Signs of Benzo Addiction
In the United States, the number of prescriptions filled for benzodiazepines rose by 67% from 1996 to 2013. Today, benzodiazepine use is continuing to rise, and overdose deaths associated with benzodiazepines increased by over sevenfold from 1999 to 2015.
This guide will help you understand what benzodiazepines are and what risks are associated with using them. You will learn about the side effects of these medicines and how to recognize potential signs of benzodiazepine misuse and overdose. Information about the treatment process for benzodiazepine use disorder is provided as well.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are prescription medications that are typically prescribed to ease anxiety and to treat insomnia, seizures and bipolar disorder. As tranquilizers, they act on a neurotransmitter called GABA to produce a calming effect, reducing anxiety and relaxing the patient’s muscles.
Lorazepam, alprazolam, and diazepam are some of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines. Due to the high risk of physical dependency associated with these medicines, doctors usually try to prescribe them for as little as two to four weeks. Even when used as directed, benzodiazepines can have unwanted side effects. For example, patients could experience dizziness, sedation and weakness, and they may feel unsteady while walking.
What Are the Possible Symptoms and Signs of a Benzodiazepine Overdose?
Patients who overdose on benzodiazepines could develop symptoms that are potentially life-threatening. Overdoses can occur if the patient takes a larger dose than they have been prescribed. Combining benzodiazepines with alcohol or with drugs that interact with benzodiazepines could also result in an overdose. The severity of each patient’s symptoms will depend on the dose that was taken.
Individuals who have taken an overdose of benzodiazepines often have extreme sleepiness and trouble staying awake. Their speech may be slurred, and they might appear confused or agitated. Their coordination could be impaired, and they may have trouble standing or walking. Breathing difficulties might be present, and patients could notice blurred vision. If a very large dose has been taken, the patient may lose consciousness, and this could lead to a coma.
If an overdose is suspected, it is important to call an ambulance right away so that the patient can be given emergency medical care. At the hospital, doctors will ask the patient or the patient’s family members about how much medication has been ingested and about what symptoms the patient has displayed.
The patient will have their blood oxygen saturation monitored with a pulse oximeter, and an arterial blood gas test may be performed to measure the pH of the patient’s blood and to check levels of bicarbonate, oxygen and carbon dioxide. Doctors will need to do additional blood and urine tests to check the level of benzodiazepines in the patient’s body. Benzodiazepine overdoses are typically treated with oxygen therapy to improve breathing, and patients may be given flumazenil to reverse some of the effects of the overdose.
What Are the Potential Signs and Symptoms of a Benzodiazepine Use Disorder?
Current estimates suggest that benzodiazepine use disorder occurs in approximately 2% of American adults. Most instances of benzodiazepine misuse involve obtaining the medication from family members or friends.
Patients with benzodiazepine use disorder often exhibit physical, cognitive and behavioral signs that are common to other types of substance use disorder. Physically, individuals who have benzodiazepine use disorder could have vertigo, headaches, double vision and muscle weakness. They might also have more frequent respiratory infections, and changes in eating and sleeping habits may develop. Cognitively, patients might have slowed thinking and reaction times, and memory impairments and confusion could occur.
Individuals who have issues with benzodiazepine use may display behavioral changes that include increased anxiety, depression, mood swings, irritability and hostility. They might be unable to meet their responsibilities at home, school or work, and they could start spending a lot of time alone. Some patients may resort to forging prescriptions or visiting different doctors in their efforts to obtain more benzodiazepines.
How to Get Help for a Benzodiazepine Use Disorder
If you believe you may have a substance use issue involving benzodiazepines, it can help to discuss your situation with your primary care doctor. To make a diagnosis, the clinician will begin by asking a series of questions about your benzodiazepine use. They will want to know whether you were originally prescribed benzodiazepines for a medical condition and if that medical condition is still bothering you. They may ask how often you use the medication, what dose you take and how long you have been using benzodiazepines.
If you are motivated to begin treatment for benzodiazepine use, the doctor will ask questions about your home life and whether you have recently been under significant stress. They will also ask about any medical conditions that you have. This information will help the physician determine if it is an appropriate time for you to enter treatment.
The clinician may wish to perform a physical examination to learn more about your symptoms and about any medical conditions that you have. The exam will normally include taking your blood pressure and temperature and listening to your heart and lung sounds with a stethoscope. The doctor will likely perform a mental status exam and a neurological exam to check your sensation, coordination and muscle tone. Blood and urine tests may be ordered to check for organ damage and to measure the amounts of benzodiazepines and other medications in your body.
Based on the interview and physical examination, the physician may recommend inpatient or outpatient treatment. Discontinuing benzodiazepines can cause uncomfortable and potentially serious symptoms, and most physicians suggest that patients go to an inpatient treatment center so that they can withdraw from benzodiazepines as safely as possible.
What Happens During Withdrawal From Benzodiazepines?
The first symptoms associated with benzodiazepine withdrawal usually start around four hours after the patient’s last dose of the medication. Patients may have flu-like symptoms, and they could experience aches and pains. Restlessness, confusion and hallucinations might develop. Seizures have occurred in some individuals during withdrawal, and some patients could have suicidal thoughts during the withdrawal process.
Withdrawal symptoms may persist for days or weeks. During medically supervised withdrawal at an inpatient treatment center, medical staff will closely monitor all individuals who are withdrawing from benzodiazepines.
Although not always recommended or necessary, medications may be given to manage the patient’s symptoms throughout withdrawal. For example, antidepressants might be prescribed during withdrawal for individuals who are experiencing panic disorder or depression as they discontinue benzodiazepines, and propranolol might be considered to manage anxiety during withdrawal as well. Short-term intravenous infusions of flumazenil could be appropriate in cases of severe withdrawal symptoms.
What Happens During the Treatment Process for Benzodiazepine Use Disorder?
The treatment process for benzodiazepine use normally relies on medical management and psychological therapy. Unlike treatment for opioid use disorder, patients with benzodiazepine use disorder may not need to receive any long-term medications once they complete the withdrawal process. Patients who are on medication will have their dose and symptoms monitored regularly throughout treatment, and medications will be adjusted as the patient progresses through the different phases of treatment.
Psychological therapies are a major component of the treatment process for this type of substance use disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most widely used techniques, and patients might also receive dialectical behavior therapy and family therapy. Contingency management and motivational interviewing techniques may be used as well. Studies show that patients who receive psychotherapy have higher rates of success in treating their substance use issues.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps patients to understand the relationship between their thoughts and their behaviors. The patient learns to recognize their unrealistic, negative thoughts and to understand how these thoughts might influence substance use. The therapist guides the patient to replace those unrealistic thoughts with ones that are more positive and realistic, and the patient is taught coping mechanisms and actions that can change the behaviors that previously led to substance use.
Dialectical behavior therapy helps patients learn to accept themselves while working to make positive changes in their lives. The patient learns how to reduce their cravings for benzodiazepines and how to identify and cope with the triggers that could result in substance use.
Contingency management and motivational interviewing are methods of increasing the patient’s motivation to avoid substance use. Contingency management uses vouchers as positive reinforcement, and motivational interviewing optimizes the patient’s willingness to make behavioral adjustments.
Treatment Facilities for Benzodiazepine Use Disorder
Located in the New Hampshire countryside, Green Mountain Treatment Center and New Freedom Academy are dedicated to helping patients with benzodiazepine use disorder and other addictions at every stage of their recovery. Both centers offer gender-separated accommodations, and patients are provided with medical and psychological support. If you are looking for compassionate staff and a holistic approach to recovery, we invite you to explore our facilities.
Green Mountain Treatment Center
At Green Mountain Treatment Center, we use a 12-step curriculum to promote your healing. We provide a medical detox unit that is staffed by clinicians who are trained in the treatment of substance use conditions. Patients in the medical detox unit receive 24-hour medical monitoring, and medications are given to help them through the withdrawal process.
To complement our 12-step curriculum, we provide both individual and group psychotherapy sessions. Patients can be treated for substance use issues and for any co-occurring mental health conditions they may have, including depression and anxiety. We offer cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, grief and loss therapy and trauma therapy.
Patients at Green Mountain Treatment Center are able to take advantage of a full range of additional activities and services that can benefit their recovery. For example, we offer yoga and meditation sessions, and there is an onsite gym for exercise sessions. Patients can opt to participate in adventure therapy, and we provide nutritious, chef-prepared meals.
New Freedom Academy
Located in Canterbury, New Hampshire, New Freedom Academy is a smaller facility that has 20 beds. It is ideal for individuals who are looking for a low client-to-clinician ratio. Patients are housed in gender-separate accommodations, and medical staff is available onsite 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
At New Freedom Academy, patients participate in process groups and in individual and group therapy sessions. The facility offers cognitive behavioral therapy, grief and loss therapy, dialectical behavior therapy and motivational interviewing. Patients are also supported in healing their family relationships through weekly family recovery workshops that take place at an offsite location. New Freedom Academy provides concurrent therapy for any mental health conditions the patient might have, including depression.
Medication-assisted treatment is offered at New Freedom Academy. All patients are closely monitored during treatment, and medications are adjusted according to the patient’s overall health status and symptoms.
Like Green Mountain Treatment Center, New Freedom Academy places an emphasis on treating the whole patient. To help the mind, body and spirit recover, New Freedom Academy patients are encouraged to participate in regular exercise sessions. Yoga and meditation sessions are highly recommended, and patients are invited to attend paintball, mini-golf and bowling outings as well.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for help if you or a loved one needs assistance in overcoming misuse of benzodiazepines.