SynopsisCodesLook ForDiagnostic PearlsDifferential Diagnosis & PitfallsBest TestsManagement PearlsTherapyDrug Reaction DataReferences
Benzodiazepine use disorder
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed

Benzodiazepine use disorder

Contributors: Michael W. Winter MD, Paritosh Prasad MD
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed


Benzodiazepine use disorder is a condition characterized by addiction to and overuse of benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed hypnotic and anxiolytic agents often used to treat panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, insomnia, and acute agitation. They are also used to manage the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and to counteract adverse effects of antidepressant overdoses. Due to their generally rapid onset and short duration of action, benzodiazepines have addictive properties, and patients who are prescribed benzodiazepines have a high propensity for developing an overuse disorder. Easy availability of these medications contributes to their high rate of abuse.

Risk factors for abuse include other drug or alcohol dependence, chronic pain, personality disorder, depressive disorder, sleep disorder, and certain neuromuscular disorders.

Patients may stockpile prescription drugs, seek multiple prescriptions from multiple health care providers, acquire medications from other users, and exaggerate their symptoms to acquire larger quantities and higher doses of benzodiazepines.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) classifies substance abuse from mild to severe. The criteria address signs of cravings, tolerance, loss of control, loss of interest in favorite activities, avoidance of responsibilities, and withdrawal symptoms upon abstinence.

Health care providers are advised against prescribing multiple benzodiazepines. When they are prescribed, it is advisable to use short-term prescriptions and to seek alternative therapies in older or high-risk patients. Long-term use of benzodiazepines has been shown to increase tolerance.

Adverse effects of benzodiazepine use include amnesia (memory loss), psychomotor impairment, ataxia, altered mental status, slurred speech, rebound anxiety, withdrawal symptoms, drowsiness, lethargy, disturbed concentration, feeling "hungover," uncoordinated muscular movement, and hypotonia. These effects increase the likelihood of impaired driving, falls, and fractures.

Benzodiazepine overdose or poisoning can occur when ingested in a high dose alone or in combination with ethanol or other drugs, particularly depressants. Toxicity can induce a state of excessive drowsiness, delirium, psychosis, seizures, stupor, or coma. Patients with a benzodiazepine use disorder are particularly prone to overdoses due to increased drug tolerance and often the use of escalating doses.

Related topics: benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, poisoning caused by sedative


F13.10 – Sedative, hypnotic or anxiolytic abuse, uncomplicated

428406005 – Benzodiazepine misuse

Look For

Subscription Required

Diagnostic Pearls

Subscription Required

Differential Diagnosis & Pitfalls

  • Major Depressive disorders
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Dysthymia
  • Personality disorders
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Substance abuse (see, eg, Alcohol use disorder, Cannabis use disorder, Opioid use disorder)
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Hepatic encephalopathy
  • Bacterial sepsis – can present with altered mental status; will often have fever, leukocytosis, tachypnea, or tachycardia, none of which are necessarily seen with benzodiazepine use disorder

Best Tests

Subscription Required

Management Pearls

Subscription Required


Subscription Required

Drug Reaction Data

Below is a list of drugs with literature evidence indicating an adverse association with this diagnosis. The list is continually updated through ongoing research and new medication approvals. Click on Citations to sort by number of citations or click on Medication to sort the medications alphabetically.

Subscription Required


Subscription Required

Last Reviewed:03/27/2019
Last Updated:09/11/2023
Copyright © 2024 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.
Benzodiazepine use disorder
A medical illustration showing key findings of Benzodiazepine use disorder : Ataxia, Drowsiness, Slurred speech
Copyright © 2024 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.