Finding Help for Benzodiazepine Addiction
Many people become addicted to benzodiazepines or “benzos” as they are often called. Common types of benzos include:
These anti-anxiety and anti-convulsant sedatives are effective at managing the conditions for which they are prescribed but have a high potential for abuse and dependence. If you or someone you love is addicted to these substances, there are ways to get help.
How to Approach an Addict
Approaching a loved one suffering from addiction (or in diagnostic terms, a “substance use disorder”) is never easy. You will likely face a heavy dose of denial, especially if your loved one has a prescription from a doctor. It is extremely common to believe you can’t become addicted to a medication you’ve been prescribed; however, it is all too common and it happens much more often than people think. Regardless of how your loved one became addicted, it can be extremely difficult for them to quit on their own, and you may need the help of others to positively influence them into treatment.
Interventions by friends or family in which several people in the addicted person’s life come together to talk to them about their addiction and urge them to get help can be effective, as long as the approach is loving and supportive (not angry and shaming) in nature. Yelling, threatening, or expressing anger in order to get someone addicted to benzos into treatment is not helpful and may drive the addicted person further away from seeking treatment.
Community Reinforcement Approach and Family Training, or CRAFT, is another approach that has support in outcome studies as being an effective way to convince a family member to seek treatment for drug addiction 1. CRAFT is designed to help family members intervene in such a way that they maintain caring and concern for their addicted loved one, while avoiding unhealthy behaviors like enabling and sacrificing their own self-care. The approach can help motivate the individual to seek treatment. A wealth of empirical evidence supports employing CRAFT-based strategy for staging a successful intervention—one that persuades a loved one to get help 2.
There are a variety of treatment options for individuals suffering from an addiction to benzodiazepines. Depending on the severity of the addiction – a determination made after thorough evaluation with an addiction treatment specialist – recommendations will be made for treatment in either an outpatient or inpatient setting.
Because benzo withdrawal can produce life-threatening symptoms such as seizures, detoxing with medical support is a key first step of treatment. This is even more important for those addicted to multiple substances, as abusing more than one drug can significantly complicate withdrawal. A detox program can provide 24/7 oversight to ensure that no medical complications occur during the detox process, and that the person is as comfortable as possible during this tenuous period.
In order to minimize the possibility of complications, the typical course of treatment is to taper the dose of the drug over time and then stop use altogether. Occasionally, medications may be given to assist in this process, such as longer-acting sedative agents 3.
Inpatient detox programs sometimes include supportive counseling and therapy as part of the program of treatment. However, it is not uncommon for a person to attend a detox program, then continue with subsequent inpatient or outpatient treatment program that is more focused on counseling and therapy. Detox is rarely sufficient on its own as a form of addiction treatment. Ongoing programs provide the therapy and skills training essential for the maintenance of substance abstinence.
Are Benzodiazepines Addictive?
It is extremely common to believe you can’t become addicted to a medication you’ve been prescribed; however, it is all too common and it happens much more often than people think.
Benzodiazepines do indeed have addictive potential. While therapeutic doses of these medications are effective for the conditions they treat, misuse and abuse of these drugs can easily lead to addiction.
Benzodiazepines lead to feelings of sedation, but at higher doses they lead to feelings of euphoria in some users. When consumed in sufficient amounts, they can result in dopamine surges that promote rewarding feelings in the brain. This reinforcement of the reward centers of the brain causes benzos to be addictive. When someone abuses them over time, the rewarding feeling in the brain caused by these drugs surpasses those of natural rewards and so drug use takes a priority over other healthy activities.
Due to the development of tolerance over time, it takes ever-increasing doses to produce the euphoric effects that are produced when a person begins abusing these drugs. Continuing to raise the dose to feel the effects is a huge risk factor for the development of dependence and addiction.
What Are the Signs of Addiction?
Addiction may develop relatively quickly when benzos are misused, though in small doses over short periods of time, they can be very effective medicines for managing anxiety and stress related disorders. Some signs that suggest that an addiction may be developing include:
- Using the substance compulsively.
- Taking more of the drug than prescribed.
- Taking the drug without a prescription.
- Feeling that it is not possible to function without the drug.
- Having withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, tremors or even seizures when the benzos are reduced or stopped.
Am I Addicted to Benzodiazepines?
A benzodiazepine addiction may have already developed if you find that the drug in question has risen to the top of your priorities, or if you’re willing to risk harm, break laws, and forsake all that you previously held dear in favor of using the substance. Specific signs of a substance use disorder as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) include 4:
- Spending the majority of your time thinking about or using benzodiazepines.
- Attempting multiple times to cut down or stop use but not succeeding.
- Taking higher amounts taking more often than you intended.
- Craving benzodiazepines.
- Continuing to use them even when they are causing harm to your health or causing personal distress.[
- Using benzos in situations where doing so can be hazardous such as while driving a vehicle or operating dangerous machinery.
- Developing tolerance (continually needing to raise your doses to get the same effects).
- Experiencing withdrawal when not taking them.
If you ask yourself whether you meet any of the above criteria and you find that you do meet two or more, you may be addicted and need help. Remember, there is no shame in asking for help to stop using benzodiazepines.
Call Our Hotline Today
There are numerous treatment options for someone struggling with addiction to get help. Resources include but are not limited to:
- Short-term detox programs. These programs can help clear the body of the drug and get the individual started on their journey towards long-term substance abstinence.
- Inpatient treatment. These programs provide a high level of supervised care in a completely sober environment.
- Long-term residential rehab and assistance. These programs, which can range from 28-90 days or longer, provide education, skills training, and therapy in a sober living environment away from triggers to use.
- Outpatient programs. This type of care provides therapy and support while allowing the patient to live at home while working through the process of recovery.
- Sober living houses or homes. These homes provide a transition out of treatment into a supportive and abstinent environment where clients can learn the skills they need before returning home to their daily lives.
- Group assistance and therapy. Groups such as NA and SMART Recovery provide the support and structure that many people in recovery find beneficial to maintaining their sobriety.
It can be overwhelming to sift through all of the treatment options alone. If you need help or someone you love is addicted and you are not sure what steps to take next, call 1-888-744-0069Who Answers? to speak with a treatment support specialist today.
- Meyers, R.J., Smith, J.E. & Lash, D.N. (2005): A Program for Engaging Treatment-Refusing Substance Abusers into Treatment: CRAFT. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy. 1 (2), Page 90–100.
- Meyers, Robert J.; Roozen, Hendrik G.; Smith, Jane Ellen (2011). "The Community Reinforcement Approach: An Update of the Evidence". Alcohol Research & Health: The Journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) 33 (4).
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2006. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45.) 4 Physical Detoxification Services for Withdrawal From Specific Substances.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.