What Are the Side Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse?
By: Zinnia Healing Editorial Staff | Edited By: Rebecca Hill
Common Side Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse
Abusing benzodiazepines can cause short-term and long-term side effects, including changes in how a person behaves.
Benzodiazepines (also called benzos or downers) are a group of drugs that work on benzodiazepine receptors in the central nervous system (CNS). This action creates a calming effect that stops the nerves from over-firing. This is beneficial to those with seizures, muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal, anxiety disorders, spastic disorders, and epilepsy.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines are:
- Valium (diazepam)
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Halcion (triazolam)
- Ativan (lorazepam)
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
- Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
Benzodiazepines affect a specific neurotransmitter (GABA-A) in the brain, bringing about a relaxed, almost hypnotic state. Continuous exposure to this process can create an affinity towards benzodiazepines even when they are no longer needed.
When an individual abuses benzodiazepines, they risk developing an addiction. A person who’s addicted to benzodiazepines will exhibit one or more of the following signs:
- Using more of the drug than prescribed.
- Using the benzos along with another drug or substance to enhance or prolong its effects.
- Using the drug long-term to treat a chronic mental disorder.
The longer a person uses benzodiazepines, the more the brain becomes used to their effects. When the drug is no longer in the blood, this person will experience painful withdrawal.
Benzodiazepines are prescribed with a taper dose schedule to reduce their effects on the brain. By coming off the medication gradually, one can avoid withdrawal symptoms. Detox in an inpatient setting can reduce serum levels of the drug safely without uncomfortable withdrawal.
If you or a loved one are displaying personality changes in connection with benzodiazepine abuse or prolonged benzodiazepine use, Zinnia Healing can help. Our accredited inpatient addiction treatment programs are designed to help you tackle your addiction while avoiding painful withdrawal. We also offer dual diagnosis programs to treat benzodiazepine addiction and its underlying cause. For more information, call us at (855) 430-9349.
What Are the Common Side Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse?
The most common side effect of abusing benzodiazepines is a change in the way you feel. This is a welcome side effect for individuals with psychiatric conditions such as severe anxiety disorder or panic disorder. Unfortunately, this is the same side effect that creates the scenario for addiction and abuse.
Medications in this class are generally well-tolerated, with nausea and drowsiness being the two most commonly reported side effects. However, abuse may cause the following side effects:
- Lack of energy (lethargy)
- Excessive daytime fatigue
- Self-harming tendencies
- Suicidal ideations
- Cognitive impairment
The above-listed side effects occur in those with bonafide addictions. A person who experiences them will have difficulty quitting benzodiazepines cold turkey.
What Are the Short-Term Side Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse?
Short-term side effects of benzo use are both mental and physical. It begins with a craving to use more of the medication than prescribed. Usually, a person is aware that they shouldn’t do this, but they feel excessively anxious if they don’t follow the impulse. This is a vicious cycle for those with mental health disorders. Continuous abuse ends in benzodiazepine dependency.
The short-term side effects of benzodiazepine abuse include the following:
- Inability to function without benzodiazepines.
- Intolerance to a regularly prescribed dose.
- Withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop. These include depersonalization, hypersensitivity, memory problems, tremors, sleep disturbances, and anxiety.
Successful elimination of these short-term side effects requires detoxification under medical supervision. You may also need ongoing outpatient support to curb future cravings. If you are experiencing symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal or signs of a substance use disorder, Zinnia Healing can help. Call us at (855) 430-9349 to find out more.
What Are the Long-Term Side Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse?
For acute anxiety or temporary disorders, benzodiazepines are prescribed on an as-needed basis. However, if an individual begins abusing their prescription and it isn’t refilled, they may seek out the drug illegally. This risky behavior is a typical side effect of long-term benzodiazepine abuse.
Other risky behaviors may include:
- Driving under the influence of benzodiazepines or another substance.
- Sneaking to purchase pills off the street or from a friend with a benzodiazepine prescription.
- Altering their prescription.
- Doctor shopping to get the medication from another provider.
- Pretending their condition has returned to get more.
In addition to risky behavior, benzodiazepine abuse causes a person to have fluctuations in their moods. They may seem ordinary one moment and extremely agitated the next. And even though benzodiazepines are prescribed for anxiety, a person abusing them may develop anxiety as a side effect.
Although benzodiazepines calm the central nervous system, a person who abuses this medication may experience involuntary muscle spasms and twitching.
Taking high doses of this medication (benzodiazepine toxicity or benzodiazepine overdose) can also result in respiratory depression. This conditions causes the lungs to become too relaxed to exchange air and oxygen effectively. If this side effect isn’t treated immediately, it could cause lung failure and even death.
Does Benzodiazepine Abuse Affect Your Personality?
Benzodiazepine abuse can cause a person to develop significant mental changes. This typically consists of a mellowing effect that may look like intoxication to others. People often seek out this effect and remain in a stupor for most of the day. This causes them to skip school or work, and miss important deadlines. They may also forget more than usual and become agitated.
What Drugs, Substances, or Supplements Interact with Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are known to cause interactions with other substances and prescription drugs. Unfortunately, there isn’t a complete list of the drugs or supplements benzodiazepines interact with, so it’s best to tell your physician if you’re taking something before starting them.
Commonly known drugs that interact with benzodiazepines include:
- Sleep medications such as Lunesta and sonata
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
- Fluoroquinolone antibiotics like Ciprofloxacin
- Other tranquilizers
Benzodiazepines may interact with certain vitamin supplements and herbal supplements. Therefore, consult your prescribing physician before beginning a new course of vitamins or supplements.
Have you mixed benzodiazepines with another medication despite the negative consequences? If so, Zinnia Healing treatment centers can help. We understand how complicated quitting benzodiazepines cold turkey can be. Our staff of experienced professionals can create a specialized treatment program just for you. Call us at (855) 430-9439 to begin your journey to sobriety today.