Although benzodiazepines have a potential for abuse or addiction, not everyone who is prescribed them will develop one. In fact many people take them as prescribed and stop when they no longer need them. Others, however, can develop dependence or addiction, manifested in a variety of ways. In general, using benzos for more than two weeks on a continuous basis is not recommended by manufacturers.
Signs and Symptoms of Benzo Addiction
Health professionals consider the following to be possible signs of addiction when using benzodiazepines. They look for at least 3 of the following behaviors in a 12-month period:
- Tolerance to the medication, to the extent that the patient needs to take more to achieve the same effect; more marked when used as sleep aids, less common when used intermittently for anxiety.
- Withdrawal begins when the medication is discontinued – may lead to taking other drugs to relieve symptoms.
- Taking a higher dose or a more frequent dose outside of a physician’s advice. This includes taking the medications for problems other than they are prescribed for.
- An inability to stop or excessive anxiety when considering stopping.
- Preoccupation with acquiring more medication or another prescription – usually to meet increased need because of self-administering a higher dose.
- A drastic change in habit or lifestyle, such as skipping social engagements or ignoring responsibilities because of the medication or the effects of the medication – embarrassment and lying may be associated with this.
Other benzodiazepine effects that may or may not be tied to dependence:
- Memory impairment
- Sometimes confused with aging for elderly patients. Especially prevalent is retrograde amnesia – the inability to remember events from the previous day/night when on the medication.
- Inappropriate and beyond normal sleep periods.
- Loss of concentration and/or motor skills
- Similar to being drunk, but often subtle. Like memory impairment, this can be misdiagnosed as the normal result of aging. Falls may become more common.
photo by Patricia Yliniemi