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Are Anxiety Meds Addictive?

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

December 7, 2023

Table of Contents

Are anxiety meds addictive” is perhaps the most common question asked by those grappling with anxiety disorder and searching for the right medication. Healthcare providers may prescribe various medications like SSRIs or SNRIs to relieve symptoms of anxiety, as well as non-addictive anxiety medication like buspirone. If these treatments prove ineffective, though, doctors may prescribe more addictive anxiety medication like benzodiazepines (benzos) as a last resort for treating severe anxiety and panic attacks.

Under careful medical supervision, these medications can provide significant relief, swiftly curbing anxiety and halting panic attacks. When used as directed, individuals can lead productive, anxiety-free lives. Nevertheless, medications in this class can still trigger the development of physical dependence, associated with anxiety med withdrawal upon discontinuation, and potentially leading to benzo addiction.

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Read on to learn more about the following issues:

  • Are anti-anxiety meds addictive?
  • Is anxiety medicine addictive when used as prescribed?
  • What are anxiety medication side effects long term?
  • Are there alternatives to anxiety medication?
  • Addicted to anxiety meds: how to connect with anxiety treatment.

Risks of Anxiety Medication Addiction

While anxiety medications – particularly benzodiazepines like Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, Valium, and Rohypnol – can be highly effective in managing severe anxiety and panic attacks, they are not without risks. Here are some of the potential dangers associated with these medications:

  • Physical dependence: Benzodiazepines are addictive anti-anxiety meds known for their potential to trigger physical dependence. When taken regularly, even as prescribed, the body can become accustomed to the presence of the drug. This can result in the need for higher doses to achieve the same effect, increasing the risk of addiction.
  • Psychological dependence: In addition to physical dependence, individuals may also develop a psychological dependence on anxiety medications. They may come to rely on these drugs as a coping mechanism for stress and anxiety, making it challenging to manage these emotions without medication.
  • Tolerance: Over time, the body can build a tolerance to benzodiazepines, requiring higher doses to achieve the same level of anxiety relief. This can contribute to a cycle of increasing dosage, which can be dangerous.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: Discontinuing benzodiazepines, especially without medical guidance, can trigger the presentation of withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be uncomfortable and include increased anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, and, in severe cases, seizures.
  • Misuse and addiction: Some individuals may misuse anxiety medications by taking larger doses than prescribed or using them recreationally to achieve a euphoric effect. This misuse can quickly lead to addiction, characterized by a loss of control over drug use.
  • Dangerous interactions: Combining benzodiazepines with other substances, such as alcohol or opioids, can be life-threatening. These interactions can depress the central nervous system, leading to slowed breathing and a risk of overdose.
  • Impact on mental health: Prolonged use of benzodiazepines can have adverse effects on mental health. They may contribute to symptoms of depression, memory problems, and cognitive impairment.
  • Social and functional impairment: Addiction to anxiety medications can lead to social isolation, difficulties in personal relationships, and impairment in daily functioning due to preoccupation with obtaining and using the drug.

Only use anxiety medications under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional and strictly as prescribed. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety medication misuse or addiction, seeking professional help and support can help initiate a safe and effective recovery journey.

Anxiety Medication Side Effects

While anxiety medications can be beneficial in managing symptoms of anxiety and panic disorders, they can also have side effects. Gaining an awareness of potential side effects of anti-anxiety meds is beneficial when considering different medications. Here are some common side effects associated with anxiety medications, especially benzos:

  • Drowsiness or sedation, making activities like driving or operating heavy machinery unsafe.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness, which can increase the risk of falls or accidents.
  • Memory and concentration issues that can impact daily functioning and productivity.
  • Speech difficulties like slurred speech.
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach discomfort. 
  • Headaches  
  • Blurred vision  
  • Changes in appetite and weight.
  • Paradoxical reactions, where individuals experience increased anxiety, agitation, or aggression instead of calmness.
  • Physical and psychological dependence.

Discuss potential side effects with a healthcare provider before starting any anxiety medication. Not everyone will experience these side effects, and they may vary depending on the specific medication and individual factors. Additionally, side effects should be monitored closely during treatment, and any concerning symptoms should be reported to a healthcare professional. In some cases, adjusting the medication or exploring alternative treatments may be necessary to manage side effects effectively.

