Benzodiazepine And How They Work

Benzodiazepine, or “benzo”, is a psychoactive drug and falls under the category of tranquilizers. They are sold under many different brand names, some of the most popular ones being Valium and Xanax

More specifically, they are nervous system depressants, meaning they help people “calm down”, “slow down”, or “relax”. It is used as a sedative for the body, and as a depressant for the nerves in the central nervous system.

Benzos are used to treat multiple conditions, like anxiety, panic disorders, insomnia, seizures, muscle spasms, and even alcohol withdrawal. Most of these disorders are caused by excessive nervous activity in the brain. In more technical terms, it stimulates a neurotransmitter, called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA helps nerves “send messages” to one another, and it is responsible for reducing the activity of the nerves.

Addiction to Benzodiazepine

Benzos are a prescription medication, and therefore, can be used safely – but things might take a turn for the worse. Some people might not realize they are prone to addiction. While others might have red flags to look out for, like family history, some might have no idea. Continued use of benzodiazepine, even when prescribed, can cause dependence in as little as 3 to 4 weeks.

While the opioid crisis has been afflicting the country, benzodiazepine has been increasingly causing concern among professionals but getting little to no attention. For benzos, lethal overdoses have increased sevenfold from 1999 to 2015. In fact, in 2015, 23% of people killed by opioids also had trace amounts of benzodiazepine in their bodies.

Not all cases are lethal, but the numbers are still worrisome. In just ten years, from 1998 to 2008, the number of admissions for benzo withdrawal treatment almost tripled. Although it’s been considered a crisis, the number of prescriptions for benzodiazepine has not gone down. From 1996 to 2013,  they increased by 67%, hitting 13.5 million. While other drugs, like opioids, have had a decrease in prescriptions due to the crisis, the same has not happened to benzos.

Risk groups vary, but the age group that is most often linked to the misuse of benzodiazepine are people from ages 18 to 29. It is a popular club drug, being often abused along with other drugs, such as opioids. Even outside of this group, benzodiazepine misuse has been commonly associated with opioid abuse. Gender-wise, while females seem to be more often prescribed benzos, males tend to misuse it more often.

Addiction x Dependence 

When it comes to benzodiazepine, there is a difference between dependency and addiction. Most people that take benzos become dependent, but that doesn’t mean they are addicted. When the brain is exposed to benzodiazepine for weeks, it becomes adapted to its presence. It is considered a dependence because the brain needs it to function normally.

With time, the brain becomes more tolerant of the substance. This means that someone would need a higher dose to get the same effect. Dependency can get to the point where, if a person stops taking benzo suddenly, they will experience withdrawal symptoms. 

The safest way to stop taking benzodiazepine is to lower the dosage gradually, little by little. And this where dependence differs from addiction. A person who is addicted to benzos will not be able to slowly quit the drug. 

Addiction is characterized by a general loss of control in life. Considered a substance use disorder, it can cause chemical and neurological imbalances. Addiction can affect judgment, decision-making, and behavior. This is what can make someone more prone to risky choices to get more drugs.

One of the main reasons why benzos can become addictive is because of dopamine release. The neurotransmitter is responsible for mediating pleasure in the brain. As it is with many drugs, dopamine becomes a strong factor in addiction development. The feeling of pleasure triggered by it might become stronger than the one caused by any other experience.

Symptoms During Benzo Withdrawal Treatment

If a person decides to quit benzodiazepine, they might experience withdrawal symptoms even before benzo withdrawal treatment. The intensity of the symptoms will depend on the level of the addiction, the person’s history with addiction, and/or genetic aspects.

Somewhere between 20% and 50% of people who stop taking benzos to experience some kind of withdrawal symptoms. The most common ones tend to be anxiety, insomnia, and/or behavioral changes, all usually mild. However, these usually only last for a few days, and a person might not require benzo withdrawal treatment for them.

