Benzodiazepine Abuse & Addiction

Written by Melissa Carmona

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD

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Last Updated - 08/09/2023

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Updated 08/09/2023

Benzos are prescribed to treat a variety of conditions but carry a potential for abuse. Recovery from a benzo addiction is possible through rehab treatment.

Article Overview:

  • Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are Schedule IV controlled substances. 
  • Benzos work by calming down the central nervous system.
  • Taking benzos with other substances like opioids or alcohol can increase the risk of overdose. 
  • Benzodiazepine addiction treatment can help people manage their initial mental health symptoms without having benzos in their life.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a type of prescription medicine that works by depressing the central nervous system. They treat anxiety and seizures primarily because they work to calm the excessive nerve activity in the brain that leads to these conditions. They also enhance the effects of GABA in the brain, a neurotransmitter responsible for how the brain nerves send messages to one another.

Essentially benzodiazepines can reduce brain activity: if you suffer from panic disorder, as an example, it can help calm down those messages and leave you feeling calmer.

Benzos are also used to treat seizures, muscle spasms, sleep problems and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. They may also be used to sedate patients during surgery. They’re helpful to address different types of anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder.

Some of the most common and recognizable brand names of benzos include Xanax (alprazolam) and Valium (diazepam), and this class of drugs is frequently prescribed in the U.S. Some of the short-acting benzos include Ativan and Xanax, while longer-acting benzos include Librium and Valium.

Understanding Benzodiazepine Addiction and Benzodiazepine Abuse

While benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed, widely used and do have some therapeutic benefits, people often wonder if they are addictive. The short answer is yes.

Benzodiazepines are commonly abused for multiple reasons. They can cause a feeling of euphoria, deep relaxation and sedation. They are also widely available in Colorado and around the country, and that extensive availability increases the likelihood of abuse.

There are a few different situations where benzos might be abused. People may take a large amount at one time to experience a high or pair them with other substances like alcohol or opioids. These drug pairings carry a higher risk of overdose and death. Chronic abuse is also possible, in which someone depends on them to feel normal after taking them for a certain period of time.

Why Are Benzodiazepines Addictive?

When someone takes benzos, it triggers the brain’s reward center and activates gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. The stimulation of the brain’s reward mechanisms is what creates the addiction cycle in the person’s brain. Because of their addictive potential, benzos are Schedule IV controlled substances.

Any addictive drug, including benzos, causes long-term changes in the reward system of your brain.

Benzodiazepine Addiction Statistics

A few important benzodiazepine addictions statistics relevant not just to Colorado but the entire country include:

The FDA has a Black Box Warning about the dangers of benzos when mixed with other substances, including prescription painkillers and alcohol.

Benzodiazepine Side Effects

Benzodiazepine side effects are related to their antianxiety and sedative properties. When someone takes them, whether by prescription or otherwise, some of the general side effects of benzodiazepines can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Slowed breathing

Long-term benzodiazepine use can also lead to physical dependence and addiction.

Benzodiazepine Addiction Signs

People are often prescribed benzos like Xanax for legitimate reasons, but there is also the potential for abuse with these drugs. Benzo abuse can occur in several different scenarios. Someone may have a prescription for a benzo but may take it in a way other than what’s directed by their doctor, such as taking a larger dose or taking it more often than they’re supposed to.

Benzos are also frequently abused recreationally, and people may pair them with other substances like alcohol to amplify the effects. If you crush benzos up to snort them or take them in a way other than how they’re meant to be taken, this is also a benzodiazepine addiction symptom.

While the general signs of benzodiazepine use may include the symptoms named above, such as drowsiness and sedation, benzodiazepine abuse symptoms may also include:

  • Taking the drugs other than instructed
  • Doctor shopping to get more prescriptions
  • Faking symptoms to get prescriptions
  • Stealing from friends or family
  • Being secretive or dishonest about your use of the drugs
  • Feeling like you need them to relax or feel normal

Just because someone abuses benzos doesn’t necessarily mean they’re addicted to them or physically dependent, but the longer they abuse them, the more likely those situations are to occur.

A person addicted to benzos may try to stop taking them and be unable to. They may experience negative consequences because of their benzo use but take them anyway.

When the body is physically dependent on benzos, the brain has changed to the point where it needs the drugs to feel normal. Signs of benzo dependence include:

  • Building a tolerance to the drugs, so you need higher doses to feel the same effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you stop using them suddenly

Even when you follow instructions provided by your doctor, you can still become physically dependent on benzos.

Benzodiazepine Toxicity

Because of how commonly benzos are prescribed and used in Colorado and around the country, people have the dangerous misconception that these drugs aren’t harmful. It’s not true. Benzodiazepine toxicity symptoms can occur and can lead to overdose and death.

Drug overdose can be fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. Do NOT be afraid to seek help. If you do not have access to a phone, contact Colorado Poison Center for online assistance.

Most commonly, benzodiazepine toxicity symptoms occur when the drugs are taken with another class of substances, such as alcohol or opioids, or are taken with other sedative narcotics.

Benzodiazepine Overdose Signs and Symptoms

With just how commonly benzos are used, it can be wise to understand benzodiazepine overdose signs and symptoms. Some of the clinical signs of a benzodiazepine overdose may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Stupor
  • Problems breathing
  • Extreme disorientation and confusion
  • Extreme dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Coma

Benzodiazepine overdose symptoms can especially occur in people who take large doses, take the drug more frequently than they’re supposed to, or mix it with other substances. Benzodiazepine overdose symptoms are also more common when people crush up the drug and inject it.

