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Benzodiazepine addiction - signs, symptoms and recovery

Benzodiazepines - a group of drugs that include diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax) - are prescribed for the treatment of conditions such as insomnia, anxiety, seizures and muscle spasms.

While benzodiazepines are highly effective when they are taken for their intended use, addiction can occur when these drugs are misused.

If you are worried that someone close to you is abusing or has become addicted to benzodiazepines, or if you are concerned about your own use, we have outlined the common signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine addiction. We have also included information on the help and treatment available at Priory centres across the UK to support a person on their path to recovery.

Signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine addiction

When someone is dealing with a drug addiction, they commonly experience the following:

  • Wanting to take increased dosages of the drug, or at more frequent intervals
  • Being unable to stop or reduce the amount of the drug they are taking
  • Being unable to function without the drug
  • Continuing to take the drug despite its effects on their physical and mental health
  • Being irritable and hostile towards others
  • Having reduced inhibitions and impaired judgement
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as higher sensitivity, anxiety, depression, tremors and disturbances to their sleep, if their drug dosage is intentionally or unintentionally reduced or stopped

If someone has a benzodiazepine addiction, the following signs may also be seen:

  • Appearing drowsy
  • Being unsteady on their feet
  • Having poor co-ordination
  • Being forgetful and having a poor memory

A person with a benzodiazepine addiction is also likely to detach from life and distance themselves from their responsibilities and relationships. In the grips of addiction, the drug becomes the most important thing to the person, where their time and energy revolves around getting, taking and recovering from substances.

A person may start stealing money or obtaining money by risky and dangerous means in order to feed their addiction. You may also find discarded pill bottles or plastic bags around the individual’s home or place of dwelling.

When someone is misusing benzodiazepines, you may also discover that they take other substances. This can increase the toxic effects of the drugs as well as the risk of fatal overdoses, especially if combined with alcohol.

Treatment for a benzodiazepine addiction

At Priory, our Addiction Treatment Programmes are designed to help people address their addictions, and learn strategies so that they are able to sustain a drug-free life going forward.

When a person is physically dependent on a substance such as benzodiazepines, these treatment programmes will typically include detoxification. This allows a person to withdraw in a safe environment with constant care from our team, who will be able to manage and mitigate the withdrawal symptoms experienced.

Residential stays at Priory are recommended to many of the people that we support, as it provides a person with the opportunity to work on themselves and their sobriety by attending workshops, group therapy sessions, and individual key working time. During this time, they have the opportunity to learn more about the causes and triggers of their addiction, discover ways to improve their self-worth and confidence, and develop strategies for a long-lasting recovery going forward.

Before entering treatment, individuals can access a free addictions assessment from a member of the Addictions treatment team*. This conversation gives us the opportunity to learn more about a person’s circumstances and the severity of their addiction, so that we can advise on and provide the right level of treatment. This assessment also gives the person needing treatment the chance to speak with our team, learn more about Priory and ask any questions that they may have before they decide to proceed with treatment.

*Individuals with dual diagnosis may need to be assessed by a Consultant Psychiatrist which is a chargeable appointment.

Reviewed by Claire Rimmer (BA, GradDipPsych, FDAP [NCAC]), Lead Addiction Therapist at Priory Hospital Altrincham

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