Article at a Glance:
- Benzodiazepines work by relaxing different parts of the body and brain.
- Benzodiazepines are addictive, but it may be hard to tell if someone is addicted. They may appear more tired during the daytime, but there are no physically obvious signs.
- Benzodiazepine addiction is marked by extremely uncomfortable and dangerous withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the drug, like diarrhea and seizures.
General signs of someone being on drugs can include changes in behavior, such as lying or secrecy, and physical symptoms like flushing, nausea and enlarged or constricted pupils. Some symptoms are drug-specific.
One of the most commonly abused drug classifications is benzodiazepines, or “benzos.”
Table of Contents
Signs of Benzo Use
Whether or not someone is abusing benzos or taking them as prescribed, side effects can include sedation, weakness and dizziness.
Other potential side effects of using benzodiazepines can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Skin rash
Signs of excessive sedation may occur when someone takes more benzodiazepines than prescribed or combined with other substances, like alcohol (See: Mixing Benzos and Alcohol ). Pairing benzos with narcotics and tranquilizers can cause side effects to be more severe as well. Combining these drugs can be deadly.
Benzo Abuse Symptoms
Benzos are depressants and cause the slowing of different systems in the body. Some people may describe the feeling of taking benzos as similar to drinking alcohol. This is because both substances affect the neurotransmitter GABA. Someone “high” on benzos may feel euphoria, reduced anxiety, and relaxation.
Benzodiazepines have not been associated with changes to vision, even after long-term usage. However, there is not a lot of data on this topic. Most related studies are several decades old and only tested small groups of people. Overall, it is unclear if benzos impact vision long-term.
- How do benzos work?
Critical to understanding the signs of someone taking benzodiazepines is knowing how this class of drugs works. Since they are considered tranquilizers or sedatives, the signs and symptoms of benzo use are different from stimulants, such as cocaine.
With benzodiazepines, the impact of the drug is on the central nervous system (CNS). The results are sedation, relaxation of muscles, and a reduction in anxiety.
While they are prescribed to treat medical conditions, benzos are also commonly abused. Reasons for abuse include the effects they produce, as well as how widely available they are. One of the most common causes of death due to benzo abuse is because the drug is taken in conjunction with alcohol.
- Do benzos dilate pupils?
No, benzodiazepines do not cause the pupils to become larger or smaller. This is because they do not exert their effects on the muscles of the eyes.
- Are benzos addictive?
Yes, these medications can be extremely addictive if used long-term, even if used as prescribed by a doctor. They create changes in the brain that cause extremely uncomfortable and dangerous withdrawal symptoms, like seizures.
- What are commonly prescribed benzos?
Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), Valium (diazepam), Librium (chlordiazepoxide), and Klonopin (clonazepam).
Symptoms of Withdrawal From Benzos
While many people may simply start looking for the signs and symptoms of being on benzos, it is also important to have an understanding of the withdrawal symptoms that can occur with the use of these drugs.
When someone suddenly stops taking benzos after their body is used to the drug, particularly after using benzos for a long period of time or taking high doses, negative side effects can occur due to the body’s lack of the drug. (See: How to Taper off Benzos)
Some of the symptoms of benzo withdrawal are similar to the problems the drugs are initially prescribed for and can include:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Racing heart
- Muscle pain
- Ringing in the ears
- Shooting pains in the muscles
- Visual disturbances
What To Do if You Recognize the Signs of Benzo Addiction
If you recognize the signs of benzo abuse or abuse of any substance, you may be wondering what to do next. It can be difficult, particularly if the person denies they have a substance abuse problem. However, if you’ve observed them over a period of at least weeks and noticed something in their behavior that indicates they’re on benzos, you should talk to someone else to see if they share your perspective. You may also be able to speak with a health care provider who can provide a screening.
At that point, you can reach out to an addiction treatment center like The Recovery Village or another licensed substance abuse professional and discuss the next possible steps, including treatment and rehab options that may be available.
- Brett, Jonathan, et. al. “Management of Benzodiazepine Misuse and Dependence.” Australian Prescriber, October 2015. Accessed October 5, 2021.
- Food and Drug Administration. “Valium Package Insert.” March 2016. Accessed October 5, 2021.
- Hou, R H, et.al. “Arousal and the Pupil: Why Diazepam-induced Sedation Is Not Accompanied by Miosis.” Psychopharmacology, November 2007. Accessed October 5, 2021.
- Stafanous, S, et. al. “The Effect of Long-term Use of Benzodiazepines on the Eye and Retina.” Documenta Ophthalmologica, 1999. Accessed October 5, 2021.
- Medical Disclaimer
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.