Can you get Addicted to Benzodiazepines if you Take Them as Prescribed?
Benzodiazepines are a group of prescription drugs that are used to treat anxiety, PTSD, panic disorders, and insomnia, among other things. Commonly referred to as “benzos,” benzodiazepines create a calming, sedated effect in the brain by raising GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter. The most common benzodiazepines include clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanex), and lorazepam (Ativan). While benzodiazepines can may be medically indicated for some people who suffer from anxiety, insomnia, or other mental health issues, they come with several risks. When used in conjunction with opioids, benzodiazepines significantly increase the risk of drug overdose and other drug related emergencies. Though there is increasing evidence of the dangers of mixing benzodiazepines and opioids, they are nevertheless frequently prescribed together. Benzodiazepines can also greatly impair cognitive function, and pose a high risk of dependency and/or addiction, even when taken as prescribed.
Drug Dependency vs. Drug Addiction
In investigating the risks of prescription drug use and abuse, it is important to distinguish the difference between drug dependence and drug addiction. Drug dependence, such as benzodiazepine dependence, exists when a person begins to experience tolerance (needing to increase the amount of drug used in order to be effective) and withdrawal (experiencing symptoms such as anxiety, tremors, sweating, irritability, seizures, and others when cutting back or discontinuing use). Substance addiction, or what is medically referred to as a “substance use disorder” is a mental health condition that is marked by altered behaviors surrounding the use of the drug. The most notable sign of addiction is continued use of the substance despite negative consequences. Other signs of addiction include:
- Shame or secrecy surrounding benzodiazepine use; lying about use
- Having relationship problems or losing friends due to benzodiazepine use, though continuing to use anyway
- Losing interest in activities not directly related to using benzodiazepines
- Taking more benzodiazepines than you originally intend
- Getting angry, defensive, or lie when confronted about benzodiazepine use
It is important to note that not everyone who develops a benzodiazepine dependence also develops an addiction, though drug dependence does significantly increase the risk of drug addiction. It is not uncommon for those who use benzodiazepines as prescribed to develop dependence; tolerance can occur especially easily, even with intermittent use. Even without addiction present, those who develop a benzodiazepine dependence may need medically supervised detox to safely discontinue use. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be deadly.
Even if one uses benzodiazepines exactly as prescribed, it is still possible to develop an addiction, or substance use disorder, to these medications. Benzodiazepines can be overprescribed by doctors, especially primary care physicians, despite the risks associated with them. It is not uncommon once addiction develops for benzodiazepine users to begin to seek higher quantities of the medications illicitly. It is also not uncommon for children, family members, and friends of those who have legal benzodiazepine prescriptions to seek out their medications, either for recreational or self-medicated use. Without any doctor oversight, substance abuse disorder risks increase.
Treating Benzodiazepine Addiction Holistically
When treating benzodiazepine addiction, it professional medical detox is needed first and foremost. The withdrawal from these medications can be life threatening. Medical detox is an inpatient service that manages and guides people safely through these withdrawal symptoms. If you are receiving treatment with Flatirons Recovery for benzodiazepine addiction, we partner with excellent medical detox providers in the area for this portion of treatment.
Once medical detox is complete, clients can begin treatment at Flatirons Recovery. Rehab for benzodiazepine addiction typically lasts for 30-90 days of day treatment programming, which includes group therapy, individual therapy, medication management, and experiential programming such as yoga, art, and outdoor activities. Some of our evidence-based therapy modalities include mindfulness, DBT, CBT, EMDR, MI, ACT, and biofeedback. While participating in day treatment, clients are encouraged to reside in our structured residence, where they will be accommodated with full staff support, transportation, food, and additional community and recreational programming. Once complete, clients can also “step down” into our intensive outpatient programming, which includes 10-16 hours of group and individual therapy a week while they re-integrate back into their lives, looking towards long-term recovery.