Updated on May 17, 2024
5 min read

Benzodiazepines Addiction: Statistics and Effects

Benzodiazepines, medications often prescribed for anxiety and sleep issues, are raising red flags in the United States. These drugs come with a high risk of addiction and misuse, causing major concern.

Despite their therapeutic benefits, the alarming statistics surrounding benzodiazepine use and abuse highlight the need for increased awareness, prevention, and treatment efforts.

In this article, we’ll talk about the latest statistics on benzodiazepine addiction. We’ll also cover trends regarding withdrawal and treatment, variations by age and gender, and long-term effects.

Key Statistics on Benzodiazepine Addiction

Benzodiazepine addiction is a serious and growing public health concern. This section presents key statistics that paint a stark picture of the widespread use, misuse, and consequences of benzodiazepine dependence.

General Use and Misuse

  • Approximately 12.5% of adults in the U.S. use benzodiazepines, with 2.1% misusing them and 0.2% having a benzodiazepine use disorder.
  • Among those who have used benzodiazepines, 17.1% misuse them, and 2% have a benzodiazepine use disorder.
  • In 2019, there were 28.3 million benzodiazepine users, down from 29.7 million in 2015.
  • The number of abusers was 4.8 million in 2019, down from 5.4 million in 2015.

Overdose and Dependence

  • In 2019, 16% of overdose deaths involving opioids also involved benzodiazepines, with 9,711 benzodiazepine-related overdose deaths in the same year.
  • 35% of people who take benzodiazepines for more than four weeks will become dependent.
  • Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that there were 11,537 overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines in 2017, with approximately 85% of these deaths also involving opioids.

Trends in Benzodiazepine Use and Addiction

Benzodiazepines are a powerful class of medications with a potential for addiction. It's crucial to examine the trends in benzodiazepine use and the growing concern of addiction.

Changes During the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • The COVID-19 pandemic's social isolation and stay-at-home orders significantly impacted medication use for anxiety and sleep. Prescriptions for medications like benzodiazepines, Z-hypnotics, and serotonergic drugs, saw a rise during this period. 

Gender Differences in Prescription Rates

  • Historically, women have been prescribed benzodiazepines at higher rates than men. In 2015, the dispensing prevalence of benzodiazepine use was 18.8% in women compared to 9.6% in men.

Misuse and Addiction Concerns

  • Among adults in the United States, 25.3 million reported use as prescribed by their clinician, while 5.3 million reported misuse. Misuse was highest among the youngest adults and decreased with age.
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Withdrawal and Treatment Statistics

Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be a difficult process, affecting a significant portion of users. This section examines withdrawal statistics, common symptoms, and the complexities of achieving long-term abstinence.

Withdrawal Statistics

  • Estimates suggest that between 50 to 80% of people who have taken benzodiazepines continuously for six months or longer will experience withdrawal symptoms when reducing the dose.
  • Common withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, sweating, nausea, insomnia, panic attacks, tremors, headaches, heart palpitations, muscle pain, and seizures.
  • Withdrawal symptoms can start within 24 hours and can last from a few days to several months, depending on various factors such as the length of use, dosage, type of benzodiazepine, and individual physiology.

Treatment Statistics

  • Following discontinuation, long-term abstinence rates vary greatly, ranging from 25% at 12 months for those with complicated dependence to 80% for older adults in general practice.
  • Patients with a lower risk of relapse are those taking a daily dose of 10 mg diazepam equivalent or less at the start of tapering, those who have made a substantial dose reduction themselves before tapering, and those without unstable psychiatric or medical comorbidity, no history of seizures, and no concurrent drug abuse or dependence.

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Benzodiazepine Addiction by Age and Gender

Benzodiazepine addiction doesn't affect everyone equally. Age and gender significantly influence patterns of use and misuse. This section examines how these factors shape the landscape of benzodiazepine addiction.

By Age

  • Among the youngest adults (ages 18 to 25), misuse of benzodiazepines is notably high, with this age group reporting the highest rates of misuse compared to other age groups.
  • Use as prescribed was highest among adults ages 50 to 64, indicating a shift from misuse to prescribed use as the population ages.
  • Misuse among adults aged 65 and older was reported at just 0.6%, indicating a significant decrease in misuse with age. 
  • Chronic anxiety and sleep problems are common in older adults, leading to a high prescription rate of benzodiazepines among this demographic, especially women.
Benzodiazepines Addiction chart

By Gender

  • Women, older adults, and non-Hispanic white respondents had higher use of benzodiazepines.
  • Women and older patients had lower likelihoods of misuse, suggesting that while women are more likely to use benzodiazepines, they are less likely to misuse them compared to their male counterparts.
  • Women are twice as likely as men to use benzodiazepines, with a significant portion of older women becoming dependent on these medications.

Long-Term Effects of Benzodiazepine Use

  • Studies have shown that chronic use of benzodiazepines can lead to cognitive impairments. This includes issues with fluid intelligence and worse cognitive decline compared to high-dosage use.
  • In elderly users of benzodiazepines, there’s a significantly increased risk of falls leading to injuries, especially in patients older than 80 years. This risk is also elevated in elderly hospitalized patients prescribed short-acting benzodiazepines.

Addiction and Withdrawal Symptoms

Benzodiazepines have a high addictive potential, leading to physical and psychological dependence. Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and similar to those of alcohol withdrawal, requiring careful tapering of the medication.

The risk of dependency can be significantly high even with short-term therapeutic use. Withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Suicide
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Sleep problems
  • Memory impairment
  • Personality changes
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Social deterioration
  • Employment difficulties

The stark reality of benzodiazepine addiction demands attention. Widespread misuse, rising overdose deaths, and the potential for dependence highlight the urgent need for action.

We must increase awareness of benzodiazepine risks, implement safer prescribing practices, and expand access to effective addiction treatment. By tailoring interventions to the specific needs of different ages and genders, we can better address this complex issue.

Benzodiazepine addiction is a hidden crisis with devastating consequences. Through proactive solutions, we can prevent harm and support those struggling with dependence, building a healthier future for all.

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Updated on May 17, 2024

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