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Anxiety Med Withdrawal

When individuals have been taking anxiety medications like benzodiazepines for an extended period, their bodies may become dependent on these drugs. This can lead to withdrawal symptoms when attempting to reduce or stop medication use. Anxiety medication withdrawal can be challenging and uncomfortable, although the process can be streamlined with medical guidance. Here are some common withdrawal symptoms associated with anxiety medications:

  • Rebound anxiety: As the medication wears off, individuals may experience a resurgence of anxiety symptoms, sometimes more severe than before treatment.
  • Insomnia: Difficulty sleeping or insomnia is a common withdrawal symptom.
  • Irritability: Mood swings, irritability, and emotional instability can occur during withdrawal.
  • Muscle tension: Increased muscle tension and stiffness may be experienced.
  • Tremors: Shaking or tremors in the hands or other parts of the body can occur.
  • Sweating: Profuse sweating, even in cooler conditions, is a withdrawal symptom for some people detoxing from benzos.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting may present.
  • Headaches: Headaches are a common withdrawal complaint.
  • Concentration difficulties: Cognitive difficulties, including poor concentration and memory problems, can accompany withdrawal.
  • Panic attacks: Some individuals may experience panic attacks during withdrawal.
  • Depersonalization and derealization: Feelings of being disconnected from self (depersonalization) or the external world (derealization) can occur during benzo detoxification.
  • Seizures: In severe cases of benzodiazepine withdrawal, seizures may occur, highlighting the importance of a medically supervised tapering process.

Taper off anxiety medications gradually and under medical supervision to minimize withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of seizures or other complications. Attempting to discontinue these medications abruptly or without professional guidance can be dangerous. A healthcare provider can create a tapering schedule tailored to individual needs, gradually reducing the dose to allow the body to adjust safely and with less discomfort.

If you or someone you know is considering discontinuing anxiety medication, consult a healthcare professional to discuss the best approach, potential withdrawal symptoms, and alternative treatment options.

Treatment for Anxiety Medication Dependence & Addiction

Addressing dependence or addiction to anxiety medications, especially benzodiazepines, typically requires comprehensive treatment to help individuals regain control of their lives. Here are key components of treatment:

A healthcare provider will conduct a thorough medical assessment to determine the extent of dependence or addiction, assess physical and mental health, and identify any co-occurring disorders.

For individuals with severe dependence on anxiety medications, a medically supervised detoxification process may be necessary. This helps manage withdrawal symptoms safely.

In some cases, a healthcare provider may prescribe alternative medications to manage anxiety while gradually tapering off the addictive medication. These alternatives are typically less addictive, such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) or other non-benzodiazepine options.

Behavioral therapy like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is an essential component of treatment. It helps individuals identify and modify negative thought patterns and behaviors related to anxiety and medication use.

Supportive therapies, including individual and group counseling, provide a safe space for individuals to share their experiences, learn coping strategies, relapse prevention techniques, and receive support from peers and professionals.

Some people may benefit from psychiatric evaluation and treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety disorders. For severe cases of dependence or addiction with co-occurring mental health issues, residential or inpatient treatment programs offer a highly structured and supportive environment for recovery.

Encouraging healthy lifestyle changes, including exercise, nutrition, and stress management techniques, can support overall well-being and recovery. Some individuals find benefit in holistic approaches such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture, or mindfulness practices to manage anxiety and promote overall well-being.

Involving family members and loved ones in the treatment process can enhance support and understanding. Support groups can also be valuable for individuals in recovery.

Seek professional help when dealing with anxiety medication dependence or addiction, as self-detoxification attempts can be dangerous. A healthcare provider can create a personalized treatment plan based on an individual’s unique needs and circumstances.

Recovery from anxiety medication dependence or addiction is possible with the right treatment and support. It often requires commitment, patience, and a comprehensive approach to address the physical, psychological, and behavioral aspects of dependence. Anxiety medication dependence and addiction may require ongoing care and support in the form of continuing therapy, regular medical check-ups, and monitoring for any signs of relapse. We can help you achieve all this and more at Renaissance Recovery in Southern California.

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Here at Renaissance Recovery near Huntington Beach, CA, our Orange County drug rehab offers a variety of outpatient treatment programs for all types of addictions and mental health issues.

For those grappling benzo addiction and anxiety, choose from the following treatment programs:

All treatment programs at our inclusive and welcoming treatment facility offer a personalized blend of the following therapies:

Call 866.330.9449 today when you are ready to live unconstrained by anxiety or benzo addiction.



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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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