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Guide to Benzodiazepine Overdose

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

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Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

Benzodiazepine overdose comes about when benzos are misused or abused. Luckily, for those dealing with a benzo addiciton, there are benzodiazepine addiction treatment centers in place to help.

This class of prescription medication is primarily prescribed for the short-term treatment of panic disorders and anxiety disorders. Benzos can also be effective for treating alcohol withdrawal and seizures

Although benzos were sometimes used to manage the symptoms of insomnia short-term, they are now seldom used to treat sleep issues.

Understanding Benzo Overdose

When misused or abused, benzos can bring about harmful consequences, potentially even fatal overdose

The most commonly prescribed benzos include: 

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Chlorodiazepam (Librium)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)

Benzodiazepines are CNS depressants. This class of drug slows activity in the brain by enhancing the inhibitory effects of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). Resultantly, a feeling of calm washes over users, effectively reducing anxiety. 

Familiarizing yourself with the signs of a benzodiazepine overdose can help you to recognize any life-threatening symptoms, whether in yourself or a loved one using benzos.

Benzo overdose typically occurs when you take more than the recommended dosage of the medication. 

Combining benzos with other CNS depressants like alcohol also increases the likelihood of overdose. 

In the case of acute benzodiazepine overdose, extreme sedation is combined with diminished reflexes and an impaired mental state. Although benzos are safe when used precisely as directed, acute benzo overdose can bring about respiratory depression and coma. In the worst outcome, benzo OD can be fatal.

Benzodiazepine Overdose Symptoms

Although the signs and symptoms of benzo overdose vary from person to person and depend on a number of variables, some of the most common side effects include: 

  • Drowsiness
  • Deep fatigue
  • Depressed breathing
  • Inability to breathe
  • Blue tinge to lips and fingertips
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Double vision or blurred vision
  • Weakness
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Altered mental state
  • Hallucinations
  • Stupor
  • Coma

Can You Die From Benzodiazepine Overdose?

In some rare cases, serious complications can follow after benzo overdose. These can include: 

  • Pneumonia
  • Brain damage
  • Muscle damage
  • Death

When benzodiazepines are used in isolation, fatal overdose is rare. Using other substances like alcohol ratchets up the chance of a deadly outcome.

Benzo Overdose Treatment

The first thing you should do if you encounter any symptoms associated with benzo overdose it to call 911. The quicker you obtain medical attention, the less the chance of adverse outcomes, and the less likely you will be to suffer a fatal overdose. 

When calling 911, give as much information to the emergency responders as possible concerning the person overdosing, including the benzo dosage concerned and any other substances used in combination with those benzos. 

The overdose victim will be taken immediately to hospital. If necessary, they will be treated with IV fluids and respiratory support. Sometimes, medications are used.

Flumazenil is often used in an emergency benzo overdose setting. As a benzo receptor antagonist, this medication can reverse the sedative effects associated with benzodiazepines when overdose occurs. Flumazenil can be used to help revive an unconscious person, and it can also be used to prevent someone from slipping back into unconsciousness or coma. 

Occasionally, victims of benzo overdose need prolonged recovery times. This will depend on how quickly treatment is administered, as well as the scope of the overdose. 

There are some simple steps you can follow to minimize the chance of benzo overdose occurring in the first place. 

  • Take benzos only and exactly as prescribed
  • Only use your prescription for benzos
  • Inform your healthcare provider of all other substances you use, including OTC medication and supplements
  • Do not use alcohol or other drugs when you are taking benzodiazepines
  • Notify your healthcare provider if you encounter any side effects when taking benzos

Renaissance Recovery’s Benzo Addiction Treatment

Whether you’re addicted to Xanax or any other prescription benzodiazepine, you should not stop taking this medication suddenly and without medical guidance. 

NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) recommends the following for addiction to prescription drugs like Xanax: 

  • Medical detox: Medically-supervised detox can be beneficial due to the various risks associated with benzo withdrawal. If you stop taking benzos abruptly, you’re liable to experience insomnia, anxiety, and possibly even seizures. Here at Renaissance, we’ll help you minimize these withdrawal symptoms while at the same time reducing the chance of any adverse complications
  • Inpatient or outpatient treatment: If you are severely dependent on benzodiazepines or especially prone to relapse, you may benefit from inpatient rehab. In most cases of benzo addiction, though, outpatient treatment makes a smooth fit. We offer traditional outpatient programs, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), and partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) here at Renaissance. With our part-time or full-time treatment programs, you can benefit from the support and structure of residential rehab without the cost or the restrictions
  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy or talk therapy can be highly beneficial for treating the underlying issues of benzo addiction. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) sessions will help you to explore the interrelated nature of your thoughts and your feelings, as well as the way they impact your behavior. You’ll learn what triggers you to behave poorly – by abusing benzos, for instance – and you’ll also learn healthy coping strategies you can implement outside the therapy session in a real world setting. CBT sessions are delivered one-to-one or in group settings as appropriate

If you are unable or unwilling to achieve complete abstinence, it’s possible to adopt a harm reduction approach with a taper leading to a maintenance dose of benzos.

Whatever the extent of your addiction to benzodiazepines, we’ll help you address this before it ends in benzo overdose. When you’re ready to take the next step, reach out to the Renaissance admissions team at 866.330.9449.

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Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country