08 Feb Signs That You or a Loved One is Struggling With a Benzo Addiction
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One of the hardest things you could ever encounter is having someone you love become addicted to a substance.
Whether it be a family member or friend, seeing addiction take hold of and change a person you love can make you feel completely helpless. Yet friends and family can often be the solid foundation upon which an addict paves their road to recovery.
Addicts most often will not seek help on their own—it might take a push from family and friends to get them moving toward recovery in the first place. But in order to be able to be someone who can provide that push, you need to be able to recognize when someone you know and care about is displaying signs of addictive behavior.
When it comes to benzodiazepines, there is a lot that factors into the development of an addiction, so it can be hard to notice. But careful attention to detail, including of your loved one’s physicality and behavior, will go a long way toward noticing if there is a developing problem.
If you are seeking help for a loved one that is battling addiction, call us today at 678-293-9115 to speak with an addiction specialist about treatment options.
What are benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” are a class of psychoactive drugs, which include Valium, Xanax and others. Although there are many different kinds of benzos, they all share a common chemical structure. These prescription drugs are often abused and are highly addictive.
How do benzos become addictive?
Benzos are widely prescribed for conditions such as anxiety and insomnia. In most cases, a person will follow their prescription and never take more than their recommended dose. Their brain chemistry might change over time, and they could build up a tolerance to the drug, but still may not become an addict. The drugs are generally very effective at treating the symptoms they were prescribed for, and are considered safe.
However, in other cases, usage can lead to addiction. This most often occurs when a person uses them over a long period of time or tries to stop taking the drug and misses their effects. This is particularly true if a person already has issues with addiction.
Benzos affect the user’s central nervous system and work by enhancing the effects of the brain’s natural calming substance, called GABA-A. Over time, a person can develop a tolerance to the drug, which causes them to take more and higher doses to attain the same effects. They will then start to use the drug for nonmedical purposes, which is prescription drug abuse.
Others with a more severe addiction will take extremely high doses of benzos, or combining them with other drugs to achieve a greater high. This is when the addiction can get dangerous, especially when combined with substances like alcohol or opioids.
What are the signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine addiction?
If you are concerned that your loved one might have benzodiazepine addiction, there are several signs and symptoms you can look for.
First, the following signs are indications that a person is dealing with an addiction. These will be difficult to pick up on from the outside, but are good questions to ask if you get to discuss a potential addiction with your loved one.
Your loved one may be encountering:
- A failure or inability to reduce their dosage or stop using the drugs
- Feeling like they would be unable to function without their benzos
- An increased tolerance of the effects of benzos, which requires them to take higher doses to achieve the same effects
- Encountering withdrawal symptoms when they try to reduce their dosage or stop taking the drug entirely. Withdrawal involves a wide range of symptoms itself, but can include a desire to be non-social, anxiety, depression, hypersensitivity, physical tremors and insomnia.
If you are a friend or family member of someone whom you fear might be developing an addiction to benzos, there are several signs you can look for as well. The signs of benzodiazepine addiction include:
- Intermittent agoraphobia
- Mood swings
- If the person starts missing work
- Stealing or “borrowing” prescriptions
- Buying the drug illegally
- Doctor shopping
As a friend or family member, you should be able to pick up on some of these signs, particularly agoraphobia, mood swings and self-neglect. The others can be more easily hidden, but noticing a person changing physically and emotionally is a surefire red flag.
The Mayo Clinic defines agoraphobia as “a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.” With benzos, this can be intermittent, so you might notice this to be a recurring sign. This can be especially alarming in people who are normally quite comfortable in social situations. If a person becomes agoraphobic because of benzos addiction, he or she will at times become entirely non-social, and close themselves off because they fear environments that they normally wouldn’t. Other times they may seem completely normal. Make note of this kind of behavior.
Since they target the central nervous system, benzos are also closely linked to a user’s mood. Benzo addiction can cause depression, anxiety, dramatic mood swings, rage, hyperactivity, mania and restlessness, in varying degrees of severity. If these symptoms are not normally present, it can be a sign of addiction. Worse yet, if they are issues the person was already dealing with, and was perhaps prescribed benzos to help with in the first place, their addiction can actually make the symptoms more severe.
Benzodiazepine addiction can develop psychological symptoms as well. These can include hallucinations, issues with memory and concentration, general disorientation and confusion and the inability to form cohesive thoughts. Some will be more alarming than others, but if you start to notice any or several happening at once, it is definitely time to talk to your loved one to try and find the source of the problem. From here, things can only get worse.
If an addict doesn’t seek help, it can lead to psychosis, convulsions, self-harm or even suicidal tendencies. This is mostly seen in young people, but can happen to anyone severely addicted to the drug.
Confusion can set in at random and be minor, but noticeable. The effects of the drugs can make routine things seems suddenly complicated. The mood swings will be quite unpredictable, and while mostly minor, can be violent, especially if things get to the point of withdrawal. You should also be able to notice self-neglect if the person typically takes good care of themselves and seems to suddenly stop.
