Understanding Benzodiazepine Addiction

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Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction


Benzo is short for Benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are a schedule IV drug in the Controlled Substances Act [1], which means they have a somewhat lower potential for abuse and carry an accepted medical use in the USA. Benzos are addictive. Although they are illegal other than for their accepted uses, they have unfortunately claimed many lives through benzo addiction.

Classified as a depressant, they are a drug that slows down the central nervous system. Benzodiazepines are medications that are prescribed for a variety of ailments and conditions, including: 

  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Withdrawal from alcohol 
  • As a muscle relaxant 
  • Seizures 
  • Insomnia  
  • Panic attacks 

What are the Different Forms of Benzodiazepines in Benzo Addiction?

The variety of benzodiazepines include (brand names are in parenthesis): 

  • Diazepam (Valium) and clorazepate (Tranxene) – usually begin working quickly, in around 30 to 60 minutes. 
  • Oxazepam (Serax) – these have a much slower onset, meaning they take longer to begin working. 
  • Lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax), and clonazepam (Klonopin) fall somewhere in between in terms of how quickly they begin to work. 

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How Long do Benzo Effects Last? 

The length of time that the effects of benzos last is also dependent on the type taken. Benzodiazepines can last:

  • A short amount of time - 3 to 8 hours
  • An intermediate amount of time - 11 to 20 hours
  • A long period of time -1 to 3 days 

Xanax, which is one of the more common and well-known benzodiazepines falls into the middle category, lasting 11 to 20 hours. Xanax, in particular, is most commonly prescribed to treat anxiety disorders. 

Valium [2] is another commonly prescribed benzo. It can be used for a variety of reasons, such as muscle relaxation, seizure disorders, and insomnia. 

As you can see, the list of the different types of benzos is quite long, as is the multitude of reasons physicians prescribe them.

What Benzos Look, Taste, and Smell Like 

With so many different types of benzodiazepines, the look, taste, and smell can vary, particularly how they look. The taste of benzos is practically nonexistent, as you might imagine, because they are swallowed and not chewed. And prescription medications rarely have any smell at all. 

Xanax comes in different shapes and colors depending on the dosage. White bars are 2mg. Blue ovals are 1mg. Gold ovals are .5mg. And white ovals are .25mg. 

However, there are other brands of alprazolam that come in entirely different shapes and colors than the Xanax brand. 

Why are Benzodiazepines Addictive? 

Benzos work on specific receptors in the brain, like gamma-aminobutyric acid-A receptors. When benzodiazepines attach themselves to these receptors, they have a calming effect because they make the nerves in the brain less sensitive to stimulation. 

Different types of benzos have different properties to one another. These include:

  • The strength of the medication
  • Why it is prescribedHow long the effects last

Although some benzos can be used interchangeably, others are used for specific conditions and should not be substituted. It’s a good idea to always use benzodiazepines for their intended purpose.  

Xanax, like most other alprazolam, has a calming effect after it binds to the GABA-A receptor. 

When it comes to anxiety disorder, for instance, Xanax can relieve symptoms of anxiety quite quickly. It does so by enhancing the effects of the natural chemical – GABA-A, which our bodies already produce. Certain foods also contain GABA-A, but usually in smaller amounts than are necessary to treat anxiety and other conditions or disorders. 

What are Benzos Called on the Street?

Benzodiazepines have many street names and some of them are dependent on the location. 

Street names for benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax can include:

  1. Bars
  2. Benzos
  3. Blues
  4. Candy
  5. Chill pills
  6. French fries
  7. Downers
  8. Planks
  9. Sleeping pills
  10. Totem poles
  11. Tranks
  12. Zanies


These are simply the most common street names for benzos in the U.S. In other parts of the world, street names may be quite different. These names could also vary in certain parts of the U.S. 

How Does Benzos Addiction Happen?

Why benzos are abused may be the more interesting question, but let’s first address the how. How you abuse any prescription medication is by taking a dosage that is larger than your physician prescribed or taking medication for reasons that differ from your physician’s recommendation. 

People can abuse benzodiazepines, or any other drug, for a number of reasons. Some drugs are more addictive than others. When we become addicted to a drug, even when it is prescribed to treat a mental or physical condition, it can be exceedingly difficult for some people to stop taking that medication. 

Many people will find that they feel better on benzos than they do without them, which means that even though someone’s insomnia has subsided, they might continue to take them for no other reason than to experience the benzo high

Besides chasing a high, as it is sometimes called, there are real physical dependencies that can develop if someone takes benzodiazepines for a long enough period of time. These benzo abuse symptoms may also vary based on the particular type of benzo taken and based on the user.  

Some people naturally have a more addictive personality than others. So, while one person has no trouble stopping once the prescription runs out and the prescribed condition ceases to exist or is cured, another person may become very addicted. When this happens, that person will find it difficult to stop and may go to great lengths to obtain another prescription or get the benzo through other channels that aren’t legal. 

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What Are the Symptoms of a Benzos Overdose?

Even though all of us are of the same species, there still exists a wild variation on how we respond to certain drugs or prescription medications. Our tolerance levels can also fluctuate based on age, weight, prior drug use, and so forth. 

Benzodiazepines symptoms, in general, vary quite a bit, and depending on the person, the dose can actually be quite small to experience any symptoms.

Some of the more common benzo side effects include: 

  •  Sedation 
  •  Dizziness 
  • Weakness or feeling unsteady 
  •  Drowsiness 
  •  Feelings of depression 
  •  Headaches 
  •  Trouble sleeping 
  •  Confusion
  •  Irritability 
  •  Aggression 
  •  Excitement or euphoria 
  •  Memory loss  


With an acute overdose of benzos, the onset of symptoms can appear rapidly. Most people will begin to notice symptoms within 1 hour but it can take up to four hours. An overdose of any benzodiazepine will appear as if the person is severely drunk. A person who has overdosed on benzodiazepines will exhibit:

  • Impaired balance
  • Impaired motor function
  • Slurred speech
  • Other mild central nervous system impairments

Most people who overdose on benzos will merely get very lethargic and fall asleep. However, especially when combined with other drugs or alcohol, when a person takes an extreme amount of benzodiazepines, hospitalization may be required. And while rare, an overdose of benzos can also result in death. 

Elderly people and those with chronic illnesses are particularly susceptible to severe benzo symptoms, in part due to the benzodiazepine effect on heart rate.

Benzos Addiction Treatment Options 

Around 34 percent of benzo users who take the drug for six months or longer will experience health issues when they stop taking the drug. So, the first step  in treating benzo addiction is a safe detox and treatment program

One particular side effect of stopping the use of benzodiazepines suddenly is the risk of seizures. If this or other dangerous side effects occur, doctors will first address those by slowly tapering the patient off the medication by gradually reducing the dosage. Only then will professional healthcare workers move on to therapy options. 

Cognitive therapies and counseling sessions are both great options – anything that gets to the route of the addiction and addresses the psychological problems that may have led to developing a benzo addiction to begin with. With any benzo treatment option, the patient must be in a comfortable and healing environment so that they can have a quality drug treatment experience

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Recovery from Benzo Addiction at Avenues Recovery

Understanding that benzo addiction is treatable is the first step in recovery. One does not need to go through benzodiazepine addiction alone. At Avenues Recovery, we have proven success treating a wide range of substance use disorders. We offer a variety of treatment programs and resources to help those struggling with addiction. If you or a loved one are experiencing signs of benzo addiction or any other type of addiction, reach out to us today to get the help you deserve. Start your journey to recovery today!

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