Benzodiazepine dependence and overdose. A literature review

Andrius Martišius1,  Tautvydas Juška1

1Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, Academy of Medicine, Kaunas, Lithuania.


Despite the growing concern for the misuse of benzodiazepines in recent years, they remain one of the most popular drugs in the world. Approximately 2.2% of the U.S. population misuse benzodiazepines. A similar count was found in other regions too. Addiction to benzodiazepines usually begins with prolonged treatment of anxiety or sleep disorders, and the development of addiction is similar to that of other addictive substances. Among patients who take benzodiazepines for more than 6 months, about 40% experience moderate to severe withdrawal syndrome, and the remaining 60% experience mild withdrawal syndrome symptoms if the drug is stopped abruptly. It is also important to mention the problem of benzodiazepine overdose. In 2013, 22,767 people died in the United States from drug poisoning. 31% of these deaths are associated with benzodiazepines.

Aim of the study: to analyze the mechanism of action of benzodiazepines, the possible consequences of long-term use and overdose, and treatment options for addiction or benzodiazepine overdose.

Methods: We analyzed medical publications using international databases like UpToDate, PubMed. Certain keywords and their combinations were used to find specific medical articles.

Conclusions: Benzodiazepines remain one of the most commonly used groups of drugs, with misuse and overdose increasing every year. Long-term use of benzodiazepines is associated with a high risk of dependence and overdose, severely impairing patients’ health and quality of life. Benzodiazepines are often used for suicidal purposes, in combination with alcohol or other medications.  The main treatment for benzodiazepine dependence remains slow discontinuation and correction of withdrawal syndrome symptoms. Overdose is treated symptomatically, ensuring vital functions. It is important to educate physicians and patients about the proper and responsible administration and use of benzodiazepines to prevent overdose deaths and to reduce patients suffering from dependence on these drugs.

Keywords: Benzodiazepines, dependence, overdose, misuse.