Behaviors like missing work, stealing prescriptions or buying benzos illegally will generally be hidden from other people, but if you happen to notice or catch them, it is time to intervene and get the person help. Likewise, you most likely wouldn’t catch someone doctor shopping, but if the addiction gets to a certain point, and their current dosage no longer works for them like it used to because they have built a tolerance to it, the person will start seeking other doctors to attain more of the drug. The prescribers won’t be aware of their existing prescriptions with other doctors.
If and when you notice these signs, the best thing you can do for your friend or loved one is to get them help. They most often will not ask for it on their own.
Beyond these initial signs of addiction, there are many other symptoms that an addict may be dealing with. Some will display more than others, but again, there is plenty that might point to an addiction to benzos.
An addiction to benzos may begin to affect a person physically. Benzos tend to cause addicts to become dehydrated. Some symptoms that come along with dehydration include decreased urination and dry mouth. Benzo abuse can impact a person’s appetite and cause their weight to fluctuate. Sometimes symptoms are similar to that of a common cold, including a stuffy nose, headaches and general lethargy.
Things can get worse from there. There might be swelling in the hands and feet or jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and eyes). Seemingly random sweating. Digestive complications, including constipation or diarrhea. As the drugs take further hold on the user’s central nervous system, they might start to experience issues with coordination, dizziness, blurred or double vision, drowsiness and even tremors and seizures. Benzos can even affect the heart, causing an elevated heart rate or heart palpitations.
Again, some of these will be difficult to pick up on from an outsider’s perspective, but consider the person’s normal behavior and see if you notice any of the above happening. Benzos can cause many of these to happen at once but can also be rather subtle.
If an addict is unable to acquire benzos, or even when they try to quit, they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms, which can often be dramatic. Because of the severity of these withdrawal symptoms, quitting cold turkey is quite unsafe, and can even be fatal. The best course of action is to get an addict professional help, in a supervised rehab center.
How do benzos become addictive?
As mentioned above, benzos create mind-altering effects, and activate the pleasure centers of the brain, giving users a sense of happiness, euphoria and calmness. This acts as a sedative in the brain, slowing down certain functions and muting reactions to stress.
Over time, the drugs may actually influence the production of GABA (again, the body’s natural calming substance). Benzos can actually take effect so much so that the brain may stop making GABA without the presence of the drug. A user’s brain may then become dependent on the drug for its calming effects. When it leaves the bloodstream, withdrawal can start as the brain struggles to regain its natural sense of order and balance.
The body will develop a tolerance to benzos over time, which means a person’s standard dose of benzos will become less effective. The user will need a higher dose to achieve the same effect, which can lead to struggling with a physical and psychological addiction.
There are numerous different variables that can play a role in the development of benzo abuse. The most common causes for addiction to benzos is when a user extends their use of the drug beyond their original course of treatment. It moves to full addiction when they start using larger doses than they were directed. Others may begin using without ever having a prescription at all.
There are a few known factors that make a person more at risk to benzos addiction. They include:
- Long-term use of benzodiazepines (meaning over four weeks)
- Taking benzos in high doses or gradually increasingly high doses
- Simultaneous abuse of other drugs and/or alcohol
- The presence of long-term anxiety disorders or other mental health conditions for which the benzos were originally prescribed. There are also instances where users did not know another underlying condition existed.
Benzos Withdrawal Symptoms and Treatment
Once a person seeks benzodiazepine addiction treatment there will also be a period of withdrawal symptoms which can range from minor to severe.
Anyone can encounter withdrawal symptoms, but they are most often seen in individuals who have used benzos over a longer period of time, generally around three to six months. It is also seen in individuals who have used for less time, but who concurrently were abusing alcohol and/or other sedatives. In some cases of benzos addiction, withdrawal symptoms can begin to appear as soon as a few hours after the last usage, and peaking within 24 to 72 hours.
Symptoms of benzos withdrawal can manifest in many ways, but typical signs include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Muscle cramps
- Severe anxiety
- Increased blood pressure
- Distorted body image
- Restless leg syndrome
The severity of these withdrawal symptoms will vary based on the amount of drugs taken, the duration of benzo abuse and the method of administration, such as snorting, ingesting by mouth or injecting the drug.
A person can successfully recover from a benzodiazepine addiction, but following the proper course of action to get help will make sure things don’t get worse.
Brande, Lauren. “How to Help a Xanax Addict.” Drugabuse.com. 14 Mar. 2019. https://drugabuse.com/xanax/how-to-help-an-addict/
“Benzodiazepine Abuse Symptoms and Warning Signs.” Addiction Center. 14 Mar. 2019. https://www.addictioncenter.com/benzodiazepines/symptoms-signs/
“Benzodiazepine Addiction: Symptoms and Signs.” American Addiction Center. 14 Mar. 2019. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/benzodiazepine/symptoms-and-signs