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Benzodiazepine Addiction and Treatment

Benzodiazepines (benzos) are a type of central nervous system (CNS) depressant prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, as an anti-convulsant, and muscle relaxer.1 They also have the potential for dependence and misuse, especially in people who misuse other substances to enhance the effects.1, 3

When not used as prescribed or in combination with other substances, there can be risks associated with benzodiazepine misuse, including addiction. This article will explain what benzodiazepines are, their potential for misuse and addiction, withdrawal, and how to get treatment for benzo addiction.

What Are Benzodiazepines? 

Benzodiazepines belong to a category of drugs called CNS depressants. These types of substances decrease brain activity and are most commonly prescribed to treat anxiety and insomnia.1 They can also induce sedation and hypnosis, relax muscles, and reduce seizures.3 Other names for benzodiazepines include:1

  • Nerve pills.
  • Tranks.
  • Downers.

There are several types of benzodiazepines, each classified by their duration of action, which ranges from 6 to 24 hours.1 Small modifications in the chemical structure of each benzodiazepine can also impact their pharmacologic effects.1

The effects of short-acting benzodiazepines are felt quickly but also wear off within a couple of hours. These are typically prescribed to manage insomnia at home.3 They can also be used for sedation, anxiety, or amnesia in an emergency or surgical settings.3

Long-acting benzodiazepines can last up to 24 hours and can be prescribed for insomnia with daytime anxiety.1, 3

Benzo Tolerance, Dependence, and Addiction

Benzos are Schedule IV substances as part of the Controlled Substances Act, which means they have a lower potential for misuse and dependence.2, 3 With repeated use, your body begins to require a higher dose to achieve the same effects. This is known as tolerance.

Tolerance develops because of how the body adapts to repeated substance use over time, to the point where a person needs increasing doses to feel the same desirable effects. Tolerance builds as the body becomes so used to a substance that it no longer responds to it the way it initially did, and as a result, the desired effects become blunted. An increase in tolerance often leads to escalating patterns of use, which can drive compulsive drug use and is a risk factor for addiction.10

Dependence is a physiological adaptation of the body to a substance, wherein the body becomes so used to the drug in the system that when the individual cuts back on their use or quits, withdrawal symptoms emerge. With significant levels of physiological dependence, a person may continue to compulsively drink or use drugs to avoid unwanted withdrawal symptoms.11

Addiction refers to the compulsive, uncontrollable use of a substance despite the harm that it causes. Addiction can include both physiological changes (such as tolerance and dependence) and several harmful behavioral changes, which can adversely impact an individual’s life. Addiction development is accompanied by functional changes within the brain that can impact an individual’s drive, motivation, thought processes, and behaviors so much that drug use becomes prioritized over all else. The development of addiction is influenced not only by repeated substance use itself, but also by genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors.11

Addiction to benzodiazepines is also known as a hypnotic, sedative, or anxiolytic use disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Health Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).5

Addiction to benzodiazepines is the problematic use of such substances leading to clinically significant impairment and presenting at least 2 of the criteria listed in the DSM-5 for sedative, or anxiolytic use disorder. A few of these criteria include:5

  • Compulsively seeking higher doses of benzodiazepines.
  • More time is spent using and acquiring benzos despite the consequences.
  • Failure to fulfill obligations at work school or home because of benzo misuse.

It is common for benzodiazepine misuse to occur alongside other drug use (polysubstance use).1 Opioids like heroin and alcohol are commonly used alongside benzos.1 The euphoric effects of benzos combined with their rapid onset are often a reason for misuse.1

Benzo Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms may be present when an individual who is dependent on benzodiazepines abruptly stops or abruptly cuts back on the dosage. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines may include uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, which can depend on the dose, duration of use, and which drugs were used. They are also similar to the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.8 Withdrawal symptoms may include:1

  • Anxiety.
  • Insomnia.
  • Dysphoria.
  • Tremor.
  • Seizures.

Treating Benzodiazepine Addiction

Treatment for benzodiazepine addiction often begins with detoxification or the clearing of the drug from your body. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recommends that benzodiazepine withdrawal always be done under medical supervision (in a hospital or treatment center) because of the potential for dangerous symptoms.8

Under supervision, medication can be given to minimize symptoms, and medical personnel is available in case of an emergency.8 Withdrawal symptoms may not appear immediately, so supervision may be required for 24 hours or more, or until symptoms clear.8

Once a person has undergone detoxification, ongoing treatment is encouraged to help overcome an addiction. Your addiction treatment team may utilize the following during rehab to help you stop using substances:

  • Inpatient treatment may occur in a hospital or residential setting. A person enrolled in inpatient care lives at the facility for 24/7 treatment.9
  • Outpatient treatment varies in intensity and time commitment depending on your needs. A person may be seen once or twice a week or 5 days a week for several hours per day.9
  • Behavioral therapy is used in many treatment settings and comes in many different forms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a commonly used therapeutic intervention for substance use disorders.9
  • Medication may be used during detoxification and ongoing addiction treatment depending on the substances Medications to help a person who took long-acting benzos may be used depending on the circumstances.8

Each person struggling with addiction has a personal story and unique needs. Treatment is often individualized to meet your needs and give you the best chance at recovery.

How to Find Benzo Detox or Rehab Near Me

Getting started on the road to recovery may feel daunting, but help is available. American Addiction Centers (AAC) has top-rated treatment centers across the U.S. to help you or a loved one get started on the road to recovery. Contact one of our caring admissions navigators at to learn about treatment options, check your insurance, and start your new life.

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