Benzodiazepine Addiction

Treatment For Valium, Xanax, And Other Benzodiazepine Addiction

Benzodiazepines, sometimes abbreviated BZD or conversationally referred to as "benzos," are a class of psychoactive drugs. The name comes from the chemical structure of the compound, which includes a "benzene" ring and a "diazepine" ring. Benzodiazepines function by enhancing the effects of GABA-A, a neurotransmitter in the brain, which results in a kind of hypnotic sedative effect. Examples of benzodiazepines include Valium and Xanax (generic names diazepam and alprazolam, respectively).

Benzodiazepines are commonly used for the treatment of insomnia, anxiety, seizures, muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal, and a number of other conditions. When used appropriately over a short period of time, they can be very effective; however, when used in increasing amounts or in another way against the advice of a medical professional, they can cause physical dependence and addiction. Benzodiazepine addictions can involve both physical and a psychological dependence on the drugs, resulting in withdrawal when doses are stopped or reduced.

Signs And Symptoms

Signs of benzodiazepine addiction include:

  • Failure or inability to reduce doses or stop using benzodiazepines
  • Feeling unable to function without benzodiazepines
  • Increased tolerance of the effects of benzodiazepines, requiring higher doses to achieve the same outcome
  • Withdrawal symptoms (including depersonalization, anxiety, depression, hypersensitivity, physical tremors, and sleep disturbances) when doses of the drugs are reduced or eliminated

Benzodiazepine addicts often display self-harming behavior and suicidal tendencies, especially in young people. In rare cases, withdrawal from the drug can also result in psychosis and convulsions.

Causes And Risk Factors

The most common causes for benzodiazepine addiction are extending use beyond the original course of treatment and using larger doses than directed although many addicts simply begin using benzos without a prescription.

Risk factors for benzodiazepine addiction include:

  • Long-term use of benzodiazepines (beyond four weeks)
  • Use of high or increasingly high doses of the drugs
  • Simultaneous abuse of barbiturates or alcohol
  • Suffering from long-term anxiety disorders or other conditions for which benzodiazepines are used

Benzodiazepine Addiction And Other Mental Health Disorders

Benzodiazepine addiction is more likely to occur in individuals with certain anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, and mood disorders. Oftentimes, individuals diagnosed with anxiety disorders or sleep disorders will find the effects of benzodiazepines helpful, and will pursue higher and higher doses in order to increase or simply maintain the effects. Eventually, this can lead to a physical dependence, and individuals may continue seeking high doses to ward off withdrawal symptoms.

Diagnosing Benzodiazepine Addiction

Criteria for substance addictions are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and include physical tolerance, withdrawal symptoms when the substance is stopped, and failing to cut back on doses over time.


Treatments for benzodiazepine addiction generally begin with a slow detoxification process, eventually weaning a person away from the effects of the drugs while attempting to decrease the severity of the symptoms of withdrawal. As a follow-up to the detoxification program, recovering addicts are encouraged to pursue psychological therapy, group therapy, and other programs to prevent the possibility of relapse.

Benzodiazepine addiction can be difficult, especially when it stems from a desire to relieve symptoms of anxiety or other mental health conditions. UCLA Dual Diagnosis understands the complexities behind substance addiction and the comorbid conditions that have been linked to it; schedule an appointment to learn how we can help you recover from both the physical and psychological consequences of untreated addiction and other psychiatric conditions.