Many people have misconceptions about prescription drugs, including the view that they aren’t as dangerous as illicit drugs. The below FAQs provide insights on the potential dangers of benzos.
Are Benzos as Dangerous as Opioids?
While benzodiazepines by themselves rarely cause overdose deaths, it is not uncommon for people to abuse them with other drugs. A combination of benzos and barbiturates, opioids, alcohol or tricyclic antidepressants can prove fatal.1
How Quickly Can I Become Dependent on a Benzo?
The time it takes to form a physiological and psychological dependency on benzodiazepines varies by dosage, duration of therapy, potency and personal body chemistry. Dependency develops sooner (one to two months) when a person is taking a high dosage of a high-potency drug such as alprazolam compared to someone taking a relatively low dosage of a long-acting, low-potency drug such as chlordiazepoxide.2
Do Benzos Impact Dopamine Like Other Addictive Drugs?
The pleasurable sensations that make drugs so addictive occur when dopamine levels in the brain’s reward area abruptly surge. Benzos weaken the influence of a group of cells called inhibitory interneurons, located in the brain’s ventral tegmental area. These neurons normally help prevent excessive dopamine levels by subduing the firing rates of dopamine-producing neurons. Two negatives make a positive, so when benzos limit the interneurons’ restraining influence, the dopamine-producing neurons release more dopamine. The reward-producing mechanism associated with benzos is comparable to opiates, cannabinoids and GHB.3
Do Benzos Have Long-Term Withdrawal Symptoms?
Yes, despite slow, safe tapering of dosage, protracted (long-term) abstinence syndrome has been observed by addiction experts. Symptoms include prolonged (lasting several months) anxiety, depression and insomnia. In addition, gastrointestinal, neurological and musculoskeletal symptoms may occur. The abstinence phenomenon is believed to be the result of chronic neuroadaptation (the way the body adapts to the presence of a drug).2
What is Considered Long-Term Use and What are the Risks?
While dependency can occur after only a month, there is heightened reason for concern if a person has been taking benzodiazepines for six months or longer. Due to tolerance and withdrawal symptoms, long-term use of benzos can lead to dose escalation and worsening of the underlying condition they were prescribed to treat. There is evidence of increased cognitive impairment, falls and mortality with long-term use.4
- Benzodiazepines: Uses, Side Effects and Risks. Medical New Today website. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/262809.php Updated April 13, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2016.
- Longo LP, Johnson B. Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines – side effects, abuse risk and alternatives. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Apr 1;61(7):2121-8.
- Well-Known Mechanism Underlies Benzodiazepines’ Addictive Properties. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2012/04/well-known-mechanism-underlies-benzodiazepines-addictive-properties Published April 19, 2012. Accessed October 3, 2016.
- Brett J, Murnion B. Management of benzodiazepine misuse and dependence. Aust Prescr. 2015;38(5):152-155. doi:10.18773/austprescr.2015.055.
Get Help for Benzo Addiction
If you or a loved one is struggling with benzo addiction, The Right Step can help. We offer safe, comfortable medical detox and evidence-based addiction treatment. We’ve been helping clients and their families beat addiction since 1990. We can help you too. Call now. 844-877-1781