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Are Benzos Addictive?

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

October 11, 2023

Table of Contents

If you or a loved one are taking benzos and are worried, “are benzos addictive?”, it’s important to know that although benzodiazepines can be highly effective when used short-term and as prescribed by a medical professional, it is possible to become addicted to benzos.

Benzodiazepines – a class of drugs that include Xanax (alprazolam) and Valium (diazepam) – are prescribed to treat conditions such as anxiety disorder, insomnia, seizures, and muscle spasms. For this reason, benzos are classified as Schedule IV controlled substances.

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Whether you are worried about a loved one’s addiction to benzos or you are concerned about your own use of prescription medications, here is what you will learn in this guide:

  • Are benzos addictive?
  • Why are benzos addictive?
  • What is a benzo addiction?
  • What are the most common benzodiazepine abuse symptoms?
  • How can you connect with effective benzo addiction treatment?

Benzo Addiction: What is It?

Like all Schedule IV narcotics, benzos have legitimate medical applications partnered with a pronounced risk of abuse and addiction.

This class of drugs works by intensifying the activity of GABA – a chemical messenger in the brain – and producing a calming effect. With sustained use, the brain becomes dependent on benzodiazepines to function properly. This often leads to the development of physiological dependence and psychological addiction.

Benzodiazepine addiction can develop if you take the medication for a prolonged period. As your brain adapts to the continuous presence of benzodiazepines, tolerance forms. When this happens, you will need more benzos or more frequent doses to deliver the intended effects. Increasing consumption is liable to accelerate the development of dependence on benzos. If you become dependent on this class of medication, aggravating withdrawal symptoms will present if you reduce or discontinue use of the drug. 

Withdrawal symptoms may include insomnia, anxiety, sweating, nausea, tremors, and seizures. A benzo addict may continue using the medication simply to avoid the manifestation of withdrawal symptoms. Both tolerance and withdrawal are diagnostic criteria for drug addiction.

An image of a woman with her hands on her temples to represent withdrawal symptoms of benzos addiction.

 Psychological addiction may also develop, as you might start to rely on the drug to manage stress or anxiety, or to induce feelings of relaxation or euphoria. 

The risk of benzo addiction is increased when the substance is used for nonmedical purposes – when benzos are obtained without a prescription or taken in higher doses than directed, for instance. That said, addiction to benzos can still develop in susceptible individuals who take the medication as directed by a physician.

Addiction to benzos is clinically known as sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder, one of ten types of substance use disorder (addiction) recognized by APA (American Psychiatric Association). If you or someone you care about is battling benzo addiction, it is imperative to seek professional help. You should not stop using this class of medication without consulting a healthcare provider. Treatment options include medical detox with a tapered reduction in benzo dosage, psychotherapy, and medication-assisted treatment. Recovery from benzodiazepine abuse and addiction is possible with the right support and resources.

Are Benzodiazepines Addictive?

Yes, benzodiazepines are highly addictive. These drugs work by altering the chemistry of the brain and producing a calming effect, which can produce pleasure reactions in the brain. However, regular use of benzos can lead to physical and psychological dependence, even when taken as prescribed.

Benzodiazepine addiction can be especially dangerous, as sudden withdrawal from the drug can lead to seizures, which can be life-threatening. Even when withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening, they can be extremely uncomfortable, making it challenging to quit using benzos without professional intervention.

The risk of addiction may vary depending on individual risk factors that include:

  • Genetics
  • History of addiction
  • Social and environmental factors
  • Underlying physical health conditions
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders

Anyone who uses benzos for a prolonged period is at risk of developing dependence and addiction.

A man is sitting on a leather couch with his hand on his head to represent the symptoms of benzodiazepine addiction (benzo addiction).

Benzo Abuse

Benzodiazepine abuse involves using these drugs in any way other than as prescribed–typically in higher doses or for non-medical reasons. Some people may abuse benzos by obtaining the medication without a prescription, using someone else’s prescription, or taking the substance to induce feelings of relaxation or euphoria.

Benzo abuse can be especially dangerous because these drugs can produce a range of adverse outcomes, including impaired judgment, memory problems, drowsiness, and confusion. In severe cases, it can lead to respiratory depression, coma, and death.

