Long-Term Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse

benzodiazepine drugsAccording to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 12.5% of U.S. adults (30.5 million people) use benzodiazepines.[1] These substances are often prescribed for the treatment of anxiety and seizure disorders. While they are effective when used as prescribed, the long-term use of these medications often leads to dependency and addiction.

Benzodiazepine abuse is linked to a wide range of long-term health effects. Abusing these medications once, especially when combined with other central nervous system depressants like opioids or alcohol, could cause you to experience a life-threatening overdose due to the likelihood of respiratory depression at high doses. Overdose isn’t the only risk, though, as there are many long-term side effects of benzodiazepine abuse.

Despite the dangers, many people struggle to overcome benzodiazepine addiction without professional treatment.

What are the Short-Term Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse?

Using benzodiazepine medications for the treatment of anxiety, panic, or insomnia is considered relatively safe when taken as directed and for a short period. Because most benzodiazepines are short-acting, they can provide almost immediate relief that lasts for several hours. When you take one of these medications for sleep, you may feel drowsy or sluggish the next morning.

Taking benzodiazepines recreationally or in larger than-intended doses can result in various side effects, including:

  • Fatigue, drowsiness, lethargy
  • Mental confusion
  • Headaches
  • Motor coordination issues
  • Vertigo
  • Depression
  • Blurry vision
  • Memory problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Tremors
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shallow breathing
  • Mood swings
  • Slow reflexes

In addition, taking benzodiazepines in large amounts can lead to potentially fatal overdoses. This is especially true when you mix benzodiazepines with other central nervous system depressants like opioids or alcohol. From 2019 to 2020, benzodiazepine overdose rates rose from 21.8% to 519.6%, with 92% of these deaths involving opioids.[2]

The Long-Term Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse

For most people, using benzodiazepines on a long-term basis actually worsens mental health and sleep issues. The only time doctors will recommend using these medications for an extended amount of time is when other forms of treatment fail. This is because long-term benzodiazepine use often leads to dependency and addiction, causing people to begin abusing the drug.

Long-term abuse of benzodiazepines can result in several adverse health effects, including:

Sleep Issues

While benzodiazepines can help you sleep when used short-term, the long-term use of these medications can lead to worsened sleep issues. Benzodiazepines do allow you to fall into non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep faster, however, this can change your entire sleep cycle. The result is that you experience less deep, restorative sleep when you continue to use benzodiazepines over a long period.

Studies have also found that short-acting benzodiazepines can cause rebound insomnia.[3] This means when you take a benzodiazepine one night to fall asleep, you may experience worsened insomnia the next night.

Worsened Anxiety

The long-term abuse of benzodiazepines is known to worsen mental health issues over time. For example, if you are taking these medications to treat anxiety, the symptoms of your disorder will gradually increase as you continue to take benzodiazepines.

When you abuse benzodiazepines you develop a tolerance, reducing the effects of the medication on your anxiety. Additionally, your body will stop creating the chemicals needed to naturally reduce anxiety and stabilize your mood because it grew accustomed to receiving them from the pills. As a result, your symptoms of anxiety will increase.

Cardiovascular Effects

Benzodiazepines are sedatives, which means they slow down heart rate and respiration. Abusing benzodiazepines frequently means your heart rate will be slower than it should be. When your heart is not pumping blood at optimal levels, your body may begin to develop other physical health concerns.

Cardiovascular issues associated with long-term benzodiazepine abuse include:

  • Increased risk of blood clots
  • Low blood pressure
  • Circulatory issues
  • Increased risk of heart failure

Cognitive Impairment

Benzodiazepine use can interfere with your memory, attention, verbal learning, and motor skills. Typically, these impairments are temporary and will improve after 6 months of abstinence from the substance. However, some cognitive impairments may be permanent after long-term abuse of benzodiazepines.

Elderly people are at an increased risk of developing permanent cognitive impairments from benzodiazepine abuse. According to a study from Harvard University, people who took benzodiazepines for 3 to 6 months increased their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 32%. Additionally, people who took the drug for more than 6 months increased their risk by 84%.[4]

Overdose

As you continue to abuse benzodiazepines over some time, your tolerance will increase. This means you will have to continually increase your dosage to experience the desired effect. As a result, you may begin taking extremely high doses of the substance at once or start mixing it with other drugs like alcohol or opioids.

When you are taking large doses of benzodiazepines or mixing them with other drugs, your risk of experiencing a fatal overdose increases substantially.

The symptoms of a benzodiazepine overdose include:

  • Drowsiness or extreme fatigue
  • Confusion, agitation, and anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Amnesia
  • Physical weakness or lack of coordination
  • Hypotonia (lack of muscle tone)
  • Blurry vision
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stupor or unresponsiveness
  • Hallucinations
  • Hypotension (lowered blood pressure)
  • Coma
  • Death

If someone you know displays the signs of a benzodiazepine overdose, medical emergency services must be contacted immediately. Sometimes these overdoses lead to coma or death, making it imperative that individuals receive medical attention as soon as possible.

Finding Help for Benzodiazepine Abuse

If you or a loved one suffer from benzodiazepine addiction, help is available. Abusing these drugs long-term can lead to an array of physical and mental health consequences, making it imperative that you seek the help you need.

At Moving Mountains Recovery, our approach stands out from the average substance abuse treatment center because we make recovery rewarding and fulfilling. While receiving individualized care to heal from addiction, clients also engage in adventure therapies, therapeutic recreation, and other hands-on activities. The goal of this type of dynamic, immersive treatment is to help you find a new life that is so full of passion that there is no room left for drugs and alcohol.

Don’t wait any longer to get the help you deserve. Call now to speak with an admissions coordinator.

References:

  1. https://nida.nih.gov/news-events/science-highlight/research-suggests-benzodiazepine-use-high-while-use-disorder-rates-are-low
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7034a2.htm
  3. https://touroscholar.touro.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1162&context=sjlcas
  4. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/benzodiazepine-use-may-raise-risk-alzheimers-disease-201409107397
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