tranquilizer.
In addition to anxiety and insomnia, benzodiazepines may be used to treat a range of conditions, such as sleep disorders, seizures, alcohol withdrawal and panic attacks. Common benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan) and temazepam (Restoril).
Because benzodiazepines are medications prescribed by a doctor, many people may neither be aware of nor understand the risks associated with these drugs, yet benzodiazepine abuse can lead to addiction, physical dependence, tolerance and risk of overdose.
For these reasons, it’s important to know the signs of benzodiazepine abuse so you can help your loved one seek treatment if necessary.
The following are 7 signs your loved one is abusing benzodiazepines:
1. Behavioral Changes
A person who begins abusing benzodiazepines may show subtle to apparent behavioral changes. Benzodiazepines contain properties which relax, depress, sedate and/or slow body functions.
A person taking benzodiazepines other than prescribed (in higher or frequent doses) may exhibit signs of:
- extreme drowsiness
- lack of interest in surroundings or daily activities and responsibilities
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Benzodiazepine abuse may cause a person to enter a state similar to alcohol intoxication, in that their inhibitions may be lowered. This may cause drastic changes to behavior, like extreme talkativeness or irritability not normally characteristic of someone’s personality. Misuse of benzodiazepines also creates a state of euphoria, so a person may appear unusually blissful as well.
2. Physical Changes
Because benzodiazepines are prescription drugs, a person abusing them may experience physical changes or side effects as well.
Physical signs your loved one is abusing benzodiazepines may include:
- changes to sex drive or performance
- dizziness, lightheadedness
- dry mouth
People who have already become physically dependent on benzodiazepines will also experience uncomfortable, even painful, withdrawal symptoms if they stop or reduce use. Withdrawal symptoms for benzodiazepines can be incredibly dangerous, and withdrawal should not be attempted alone. If you notice the following signs of withdrawal, your loved one should likely seek treatment immediately: muscle pain or stiffness, seizures and heart palpitations.
Overdose is also a very real risk of benzodiazepine abuse and a medical emergency. Benzodiazepine overdose signs include central nervous system depression (such as slowed breathing and heart rates), slurred speech, changes to coordination and movement and signs of intoxication.
3. “Doctor Shopping”
A person abusing benzodiazepines will likely eventually run out of their prescription. When this happens, the person may begin “doctor shopping,” or seeking the prescription from multiple physicians at once in an attempt to get the amount of drugs they want. This is especially true for those who have become dependent on benzodiazepines, as withdrawal symptoms will prompt the person to quickly and frequently seek use of the drugs.
Doctor shopping has become an increasingly common practice, with doctor shopping laws now enforced in every state. Before a physician catches on to a person shopping around for the drug, they may prescribe the patient a benzodiazepine medication at the same time as other doctors. Frequent abuse of benzodiazepines can lead to overdose and/or addiction or dependence, so it’s best to recognize this behavior early.
For example, a person doctor shopping may need to attend multiple doctor appointments, make frequent trips to the pharmacy or begin spending quite a bit of money on the medication or co-pays for the medication.
4. Increased Health Risks
A person who abuses benzodiazepines may experience a number of increased health risks as a result. Many of these risks directly result from abuse of or side effects of the drug. For instance, benzodiazepines cause a person to become calm, sedated or lethargic. This sort of inactivity may also lead to a lack of eating and increased sleeping, which can mean weight loss and poor nutrition and eventually affect overall health.
Serious health risks are those often associated with withdrawal or overdose, including hallucinations, seizures and shortness of breath, and may be severe enough to result in low blood pressure, suicidal thoughts, extreme depression and coma.
A person who has an adverse or allergic reaction to benzodiazepines may additionally experience adverse effects, such as skin rash.
5. Mixing Benzodiazepines With Alcohol
Perhaps the most dangerous health risks come from mixing benzodiazepines with other drugs, particularly other central nervous system depressants like alcohol. Because the drugs elicit similar reactions within the body, mixing the two often amplifies the effects of each substance.
If a person is mixing a benzodiazepine with another substance, this is a glaring sign of abuse, the effects of which can be potent. Mixing the drugs with alcohol likely means the person has built up a tolerance to the effects of benzodiazepines, or they no longer feel the same high (euphoria) they once felt when taking the drugs. The person likely drinks alcohol to increase the chances of experiencing the desired effects.
Benzodiazepines are not safe to mix with alcohol even in moderation, so if a person is showing signs of mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol (acute intoxication, dizziness, slurred speech or signs of overdose), it’s best to seek help right away.
6. Seeking The Drug Through Other Means
When a person no longer has access to a benzodiazepine prescription, they may attempt to seek it through other means. Sometimes this involves doctor shopping, but people may also attempt to ask relatives or friends for the drugs if they know the person has the medication. If the person refuses, or if the person abusing benzodiazepines does not want their loved one to know they are abusing the drugs, they may take the prescription without permission.
If a person does not have any of these options, they may try to seek these drugs illicitly on the streets. Benzodiazepines are, unfortunately, common drugs of abuse, so they can be fairly easily obtained. Look for any signs of your loved one harboring secrets, conducting secret meetings or outings, taking money that doesn’t belong to them or hiding things (they may try to stash their illegal prescriptions in an inconspicuous place).
7. Signs Of Addiction Or Dependence
Abuse of benzodiazepines can quickly lead to addiction and/or dependence due to the highly addictive nature of the drugs. In fact, a person abusing benzodiazepines may become addicted or dependent within just a couple weeks.
Addiction occurs when a person becomes psychologically dependent on a substance. If a person is abusing benzodiazepines enough for a loved one to notice the abuse, it’s likely they have already become addicted.
Signs of benzodiazepine addiction can include:
- obsessive drug-seeking and use
- continuing to use the drugs, regardless of harm to self, others or consequences
- loss of control over benzodiazepine use
- denial of addiction
- hiding drug use or drug-seeking or attempting to hide changes in behaviors
Dependence is the condition of being physically reliant on a substance and is responsible for causing withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be life-threatening when not properly treated.
Signs of a benzodiazepine dependence may include strong cravings for the drug, withdrawal symptoms, loss of control and tolerance.
Treatment For Benzodiazepine Abuse And Addiction
If you suspect your loved one is abusing benzodiazepines, and they exhibit any signs of abuse, it may be beneficial to seek treatment options before they experience any adverse effects. Because benzodiazepines can quickly lead to physical dependence, and withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, it’s usually best for people with a benzodiazepine addiction or dependence to seek inpatient treatment, such as in the programs at Vertava Health.
Inpatient rehab programs are facilitated in drug and alcohol rehab centers which equip addicted individuals with all the resources needed to best their addiction issues. Addiction is a chronic illness and one that will require daily management in recovery. Inpatient programs incorporate a number of treatments, skills classes and management techniques to help individuals learn to manage addiction and dependence in their daily lives.
Some key treatment components in addiction treatment programs for benzodiazepine abuse or addiction include counseling, therapy, medication-assisted treatment and medically supervised detoxification. The most reputable rehab centers will design treatment programs which meet individual need. For more information on treatment options for benzodiazepine abuse issues, talk to a treatment specialist at Vertava Health today at 615-208-2941.
- American Academy of Family Physicians — Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines—Side Effects, Abuse Risk and Alternatives
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Doctor Shopping Laws
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health — Management of benzodiazepine misuse and dependence