Should the person stop taking benzodiazepine suddenly or need benzo withdrawal treatment for their addiction, symptoms might be more severe. They can experience the following:


  • Mood changes such as irritability, agitation, anxiety, depression, and/or panic attacks
  • Headaches
  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea
  • Poor-quality sleep (insomnia, nightmares)
  • Tremors and sweating
  • Lack of appetite
  • Heart palpitations
  • Muscle aches, pains, and/or spasms
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, and/or blurred/double vision
  • Tingling sensations
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Hypersensitivity to light, sound, taste, and touch
  • Seizures

These symptoms can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months. They are more often manifested on those that take higher doses of benzo. However, any of them can be experienced at any dose, even during benzo withdrawal treatment.

There have been few cases reported of psychotic behavior as well. Psychiatric, severe symptoms might include delirium, hallucinations, depersonalization, and disorientation.

But the risks during withdrawal go beyond the side effects or withdrawal symptoms of benzodiazepine. If someone abruptly decides to quit benzos, or quit cold turkey, doing so might be dangerous, and even deadly. That is why, even when prescribed, a patient has to gradually lower their dosage. The sudden change in the nervous system can cause seizures, and eventually, death.

That is why, if a person is addicted to benzodiazepine, it is highly recommended that they go through medically-assisted benzo withdrawal treatment. 

What You Need To Know About Benzo Withdrawal Treatment

As it is with any program, benzo withdrawal treatment starts with the detoxing stage. Usually, the patient should do so gradually, but when it comes to addiction, it is very hard for someone to do so on their own. In some cases, a doctor might first switch the benzodiazepine being taken before detox starts. They might prescribe longer-acting benzo in order to lessen symptoms or make them less intense. 

The symptoms experienced and the time it might take to detox will depend on a number of factors. First, there’s the benzodiazepine itself – the shorter-acting ones will trigger symptoms much quicker, for instance. Next, there’s the dosage and the duration of use, which in turn, affect the level of dependence and/or addiction to benzodiazepine. Intense symptoms will most likely require hospitalization and residential treatment.

Not only is it safer to go through inpatient benzo withdrawal treatment, but it can be less painful, too. In this case, doctors can help manage symptoms with other medication that won’t make addiction worse. This will help reduce discomfort and the chance of experiencing serious symptoms, like seizures, that might cause more complications.

Once detox is done, the patient can go through the next stage of benzo withdrawal treatment. They will need to go through a program with medical and psychiatric help for their condition. The type of program they might need to start on will depend on their needs. For some, it is best to continue on an inpatient service setting. This is especially the case if their symptoms were too severe, or if they are a danger to themselves and others.

However, moderate to mild cases could be addressed through an outpatient program. These do not require hospitalization, and the patient only needs to come back to the clinic for assessments, therapy sessions, and medical follow-ups. 

Benzo withdrawal treatment and recovery are not usually linear. Even though there is a constant improvement, there can be a few ups and downs throughout the program, and that is part of the process. Additionally, people who might have used high doses for long periods of time might experience what is called post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). This can make the patient have recurrent episodes of withdrawal symptoms for months after quitting.

Getting Benzo Withdrawal Treatment

Addiction to benzodiazepine is a serious issue and can be hard to get rid of on your own. But no matter how you got to where you are, we at Sana Lake Recovery Center can help you. Benzo withdrawal treatment can be made easier if you have the right team behind you.

You can go through all of the stages of the process with us. We offer services from detox to residential or outpatient treatment, where you can get the full help you need. Besides the medical and psychiatric parts of the program, we also provide holistic, naturotherapy, and wellness services. We believe in healing, not just the body, and in aligning it with the mind and the soul. Because recovery has to be done from the inside out.

If you or a loved one need help for benzo withdrawal treatment, or any other recovery help, visit our website and contact us today. You can learn about all the options we have, take an assessment, and find out what the next steps are. While getting sober might not be easy, it can be permanent with the right help and mindset. So give us a call, ask everything you need, and make the decision that can turn your life around