Is Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use Safe?

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs known as sedative-hypnotics. They work on a receptor in the central nervous system called GABA. Benzodiazepines cause an increase in GABA which in turn slows down nerve stimulation and produces a calming effect. Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed for anxiety, sleep, and seizure disorders, and they are highly addictive.

Is Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use Safe?

Benzodiazepines should only be prescribed on a short-term basis. There are a lot of risks and adverse effects associated with long-term use, so they are not safe to take for an extended time.

An educational guide on benzodiazepines put out by the Veterans Affairs Administration says that:

Benzodiazepines are widely used in the treatment of anxiety, sleep, depression (as adjuvant therapy), and muscle relaxants. In the United States, approximately 5.6% of the adult population uses a benzodiazepine. Although it is recommended that treatment with benzodiazepines be limited to short-term use, the prevalence of long-term use remains widespread. (VA)

One of the biggest and most concerning effects of long-term benzodiazepine use is dependence and addiction. Benzodiazepines are incredibly difficult and dangerous to detox from. There are also many other long-term effects of benzo use.

Long-Term Effects of Benzodiazepines Use

Benzodiazepines should only be prescribed and taken for a few weeks, however, long-term use is a problem in this country. As stated above, one of the main effects of long-term benzo use is dependence and addiction. Other adverse effects (effects seen after acute administration) associated with long-term use include neurotoxicity, impaired cognitive abilities, memory problems, and mood swings.

Some other effects of long-term benzodiazepine use can also include disinhibition, impaired memory, and concentration, sleep disturbances, worsened anxiety disorders, suicidal ideations, delusions, hallucinations, depression, a generalized cognitive impairment which includes sustained attention, psychomotor, visuomotor, visual-conceptual, and verbal learning and memory abilities.

Benzodiazepine Addiction and Withdrawal

Benzodiazepine use and abuse continue to grow. If an individual takes benzodiazepines longer than a few weeks they will develop a physical dependence on the medication. Once someone develops physical dependence, addiction can easily follow.

According to the National Institutes of Health:

BZD misuse and abuse is a growing problem. Approximately 2.3% to 18% of Americans have misused sedatives or tranquilizers for nonmedical use in their lifetime. Nearly 10% of these individuals met the criteria for abuse or dependence.14 In 2010, there were an estimated 186 000 new BZD abusers. Emergency departments (EDs) have seen a sharp 139% increase in BZD-related visits. Older age and the presence of other drugs were associated with more serious outcomes, including death. The number of admissions to treatment programs for BZD abuse nearly tripled from 1998 to 2008. During this same time, the number of all substance abuse treatment program admissions only increased by 11%. (NIH)

Physical dependence and addiction to any medication will result in withdrawal symptoms if the drug is abruptly stopped or discontinued. The withdrawal symptoms from long-term benzodiazepine use can be debilitating. Some of these symptoms can include:

  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Memory impairment
  • Depression
  • Aggression
  • Emotional clouding
  • Suicide
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Grand mal seizures

Withdrawal from benzodiazepine can also be quite dangerous. One of the potential withdrawal symptoms is grand mal seizures. It is important to either slowly taper this medication under a doctor’s supervision or enter a medically supervised detox program.

Treatment for Benzodiazepine Addiction

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction issues, our addiction specialists are available around the clock to assist you. Recreate Life Counseling offers evidence-based addiction treatment programs. We use a solution-focused treatment approach to get you to long-lasting recovery. Treatment must be tailored to each person for the best outcome, and we pride ourselves on individualized treatment. Call us today. You don’t have to suffer any longer.