If you or a loved one is grappling with a benzodiazepine abuse problem, or you recognize any of the signs of benzodiazepine abuse, there are Colorado addiction resources available such as The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake. There are also facilities nationwide if you’d like to receive help outside of Colorado.

Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment

Benzodiazepines, like other highly addictive drugs, change the way your brain functions (See More: How Do Benzodiazepines Affect the Brain?). When you take them, particularly at high doses, they release large and unnatural amounts of dopamine into your brain. These high dopamine levels lead to feelings of relaxation, pleasure and well-being.

Once you introduce your brain to something that triggers such a big release of dopamine, it activates your reward centers, and your brain creates a feedback loop to continue seeking the drug that stimulated that response. This is how addiction begins, and even after only a few weeks of using benzos like Xanax, you may find that your cravings for them are compulsive and feel out of your control.

Addiction to benzos is complex and challenging to treat because of these changes that occur in the brain, which is why addiction to any substance is classified as a chronic disease.

As you continue to use benzos, it makes changes to receptors and neural systems in your brain, and it becomes extremely difficult for you to function without the use of the drugs.

The longer you use benzos, the more profound these brain changes can be, which is why people often require benzo addiction treatment to stop using these drugs. Benzo addiction treatment needs to focus on the specific complexities of addiction as a disease and other underlying issues or conditions that may affect the patient. Proper benzo addiction treatment should also treat the symptoms of physical dependence on these drugs.

Benzo Treatment Centers

If you’re someone in Colorado facing a benzo addiction, you may have some questions such as where benzo treatment centers are located and what happens at a benzo rehab center.

Local benzodiazepine treatment centers in Colorado include The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake. People may opt for a benzo rehab center near their home, or they may think it’s best for them to travel out of state to immerse themselves in their recovery. We also have treatment centers in locations like Florida.

Regardless of where you seek treatment, the two categories regarding choosing a benzo rehab center are inpatient or outpatient treatment. We offer both programs at The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake.

During inpatient treatment for benzo addiction, you live at a facility for a period of time, generally ranging from 28 to 90 days. You’ll start with a medically assisted detox to manage the symptoms of physical withdrawal from benzos. Once that’s completed, your team begins working on your individualized treatment plan.

An addiction to benzodiazepines is unique because it often begins as a way to treat a genuine anxiety or panic disorder. This is why dual diagnosis is so important to successful treatment. Dual diagnosis means that we address your addiction to Xanax or benzos and underlying mental health issues that may have played a role in that addiction.

A benzo rehab center with an inpatient program will usually include a combination of types of therapy, including group and individual therapy. The daily routine tends to be structured, which is a good way for people with addiction problems to start transitioning back into a productive lifestyle.

Treatment of Benzodiazepine Dependence

Treatment for benzodiazepine dependence begins with a medically assisted detox. This is particularly important for benzo addictions because withdrawal from this class of drugs can be dangerous. In addition to the uncomfortable symptoms, seizures are possible. A medical team can monitor you as you come off benzos and give you any medical treatments necessary to make you safer and more comfortable.

Once this is over, you can move into actual treatment. Regardless of whether you opt for inpatient or outpatient benzodiazepine rehab, you will go through various types of therapy and have social support in your recovery process.

If you have a severe benzo addiction and dependence, inpatient treatment is often recommended because it provides you with the most immersive experience. Outpatient treatment is frequently introduced as a step-down transition from inpatient rehab, although some patients will only do outpatient treatment.

During treatment, you’ll learn how to deal with triggers in your life in different ways without using benzos and get the tools that will help you live a healthy lifestyle. You will also be around other people dealing with a similar situation.

Benzodiazepine Addiction Recovery

Benzodiazepine addiction recovery is possible. It’s not without challenges, and it may be a difficult process, but many people are successful in their recovery from benzo addiction. Choosing the best benzo addiction recovery program is the necessary and essential first step.

Does Insurance Cover Benzodiazepine Rehab?

If you recognize you have an addiction to benzos but worry you can’t pay for rehab, you can contact one of our local or national intake coordinators. Many insurance plans do cover some or all of the cost of rehab for benzodiazepine addiction.

If you’re in Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder or anywhere in Colorado, there are resources for benzo addiction treatment, including The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake. Contact us today to discuss treatment options that can work well for your needs.


Adinoff, Bryon. “Neurobiologic Processes in Drug Reward and Addiction,” Harvard Review of Psychiatry. 2004. Accessed May 26, 2021.

Kang,Michael; Galuska, Michael A.; Ghassemzadeh, Sassan. “Benzodiazepine Toxicity,” November 15, 2020. Accessed May 26, 2021.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Research suggests benzodiazepine use is […]sorder rates are low.” October 18, 2018. Accessed May 26, 2021.

Food and Drug Administration. “FDA requiring Boxed Warning updated to i[…]diazepine drug class.” September 23, 2020. Accessed May 26, 2021.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Benzodiazepines and Opioids.” February 3, 2021. Accessed May 26, 2021.

ClinCalc. “Benzodiazepines.” Accessed May 26, 2021.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Benzodiazepines.” December 2019. Accessed May 26, 2021.


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