Call Us Message Us

About Benzodiazepine Abuse

Benzodiazepines or “benzos” are a class of depressant medications. They are considered a controlled substance in the United States as the potential for benzodiazepine abuse and dependence is high. Benzodiazepine abuse typically begins in one of two ways. Often a person has been prescribed a benzodiazepine medication, like Xanax or Klonopin, and begins taking more than prescribed. Benzodiazepine abuse frequently occurs when someone buys this medication illegally online or off the street and takes it recreationally.

These medications are often prescribed for anxiety disorders, including panic attacks, but they are sometimes prescribed for other conditions, such as insomnia. The potential for abuse is relatively high because benzos create a sense of well-being and calm that people find alluring, and if the medication is taken regularly for even as little as 2-3 weeks, a person will experience physical withdrawal if they stop using it abruptly. It is also possible to build a tolerance to the medication over time. Someone prescribed a benzodiazepine and taking it daily may find that it no longer has the same effect after a few years and become tempted to take more than they are prescribed.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Can Be Fatal

Benzodiazepines are one of only three drug categories with potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms. The other two are alcohol and barbiturates. It is absolutely essential that you NEVER attempt to detox yourself off of benzodiazepines or stop taking them abruptly without medical supervision. There is a very real potential for withdrawal seizures, which can be deadly. A benzodiazepine detox or taper must always be done under a doctor’s supervision.

Some Potential Risk Factors in Benzodiazepine Withdrawal are:

  • Poor overall physical health
  • Advanced age (over 65 years old)
  • Regular alcohol consumption or alcoholism
  • Previous history of seizures (for any reason)
  • Long-term use of benzodiazepines (5+ years)
  • Taking certain other medications along with benzodiazepines.
  • Taking more than prescribed or more than a typical prescription dose.

How Do Benzodiazepines Work?

Benzodiazepines work by increasing the production of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA slows down the brain’s processes. This creates a sense of calm and relaxation. GABA eases anxiety and stress. It promotes restful sleep. Also, it protects the brain. Increases in GABA seem to alleviate seizures and high blood pressure. The problem is that benzos increase the production to a degree that can be dangerous if abused or if the user abruptly stops taking them.

Anyone engaged in benzodiazepine abuse or regular use should know that quitting cold turkey is extremely dangerous. Benzos are one of the few drugs with potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms. The others are alcohol and barbiturates. Quitting benzos abruptly without medical supervision after taking it for an extended period can result in deadly seizures. This must never be taken lightly. If you or anyone you know ever stops taking benzos suddenly after regular use, seek immediate medical attention at a hospital or drug detox. No exceptions.

Benzodiazepines Prescribed in the US:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax, Niravam)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan, Loreev XR)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Midazolam (Versed)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)
  • Oxazepam (Serax)

Most benzodiazepines can be categorized based on their duration of action. They usually fall into one of three categories:

  • Ultra-Short Acting – Effective for a period of 3-8 hours. Some examples include triazolam (Halcion) and midazolam (Versed).
  • Short-Acting – Effective for a period of 11-20 hours. Some examples include alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam (Ativan).
  • Long-Acting – Effective for more than 20 hours. Some examples include diazepam (Valium) and clonazepam (Klonopin).

How Does Benzodiazepine Abuse Happen?

Benzodiazepine abuse can happen in several ways. One of the most common occurs when someone has been prescribed a benzo like Xanax or Klonopin for anxiety. While doctors are a lot wiser concerning the risk of benzodiazepine abuse now than in the past, it is still a real problem. Through no fault of the patient, they can become dependent on benzos after taking them regularly for as little as 1 month. Once they are dependent, it is difficult or even dangerous to stop. In the best-case scenario, they will experience agitation, anxiety, and insomnia.

A worst-case scenario is fatal seizures in withdrawal. This is why it is imperative that no one ever abruptly stops taking a drug in this class without medical supervision in a controlled setting where detox meds are available and a nurse or doctor is present. This means an inpatient medical detox or hospital. The higher the dose and/or longer a person has taken it, the greater the risk. People with a history of seizures or seniors need to be especially careful.

We Can Help

If you believe you or someone you love needs help with benzodiazepine abuse or addiction to any other drug or you just have questions about treatment, contact us.


Mental Health

Get Help Today

Substance Abuse

Get Help Today

Recent Posts

Mental Health Getting Infusion of State Funds

Read More

How To Tell Your Employer You Need Time Off For Detox Treatment

Read More

Election Time Disorder – What Campaigns Can Do for, and To, You

Read More

Monitoring Candidates on Mental Health Access is Taking a Bit of Juggling

Read More