Benzo Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Benzodiazepines can be legally prescribed to help alleviate the symptoms of certain health conditions, and are perhaps most notably used in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

Understanding Benzo Addiction

Learn about benzo and substance abuse

When taken in accordance with your doctor’s guidelines, benzodiazepines, or benzos, such as Xanax (which contains the benzodiazepine alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), Valium (diazepam), and Klonopin (clonazepam), can calm the central nervous system providing relief from troubling symptoms. However, because they are known to produce a calm, tranquil state, these drugs are often abused by individuals seeking a high. Even when obtained from a physician, the dispensation of these medications should be accompanied with a warning about their highly addictive nature.

Individuals who chronically abuse benzos will likely find that they develop a tolerance for these drugs. This means that their minds and bodies have grown so accustomed to the presence of the substance that they will feel unable to function without them. This scenario typically results in the person requiring greater amounts and more frequent doses of his or her drug of choice to achieve the desired effects, and the onset of painful symptoms of withdrawal when he or she abruptly limits or ceases his or her substance abuse.

Fortunately, if you or someone you care about is embedded in the cycle of benzo abuse, there is help and hope available in the form of quality, professional care from a treatment center that offers specialized programming for this form of chemical dependence.


Benzo addiction statistics

Recent findings show that benzodiazepine abuse has continued to climb in recent years, and has been named as an aggravating factor in the opioid epidemic being seen across the United States. Research indicates that between 1992 and 2002, rates for admittance into residential treatment for drugs like benzos increased by 79%, signaling a greater need for support to overcome this dangerous form of addiction.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for benzo addiction

People develop problems with substance abuse for a myriad of reasons, and while there is no single predictor of benzo abuse, there are a few factors known to increase the odds that someone will struggle with addiction including:

Genetic:  Chemical dependency may result from the transfer of certain heritable genetic traits passed down in families. Therefore, having a first-degree relative who struggles with drug and/or alcohol abuse puts you at greater risk yourself.

Environmental: Being surrounded by substance abuse, witnessing traumatic events, or having untreated mental health conditions may increase the odds that a person will develop a substance abuse problem.

Risk Factors:

  • Having a family history of substance abuse
  • Untreated mental illness such as depression, PTSD, or anxiety
  • Being surrounded by others who abuse benzos or other drugs
  • Witnessing or being the victim of trauma, abuse, or neglect
  • Being impulsive, often engaging in risky behavior

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of benzo addiction

If you are concerned that you or someone you care about has developed a benzodiazepine addiction, the following can help you better understand some of the common signs and symptoms of this form of substance abuse:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Using prescribed medications contrary to the prescribing physician’s directions
  • Using benzos when it is clearly unsafe to do so
  • Continuing to use benzos even after experiencing negative repercussions from prior use
  • Trying and failing to end one’s use of benzos
  • Borrowing or stealing prescription medications that contain benzos
  • Visiting several doctors in attempt to get multiple prescriptions for medications that contain benzos
  • Lying or being otherwise deceptive about activities

Physical symptoms:

  • Tremors in hands
  • Blurred vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Irregular breathing and/or heart rate
  • Coordination problems

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Nightmares
  • Diminished inhibitions
  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment
  • Inability to focus and/or concentrate
  • Memory problems

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Anhedonia
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Social isolation


Effects of benzo addiction

The consequences of a benzo addiction are far-reaching and can be severe, affecting nearly every aspect of a person’s life. Some common effects of an untreated benzo abuse problem include the following:

  • Substandard occupational performance
  • Job loss
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Financial difficulties
  • Impaired vision
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Memory problems
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Problems within interpersonal relationships
  • Withdrawal
  • Self-harm
  • Depression
  • Isolation
  • Family discord
  • Academic failure
  • Legal problems, including arrest and incarceration
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Benzo addiction and co-occurring disorders

When a person has been diagnosed with a benzodiazepine use disorder, it is likely that he or she may also be suffering from the following co-occurring disorders:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of benzo withdrawal and overdose

Effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal: As stated above, abusing benzos puts an individual at risk for developing a tolerance to these substances. When this occurs, attempting to limit or end one’s use of benzodiazepines may result in the following:

  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Heart palpitations
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Muscle pain
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Powerful cravings for benzos
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Panic
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Suicidal ideation

Effects of benzodiazepine overdose: Benzodiazepine overdose can be life-threatening, and if you or someone else who has been abusing these substances begins showing any of the signs listed below, seek immediate medical attention:

  • Loss of balance
  • Delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Double vision
  • Labored or otherwise impaired breathing
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Hypothermia
  • Impaired motor functioning

The structured environment at Longleaf Hospital allowed me to focus my full attention on my health and getting better.

– Anonymous Patient
Marks of Quality Care
  • Louisiana Hospital Association (LHA)
  • The Jason Foundation
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval