Drug and Alcohol

Benzos: What Are Benzos, are They Addictive, and What is Their Impact on Health?

Benzos are widely prescribed....and addictive when abused. Our blog gives you a quick crash course on this huge family of drugs.

What are Benzos?

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

September 26, 2023

The Forge Recovery Center

Benzos, or benzodiazepines, are a class of drugs commonly prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders. They create a calming effect by enhancing the effects of a chemical in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). While benzos can be effective when taken as directed for short periods of time, they can be dangerous when misused.

Benzos are highly addictive and can cause physical and psychological dependence when taken for long periods of time. The body quickly adjusts to the drug's effects, leading users to take higher doses or combine with other drugs in order to achieve the same calming effects. This can lead to tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and a greater risk of overdose from benzos.

Stats About Benzos:

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate, there were 11,536 benzodiazepine-related deaths in the United States in 2021. This indicates an increase of 7.4% above the number of deaths in 2020.

What Are Benzos?

Benzodiazepines, sometimes known as benzos, are a family of psychoactive medications. They are known for their sedative, hypnotic, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), & muscle relaxant characteristics. In addition, they function by boosting the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA. It is a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps to regulate brain activity and generate a calming effect.

Benzos are commonly used to treat symptoms of anxiety disorders, panic attacks, sleeplessness, seizures, & muscular spasms. Diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), & temazepam (Restoril) are some well-known benzodiazepines.

Benzos: How Do Benzos Work?

These drugs work by attaching to particular receptors in the brain that block or reduce the firing of specific neurons. Benzos boost inhibitory signals in the brain by amplifying the actions of GABA, resulting in a soothing and sedative effect.

When taken as recommended and for short periods, benzos can be beneficial in addressing some diseases; nevertheless, they also carry the risk of overuse and addiction. In addition, tolerance, dependency, and withdrawal symptoms can develop when benzos are used or abused over an extended period.

Benzos: A List of Benzodiazepine Drugs

Here is a list of commonly prescribed benzos:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)

  • Diazepam (Valium)

  • Lorazepam (Ativan)

  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)

  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)

  • Temazepam (Restoril)

  • Oxazepam (Serax)

  • Triazolam (Halcion)

  • Midazolam (Versed)

  • Flurazepam (Dalmane)

  • Clorazepate (Tranxene)

  • Estazolam (ProSom)

  • Quazepam (Doral)

  • Bromazepam (Lexotan)

  • Prazepam (Centrax)

What are the Various Types of Benzos?

Understanding the many types of benzos might give useful information about their different applications and properties. These drugs are frequently recommended for their sedative, anti-anxiety, hypnotic, & muscle relaxant properties.

We can better understand their specific features and how they are used in medical practice by getting familiar with the various types of benzos.

Benzo: Diazepam (Valium)

  • Primarily prescribed for anxiety disorders, muscle spasms, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms

  • It offers sedative and anxiolytic properties

  • It can be used as an adjunct medication for specific medical procedures

Benzo: Alprazolam (Xanax)

  • Prescribed for anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and generalized anxiety

  • Provides rapid relief of anxiety symptoms

  • Shorter duration of action compared to some other benzos

Benzo: Lorazepam (Ativan)

  • Often prescribed for anxiety disorders, insomnia, and seizures

  • Offers calming effects and helps manage anxiety-related symptoms

  • Suitable for short-term use due to its intermediate duration of action

Benzo: Clonazepam (Klonopin)

  • Commonly used for panic disorder, seizures, and anxiety associated with social phobia

  • Provides long-lasting relief from anxiety symptoms

  • Effective in preventing and controlling seizures

In addition to the above, other benzos are frequently prescribed, including:

  • Temazepam (Restoril): Primarily used to treat insomnia

  • Oxazepam (Serax): Prescribed for anxiety disorders and alcohol withdrawal symptoms

  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium): Used to manage anxiety and alcohol withdrawal symptoms

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Do Benzos Have Medical Uses?

Benzos are given for their therapeutic benefits in treating various illnesses, including anxiety disorders and sleeplessness. Understanding how benzos are used can help us understand their function in treating certain problems. Here are the therapeutic uses of benzos.

Anxiety Disorders

Benzos are often used to treat anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder & social anxiety disorder. They aid in the reduction of excessive worry, uneasiness, and physical anxiety symptoms such as fast heartbeat and muscular tightness.

Insomnia

Benzos can help with the short-term treatment of insomnia, especially when it is accompanied by anxiety or severe stress. They aid in the induction of sleep, the reduction of sleep start latency, and the enhancement of total sleep duration.

Muscle Spasms and Relaxation

As benzos have muscle relaxant characteristics, they help reduce muscle spasms and encourage relaxation. They treat conditions including muscular strains, tension headaches, and spasticity caused by neurological abnormalities.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Because of their soothing effects and capacity to avoid seizures, benzos are used to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms. They aid in managing alcohol withdrawal syndrome and lower the risk of consequences.

Seizure Disorders

Some benzos, such as diazepam & clonazepam, are used as anticonvulsants to help prevent & control seizures. They work by reducing unusual electrical activity in the brain.

Although benzos can be beneficial in treating certain illnesses, they are usually only prescribed for limited periods. It is due to their risk of tolerance, dependency, and withdrawal symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction to Benzos

Recognizing the signs of Benzos addiction is crucial for early detection and treatment. For example, if someone uses Benzos and shows the warning symptoms listed below, this might signal a possible addiction:

  • Increased tolerance to benzos

  • Physical dependence, meaning you feel sick when not using benzos

  • Loss of control over benzo use

  • Preoccupation with benzos

  • Neglecting responsibilities

  • Social isolation

  • Continued use despite negative consequences

  • Seeking multiple sources of benzos, like “doctor shopping”

  • Persistent cravings

  • Changes in mood or behavior

Benzos: The Side Effects and Potential Risks

The usage of benzos has risks and side effects that must be evaluated. Understanding these dangers is critical for making educated decisions and using these drugs safely. Here are some of the potential risks and adverse effects of benzos usage.

Sedation and Drowsiness

Sedation and sleepiness can be caused by benzos, decreasing awareness, coordination, and reaction times. This increases the risk of accidents, falls, and cognitive impairment, especially in older people.

Tolerance and Dependence

Benzos can cause tolerance, needing greater dosages for the same therapeutic effect. Dependence may also develop, in which the body relies on the drug to operate correctly.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms can occur if benzos are abruptly stopped or reduced in dosage. Anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, sweating, tremors, & seizures are possible withdrawal effects.

Cognitive Impairment

Long-term benzo usage, particularly at higher dosages, can result in cognitive impairment, memory issues, and trouble focusing.

Drug Interactions

Other drugs, particularly those that depress the central nervous system, can interact with benzos. When benzos are used with alcohol, opiates, or other sedatives, their effects are amplified. Increasing the risk of respiratory depression, overdose, and even death.

Rebound Anxiety and Insomnia

When you stop using benzos, you may experience a rebound effect, which causes a temporary worsening of anxiety or sleeplessness symptoms.

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Drug Tests: How Long Can Benzos Be Detected

How long a drug test can detect benzos depends on multiple factors, including the type of benzo, dose, frequency of use, and individual metabolism.

Urine tests are a very common form of drug test. Benzos can generally be found in urine over the approximate periods shown below.

  • Short-acting benzos (e.g., Xanax, Ativan): Up to 3 days

  • Intermediate-acting benzos (e.g., Valium, Restoril): Up to 5 days

  • Long-acting benzos (e.g., Klonopin): Up to 10 days

The Dangers of Combining Benzos and Alcohol

The combination of benzos and alcohol is unsafe and should be avoided. Both substances are CNS depressants, which slow down brain activity and can have sedative effects. 

When benzos and alcohol are combined, their effects can amplify one other, resulting in severe impairment and potentially life-threatening outcomes. Here are some essential considerations to consider while combining benzos and alcohol.

Both benzos and alcohol can cause drowsiness and sedation. When combined, the sedative effects can be significantly amplified, resulting in excessive sleepiness, disorientation, and poor motor coordination.

These drugs can depress the central nervous system, which includes the respiratory system. As a result, the risk of respiratory depression increases, resulting in trouble breathing, shallow or delayed breathing, and even respiratory failure.

Benzos and alcohol can impair cognitive function, decision-making ability, and physical coordination. Moreover, combining them can amplify these effects, making driving, operating machinery, or engaging in any activity that requires awareness and coordination unsafe.

