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Benzo Side Effects

If you’re taking benzodiazepines, it’s important to know the side effects and potential long-term outcomes of this prescription medication. Short-term benzodiazepine use closely monitored by a medical professional can be safe and effective. Long-term benzo use can lead to tolerance, dependence, and other adverse effects.

The benzodiazepine class of drugs include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Oxazepam (Serax)
  • Temazepam (Restoril)
  • Midazolam (Versed)

Slowing down your central nervous system is how benzos treat anxiety, seizures, and sleep disorders. Specifically, benzos work on the GABA brain receptors, which is the part of your brain that produces feelings of calm and relaxation.

Benzodiazepines are approved by the FDA to treat:

  • Insomnia
  • Social phobia
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Panic disorder/panic attacks
  • Seizures
  • As a premedication for certain medical procedures

There is no way to be certain if and what benzo side effects you will experience if you take benzodiazepines.

The type of benzodiazepine side effects and their severity depend on factors like:

  • The dosage of benzodiazepines
  • How long you take benzodiazepines
  • Age
  • Weight
  • If you’re taking other medications
  • Medical conditions
  • Mental health disorders

The only way to take benzodiazepines safely is under the care of a health care provider. They know the correct dose of benzodiazepines for your individual health and diagnosis.

Potential Side Effects of Benzodiazepines

Benzo side effects range in severity. Benzodiazepine side effects that are mildly uncomfortable include:

  • Headache
  • Sleepiness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Mood swings
  • Constipation

Less common side effects can be moderate or severe. Severe benzo side effects are less common if you take benzodiazepines as prescribed. You’re at higher risk for severe side effects if you are:

  • Abusing benzos in high quantities
  • Of advanced age
  • More susceptible due to your health or co-occurring conditions

Moderate to dangerous benzo side effects can include:

  • Respiratory depression
  • Shakiness or tremors
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Poor coordination, unsteadiness, and falls
  • Memory loss
  • Decreased libido
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Low blood pressure
  • Erratic behavior
  • Loss of conscious

A rare side effect is paradoxical. Less than 1% of people who take benzos may experience paradoxical side effects. This means that the drug has the opposite effect of what was intended.

Paradoxical benzo side effects may include:

  • Increased talking
  • Agitation
  • Aggression
  • Impulsiveness
  • Excitability
  • Excessive movement
  • Severe anxiety

Long-Term Effects of Benzos

One of the most serious long-term effects of benzos is the risk of abuse and addiction. Substance abuse can lead to psychological and physical problems that are hard to reverse. It can be easy to get addicted to benzodiazepines. Even though benzos are prescription drugs, they’re commonly abused.

Benzo Addiction and Abuse

There are a couple routes to benzo addiction. You can quickly develop a tolerance of and dependence on benzodiazepines. Even if taken as a doctor prescribes benzos to treat insomnia or another condition, over time you will develop a tolerance and need more to get the same effects. This is considered a benzodiazepine dependency.

Dependency vs. Addiction

There is a difference between a dependency and an addiction. A dependency means you have developed a tolerance to a drug. You need higher doses to get the same effects and you experience withdrawal symptoms without the drug.

Addiction involves intentional misuse of substances as well as drug-seeking behaviors. These may include going to several doctors to obtain benzo prescriptions or buying diverted benzos on the street.

Signs of Benzo Addiction

People who have co-occurring mental health disorders or excessive stress in their lives are at increased risk for substance misuse. Some people who abuse benzodiazepines began taking the medication for legitimate reasons as prescribed by their doctors. They like the way benzos make them feel: the sedating effects or how it takes the edge off stress or helps their anxiety. They begin taking more to get more of these effects.

Other people seek out benzodiazepines for the purpose of abusing them and have never had a prescription. They may abuse other substances as well and use benzos to enhance their high or help with alcohol withdrawal or coming down from certain drugs.

Signs of benzodiazepine abuse and addiction may include:

  • Taking higher doses of benzos than prescribed
  • Taking benzos at other times during the day or evening than prescribed
  • Crushing or snorting benzos to get a more intense effect
  • Taking benzos with alcohol or other substances to get a desired result
  • Inability to stop taking benzos or decrease how much you take
  • Visiting different doctors to get more benzos
  • Exaggerating symptoms to get a benzo prescription
  • Poor performance or absences at work or school due to benzo use
  • Relationship, financial, or legal problems due to benzo use
  • Needing benzos to feel normal
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and activities you once enjoyed
  • Continuing to use benzos despite negative consequences

Other Long-Term Effects of Benzos

Benzodiazepines can impact your central nervous system in ways that change your physical and mental health. Some potential consequences of long-term benzodiazepine use include:

Mental Health Disorders

Benzodiazepines work by interfering with normal central nervous system functioning to make you feel more relaxed and calmer. Over time, your body becomes dependent on benzos to perform this process. When you’ve regularly abused benzodiazepines and stop taking them, your central nervous system needs time to rebalance without the drug. In the meantime, this can cause anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms.

Compromised Immune System

Studies show that benzos can suppress your immune system. Benzos can increase your risk of blood clots and infections after an injury. They can also increase the risk of pneumonia in some older patients.

Cardiovascular Issues

Though benzos are sometimes prescribed to treat high blood pressure and heart conditions, they can also cause cardiovascular issues. GABA decreases:

  • Breathing rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Heart rate

Abuse of benzos can slow these functions down so much that you become at risk for heart failure and heart damage.


Research shows that long-term benzo use can contribute to dementia and cognitive decline in older adults. Benzos can also put older adults at high risk for coordination issues and falls.

Reproductive Issues

Benzodiazepine abuse can damage your endocrine system. They can impact the pituitary hormone, which is important for reproductive functions. Long-term use or abuse may lead to:

  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Erratic menstrual cycles
  • Loss of libido
  • Irregular ovulation

Treatment for Benzo Abuse

Suddenly stopping benzodiazepines is not advised. You should always consult your doctor. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be painful and dangerous in some cases. Only a physician knows the best way to detox from benzos based on your health, benzo use, and history. This often includes gradually decreasing your benzo dose. It may also involve other medications to ease withdrawal symptoms.

Following benzo detox, attending a professional addiction treatment program can help you address the reasons you abused benzos. You’ll learn healthier ways to cope with triggers to use drugs and alcohol.

Concerned About Your Benzo Use?

Whether you became addicted to benzos after you were prescribed them or you’ve been using them illegally, you can get better with effective treatment. Vogue Recovery Center’s evidence based addiction treatment can help you get back on track. You’ll recover with the help of addiction specialists and peers who understand what you’re going through. Addiction doesn’t get better on its own. Call us for a free, confidential consultation.


Jessica Elbe, LCSW

Medically Reviewed by Jessica Elbe, LCSW

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