Member Survey Member Login
Member Survey Member Login

MEND CORNER: The Dangers of Benzodiazepines

MEND CORNER: The Dangers of Benzodiazepines

April 9, 2018

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants and one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. Doctors prescribe the medication for anxiety, seizure disorders, alcohol withdrawal, and as a relaxant prior to surgery. However, benzodiazepines are commonly abused due in part to the sedative effect they produce and their widespread availability. When benzodiazepines are taken with other depressants such as alcohol or muscle relaxers, the results can be fatal.

Each of these drugs enhances the effects of other ingested substances, and as a result, can cause overdose, coma, or death.

What are the most commonly abused Benzodiazepines?

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

What are the signs and symptoms of Benzodiazepine intoxication?

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Double vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Incoordination
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Confusion
  • Stupor

What are the symptoms of Benzodiazepine withdrawal?

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hand tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

How long do withdrawal symptoms last?

For most people, withdrawal isn’t a matter of days, but months or even years. It is one of the most difficult drugs to withdraw from due to the severity and length of the withdrawal. It also varies depending on the type of benzodiazepine being taken. They are the most notable drug for inducing Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (“PAWS”), in which symptoms sometimes persist for years after cessation of use. Symptoms that are most likely to be long-lasting are anxiety, insomnia, cognitive impairment, depression, various sensory-motor phenomena, and gastrointestinal disturbances.

Examples: Xanax is a short-acting drug and has a short acute withdrawal phase, usually lasting around 7 days. Valium is a long-acting benzodiazepine and can cause acute withdrawal symptoms lasting around 90 days.

Is there any discomfort or dangers to just stopping the use of Benzodiazepines?

Yes. Stopping the use of benzodiazepines “cold turkey” is dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Seizures occur in as many as 20% to 30% of people withdrawing “cold turkey” from benzodiazepines. In order to prevent benzodiazepine withdrawal related deaths, a detox facility that is medically supervised around the clock is strongly recommended. This type of facility is equipped to provide the necessary support and monitoring needed to address any withdrawal-related complications that may arise.

Treatment Options

  • Detoxification (“Detox”): This is the highest level of care where individuals receive medically monitored treatment to safely detox from benzodiazepines.
  • Residential Treatment (“Rehab”): All residential treatment programs require that an individual live at the program during treatment. These programs typically involve attending group therapy sessions and individual therapy sessions.
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs (“IOP”): An IOP is a program that includes group therapy, individual therapy/case management, and medication management. The frequency of attendance is typically three times per week but may be as frequent as five days per week depending on the circumstance. Some IOPs have evening programming to accommodate those who work or attend school.
  • Outpatient services: This is the lowest level of care where individuals receive treatment from a therapist, psychiatrist (to prescribe medication), psychiatric nurse practitioner, or an addiction counselor within a private practice or clinic setting.

If you or an eligible dependent is struggling with substance abuse, please contact the MEND Program at (212) 366-7590 or by email at