Memory loss, blackouts, and amnesia can occur when benzos and alcohol are combined. This can lead to memory gaps & the inability to recall events that occurred under the influence.

Individually, taking excessive doses of benzos or alcohol increases the chance of overdose. When combined, the danger of overdosing skyrockets, which can be life-threatening or even deadly.

Can Benzo Overdoses Be Reversed?

Flumazenil is a benzos antidote or reversal medication used to treat benzodiazepine overdoses or reverse benzos' sedative effects. It competitively attaches to the brain's benzodiazepine receptor sites, therefore replacing benzodiazepines and preventing their activities.

Flumazenil, when taken, can quickly counteract the drowsiness and respiratory depression produced by benzos. In addition, it aids in the restoration of consciousness, alertness, and normal respiratory function, particularly in those who have taken too many benzos or may be suffering from a benzodiazepine overdose.

This drug is usually given intravenously, and the effects are noticeable within minutes. However, depending on the individual's reaction and the exact benzodiazepine involved, the duration of effect might vary, and more doses may be necessary.

Flumazenil should be taken with caution and under the supervision of a doctor. It may cause withdrawal symptoms in people who are physiologically reliant on benzos. In particular, those who have been taking them for a long time. As a result, it is often reserved for emergencies and severe benzodiazepine intoxication.

Giving someone flumazenil necessitates a careful assessment of the possible dangers and benefits, and it should only be performed by healthcare experts familiar with its usage. Flumazenil use will be determined by the exact clinical circumstance, the individual's condition, and the advice of medical authorities.

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Benzos Use During Pregnancy: The Potential Risks

Pregnancy is a critical phase in which drugs, especially benzos, must be used cautiously. It is critical to recognize the risks of benzo usage during pregnancy and how they may affect the unborn child. While each scenario is different, there are some key factors to consider.

Increased Risk of Birth Defects

Several studies have found a link between prenatal benzos exposure and an increased risk of birth malformations, such as cleft lip or palate, heart problems, and central nervous system disorders.

Neonatal Withdrawal Syndrome

Babies exposed to benzos drugs during pregnancy may exhibit withdrawal symptoms. Such as irritability, feeding difficulties, tremors, and respiratory issues immediately after delivery.

Growth and Developmental Issues

Prenatal exposure to benzos may cause physical and cognitive developmental delays. In contrast, the magnitude of these effects varies depending on factors such as the specific benzo, dosage, length of usage, and individual characteristics.

Respiratory and Feeding Challenges

Babies exposed to benzos in the womb may experience difficulty with respiratory function and eating, resulting in consequences such as low birth weight, poor feeding, and respiratory distress.

Long-Term Effects

According to limited studies, benzos exposure during pregnancy may have long-term effects on child development, including behavioral and cognitive difficulties. More research is needed, however, to establish a definite link and comprehend all aspects of these effects.

Are Benzos Addictive?

Yes, benzos have the potential to be addictive. Benzos work by increasing the activity of a neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA, which creates a relaxing and sleepy effect. While they are widely recommended to treat disorders such as anxiety, sleeplessness, & seizures, when taken for an extended length of time or at larger dosages, they have the potential to cause physical & psychological dependency.

Benzos may lead to tolerance, needing higher doses to get the same effect. Prolonged use of benzos can lead to physical dependency, with the body relying on the drug to operate normally.

Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, sweating, tremors, muscular pains, and seizures if benzos are abruptly stopped or reduced. Finally, misusing benzos at higher dosages or for non-medical purposes can develop into an addiction, defined by obsessive drug-seeking behavior and loss of control over usage.

Benzo Addiction can Feel Hopeless. The Forge Recovery Center Will Help

Benzos are dangerous and highly addictive. It’s easy to fatally overdose on them. If you or someone you love is struggling with benzo addiction, it’s important to know that there is hope.

The Forge Recovery Center offers comprehensive treatment for benzo abuse and addiction. Our programs are designed to address the physical, psychological, and social aspects of your addiction. We offer a safe and supportive environment for recovery from benzo dependence, as well as relapse prevention tools to help you stay sober for life.

If you’re ready to get on the path to recovery, contact The Forge Recovery Center today. Our caring and compassionate staff is ready to help you take back control of your life. With the right treatment and support, you can overcome benzo addiction and reclaim your health and happiness.

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