Causes & Effects of Benzo Abuse & Addiction

Sierra Tucson offers effective, comprehensive treatment for individuals struggling with addiction and mental health concerns. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of benzo addiction.

Understanding Benzo Addiction

Learn about benzo addiction

Benzodiazepines, or benzos for short, are a class of drugs that are most commonly used to treat the distressing symptoms of anxiety, and in some cases insomnia. While these drugs are prescribed for legitimate psychological and medical conditions, the relaxing effects brought on by these medications can easily lead to the development of an addiction. Unfortunately, many individuals take benzodiazepines to feel good or to get a sense of release from life’s stressful situations. While this may seem completely acceptable because benzos are medications prescribed by a licensed physician, the reality is that these drugs are just as dangerous if not take directly as prescribed under the supervision of a psychiatrist or doctor.

When someone abuses benzodiazepines, such as Klonopin, Ativan, Valium, or Xanax, he or she will most likely begin to experience a number of difficulties on a regular basis. The continued use of this medication will prevent an individual from meeting expectations at work or responsibilities at home. Additionally, there are a number of physical and psychological effects that can develop and add to a person’s overall poor quality of life. If you or someone close to you has a problem with benzodiazepine abuse, professional help should be obtained as soon as possible in order to avoid the development of worsening symptoms.


Benzo addiction statistics

In the United States, approximately 11%-15% of the adult population has used some form of benzodiazepine medication within the past year. However, it is estimated that only 1%-2% of those individuals have consistently taken this type of substance daily for a period longer than 12 months.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for benzo addiction

There is no single cause that will lead an individual to develop an addiction to drugs, such as benzodiazepines. Researchers believe that it is more likely the result of a variety of factors working together that result in the development of an addiction, should an individual being using benzos. Some of the most commonly cited causes include:

Genetic: It has been established through extensive research that the development of an addiction has a strong genetic component. Meaning that if an individual has a relative who has struggled with drug and/or alcohol addiction they are more vulnerable to develop an addiction themselves.

Environmental: In addition to genetic influences, environmental factors can greatly influence if an individual goes on to develop an addiction to substances such as benzos. For example, growing up in an unstable household, being surrounded by drug use as a child, or being the victim of a traumatic experience can all make an individual more susceptible to the development of substance abuse and addiction.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of mental health disorders
  • Previous substance abuse
  • Being female
  • Being of older age
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Unemployment

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of benzo addiction

The signs and symptoms of benzodiazepines abuse will vary from person-to-person and will also depend upon a number of other factors, including the length of abuse and the amount of benzos a person has been abusing. Some of the most common symptoms include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Doctor shopping (going to various doctors in order to obtain multiple prescriptions)
  • Forging prescriptions
  • Stealing
  • Taking the medication in larger doses than intended
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Failure to meet responsibilities at home, work, or school
  • Engagement in risk taking behaviors

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Stomach cramps
  • Headaches
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Drowsiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Poor coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Increased respiratory infections

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Disturbing dreams
  • Increased sense of confusion
  • Memory impairment
  • Perception difficulties
  • Slowed thinking
  • Amnesia
  • Reduced inhibition
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Impaired judgment

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Overall decline in mental health
  • Hostility
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression


Effects of benzo addiction

The long-term effects of benzodiazepine abuse can be significant and appear in all areas of an individual’s life. More specifically, the abuse of this class of drugs can lead to the development of adverse effects on a person’s cognitive functioning, physical health, and overall mental health. Some of the most common effects of chronic benzo abuse may include:

  • Inability to complete responsibilities at work
  • Impaired memory
  • Changes in personality
  • Development of a mental health disorder
  • Hostile, impulsive, and aggressive behaviors
  • Additional substance abuse
  • Family conflict
  • Social isolation
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Benzo addiction and co-occurring disorders

It is not uncommon for an individual who is struggling with an addiction to benzos to be struggling with the symptoms of a mental health disorder. The most common disorders that have been linked to benzodiazepine abuse include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Substance use disorders

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of benzo withdrawal and overdose

Effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal: When anyone who has been abusing benzodiazepines for a prolonged period of time and suddenly stops taking them, withdrawal symptoms will quickly set in. The symptoms of withdrawal may set in hours to days after benzo use has stopped and may continue for up to a month or in some cases longer. Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shaking
  • Increased sweating
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Psychosis
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Effects of benzodiazepine overdose: When an individual ingests more of a drug than the body can metabolize this is referred to as an overdose. Additionally, if proper medical treatment is not sought immediately it can lead to a number of severe consequences, including death. Some signs that an individual may be overdosing on benzos include:

  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden weakness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Coma