Benzodiazepines, or benzos as they are commonly referred to, are a type of drug used to help with symptoms of disorders like anxiety and insomnia. When individuals use these drugs properly, benzos can work wonderfully for people who suffer from addiction. The downfall is that it is tremendously easy to get hooked, and benzo addiction is a difficult thing to overcome.

At the Discovery Institute, we want you to be as informed as possible regarding how to combat your benzo addiction. If you or someone you know struggles with benzo addiction, this is a helpful introduction to some information that might assist in seeking treatment. Let’s take a closer look below.

What Are Benzos?

Benzos include drugs like Xanax and Klonopin which are sedatives. They work primarily by sedating a person’s entire central nervous system, which is great when the person needs it. But, when a person takes benzos in excess, this can easily lead to overdose. Typically, people who struggle with an addiction to benzos will either self-diagnose due to difficulty sleeping or in order to relax. This is how the drug is supplemented for many other forms of personal care. People who take benzos typically want relief from some form of anxiety. This is an extremely important part of the conversation we must discuss and will discuss, further below.

What Are The Dangers of Benzo Addiction?

Benzo addiction has unique problems. Since benzos are depressants, there are a lot of harmful side effects related to sleep. There are possibilities of developing insomnia without the substance, as well as falling into a coma. On top of this, since the drug affects the memory center, the user stands to lose a lot in regards to what they can/cannot remember.

Also, individuals could lose various cognitive abilities and functions, including decision-making. It could impair judgment, causing people to do things such as drive under the influence or become aggressive towards others. It could also cause people to lose the ability to control impulses. Clearly, benzo dependence has a very negative effect on the body. Now it is important to discover how they affect the mind. Let’s take a look more in-depth below.

Benzo Addiction Infographic

What is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

A co-occurring disorder, or a dual diagnosis, occurs when two diseases occur at the same time. When an individual experiences a mental illness and substance use disorder, they do not have two separate diseases. The two illnesses intertwine and connect, which forms a new (and less easily treated) disease. It is unclear whether addiction causes mental illness or vice versa, which is clear that each illness can contribute to or affect one another.

This is why many specialists lean towards treating the whole person, rather than trying to treat two separate diseases. At the Discovery Institute, we believe in the “whole person” approach, offering holistic treatment to those who come to us for help. Since a co-occurring disorder becomes a singular disorder, it is important to provide holistic treatment.

How Does Mental Health Affect Addiction?

Mental illness and addiction share many of the same symptoms and causes. Often, people experience them both simultaneously. In fact, this leads many individuals to conclude that one causes the other. While there isn’t necessarily a clear cause and effect relationship between benzo addictions and mental illness, both of these disorders are can feed into one another.

Benzo addiction and mental illness share many symptoms. Anxiety, a lack of focus, depression, difficulty sleeping, stress, irrational fears, headaches, and isolation are all common causes/symptoms of both benzo addictions and mental illness. This is extremely important in order to understand the relationship between these two disorders.

Again, although they may not cause one another, they feed into each other. Essentially, someone suffering from benzo dependence might exhibit symptoms of mental illness, or someone who is struggling with anxiety might develop benzo addiction in an attempt to calm down. When both of these disorders occur together, it creates a dual diagnosis.

Benzo Addiction and Combined Substances

Benzos are extremely dangerous to combine with alcohol or other drugs because they work to suppress the immune system also, which can result in almost immediate overdose, which very often can lead to permanent damage or even death.

As previously stated, alcohol is often combined with sleeping pills and benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium, Ativan, etc.. However, sometimes individuals will take a sleeping medication and are too impatient for the effects to kick in; thus they turn to alcohol to “boost” the sleeping medications. Another option is that an individual will already have been drinking, and miscalculate their prescription sleep medication due to impaired judgment. The result is polydrug use dangers.

The danger arises because both of these have a depressant effect on the body’s central nervous system. If the individual does not fall asleep, they become very dizzy, lack judgment, have impaired memory, and are more aggressive. If they do fall asleep, things can be even worse and they may slip into a coma. Also, while benzodiazepines alone have little risk of overdose, the combination of these two substances can be particularly lethal. 

A Few Ways to Cope

There are numerous ways to cope with benzo dependence, and it is important to know these if you are going to move forward in recovery. Being vulnerable, finding hobbies, and learning to manage triggers can all be helpful.

Many people who struggle with benzo dependence (or any other form of addiction) may have been abused, neglected, or have some form of trauma. However, one of the most important steps in recovery is to uncover those deep-seated traumas through vulnerability. Consider partaking in group therapy or another form of therapy in order to gain the support you need as you recover.

More Coping Methods

Another important way to cope is to develop hobbies. This may seem trivial, but hobbies are a great way to get moving as you go through your new way of life. Many individuals try holistic forms of therapy, such as yoga or meditation. These have also been a proven way to help improve physical and emotional health.

Some others seek to exercise more, which is proven to get endorphins flowing. Being in nature is especially helpful in causing positive brain chemicals to flow. Some other hobbies could be singing, writing, or drawing.

Lastly, it is extremely important to learn how to manage triggers. When you are in recovery, relapse is a very real possibility. This is why it is important to learn how someone can manage their triggers when (not if) they happen. A trigger can be anything from positive memories associated with substance use, feelings of guilt, isolation, stress, depression, or people that used to use with you.

When these triggers occur, it is tempting to see the substance as a positive memory, or a way out. A helpful way to cope is to play the memory all the way out. After you used the substance to feel better, what happened? Or after you used the substance to cope with other negative feelings, what happened? Usually, it ends with more of the negative.

Contact Us

It can be extremely difficult to stop using benzos; medical supervision is almost always necessary. Side effects like seizures and heart problems can occur throughout the withdrawal process. But when detox occurs in a medically supervised environment, individuals can successfully wean off the drugs and move on towards sobriety.

It is never too late. If you are struggling with benzo addiction, seeking professional treatment is the most important thing you can do. Recovery begins when you decide to take your life back from addiction.

If your loved one is struggling and you do not know what to do, allow us to help. We have a helpful guide that will run through an intervention for you. Either way, the most important thing you can do is to reach out to us. We have specialists available at all times to answer your questions, talk to you about various challenges, or generally just assist with anything you need. Please do not hesitate to reach out for help; call us today at (844) 433-1101.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.