Abusing benzodiazepines can also increase the risk of developing an addiction, as the body can quickly become dependent on the drug to function normally. Over time, you may require higher doses to achieve the same effect, prompting a cycle of tolerance and dependence.

If you suspect that you or a loved one is exhibiting substance abuse symptoms, engage with professional help as soon as possible to streamline your recovery. With proper treatment, you can overcome benzo abuse and addiction and achieve long-term recovery.

 Signs of Benzo Abuse

Signs of benzodiazepine use can be both physical and behavioral.

Physical signs of abuse can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of coordination
  • Blurred vision

Behavioral signs can include:

  • Increased risk-taking behaviors
  • Engaging in dangerous activities
  • Neglecting responsibilities and obligations
  • Doctor shopping to obtain more benzos

People who abuse benzodiazepines may also experience mood swings, anxiety, depression, and changes in social behavior. They may become withdrawn, irritable, or easily agitated. They may also have difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and confusion.

Another common sign of benzodiazepine abuse is taking the medication in ways that are not intended, such as crushing pills to snort or inject them, or combining them with alcohol or other drugs. This is known as polysubstance abuse and can increase the risk of overdose and other complications.

Benzodiazepine addiction symptoms are listed in DSM-5-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th revised edition):

  1. Taking benzos in larger amounts or for longer than intended.
  2. Making unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control benzo use.
  3. Spending significant time obtaining, using, or recovering from benzo use.
  4. Experiencing cravings for benzos.
  5. Failing to fulfill major personal and professional obligations due to recurrent benzo use.
  6. Continuing to use benzos despite having persistent social or interpersonal issues triggered or inflamed by the effects of the drug.
  7. Giving up or reducing important activities due to benzo use.
  8. Using benzos in physically hazardous situations.
  9. Continuing to use benzos despite awareness of physical or psychological conditions caused or exacerbated by the drug.
  10. Developing tolerance to the effects of benzos, requiring increased amounts to achieve the desired effect.
  11. Withdrawal symptoms manifesting when trying to stop or reduce benzo use.

If you experience at least two of the above symptoms within a 12-month period, you may be diagnosed with benzodiazepine addiction according to the DSM-5 criteria.

Why are benzodiazepines so addictive, then?

Why are Benzos So Addictive?

Benzodiazepines are highly addictive due to their effects on the brain. These drugs work by increasing the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA, which produces a calming effect. This calming effect can be pleasurable for some individuals, leading to a desire to use benzos more frequently or in higher doses.

Over time, the brain can become dependent on benzos to function normally, leading to physical and psychological addiction. This means that the body and mind require benzos to feel balanced and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Additionally, benzos can create tolerance, which means that the body requires higher doses of the drug to achieve the same effect. Tolerance can lead to increased use, which can further worsen dependence and addiction.

Beyond this, benzodiazepines can produce a range of withdrawal symptoms when use is discontinued, including anxiety, insomnia, muscle spasms, and seizures. These withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable and sometimes even life-threatening, making it difficult for individuals to quit using benzos without professional help.

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Get Treatment for Benzo Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

At Renaissance Recovery Center located near the heart of Huntington Beach, California, we specialize in providing top-notch outpatient treatment for all forms of addiction and mental health disorders, with a particular focus on benzo addiction.

Choose from our range of outpatient treatment programs including PHPs (partial hospitalization programs), IOPs (intensive outpatient programs), and integrated dual diagnosis treatment programs. We provide the flexibility and support you need to heal and recover from benzodiazepine addiction at your own pace.

Our individualized benzo addiction treatment plans draw from a range of evidence-based and holistic interventions, including medication-assisted treatment, group and individual counseling, psychotherapy (CBT or DBT), family therapy, experiential adventure therapy, and holistic therapies. All our programs are designed to meet your unique needs and help you overcome addiction.

We will work with you to create an aftercare plan that includes coping techniques and relapse prevention strategies, so you can continue your journey toward lasting recovery. To take the first step towards a brighter future, contact our admissions team at 866.330.9449 today. At Renaissance’s benzo rehab in California, we are dedicated to helping you overcome addiction and achieve a fulfilling, sober life.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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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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