Eating Disorders and Benzodiazepines

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Reviewed by Kim Dennis, MD, CEDS (SYR) provides helpful information for people who are dealing with substance use issues — and their family members, friends, and co-workers, too. SYR knows that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges faced by those who misuse alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs, or other substances, and they aim to break through the clutter to help people at any stage of recovery.

You may have heard of the drugs Ativan, Klonopin, Valium, and Xanax. These are brand names for different benzodiazepines, medications prescribed to treat anxiety and other mental health conditions.1 People who are thinking of taking these powerful sedatives should weigh the risks and benefits.2 And it’s never safe to misuse benzodiazepines or mix them with alcohol, opioids, or other drugs.3

If you or a loved one is experiencing disordered eating and benzodiazepine dependence, know that help is available and treatment works.4

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are depressants. They act by slowing down brain activity, making you feel extremely drowsy and relaxed and even causing you to fall asleep.1 The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows doctors to prescribe benzodiazepines for conditions such as:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Insomnia.
  • Panic disorder.
  • Seizures.
  • Social phobia.

The drugs are also used to sedate or treat anxiety in patients who are about to undergo medical procedures.1,3 

Even when taken as prescribed, benzodiazepines come with risks, including misuse and dependence.2 Long term use is linked to cognitive decline. The FDA advises people to explore alternative treatments and, if using benzodiazepines, to take the lowest effective dose and only for a limited time. Patients should taper off benzodiazepine use under a doctor’s care to limit withdrawal symptoms.2 

Taking these substances, especially for long periods, can lead to dependence. Mixing these drugs with alcohol, opioids, xylazine, or other sedatives can have very serious effects, including suppressed breathing, coma, and even death.5,6 Be aware that these and other medications purchased online or from unauthorized sources, may be contaminated with deadly substances like fentanyl. And stopping use can cause severe withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety and anxiety-related symptoms (e.g., uneasiness, hyperventilation, muscle spasms, panic attacks, sweating).
  • Perceptual disorders (e.g., abnormal bodily sensations, depersonalization-derealization disorder, hypersensitivity to stimuli).
  • Hallucinations, seizures, and unstable vital signs.

Stopping the use of benzodiazepines benefits your health, and recovery is possible. Benzodiazepine use disorder can be treated with behavioral therapies. Stopping benzodiazepines without appropriate medical supervision can be deadly. Always consult a qualified medical provider to stop safely and get help managing potentially complicated withdrawal symptoms. 1,3

Help Prevent an Overdose

Misusing benzodiazepines and opioids at the same time can cause an opioid overdose.7 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids contributed to 75% of drug overdose deaths in 2021.8

Naloxone, known by the brand names like Narcan, is an over-the-counter medicine that can stop an opioid overdose and save a life.9

If you suspect someone is experiencing a drug overdose: 

  • Call 911. 
  • Administer naloxone if available.
  • If a person is breathing slowly or not breathing, provide rescue breaths by gently blowing air into the person’s mouth every five seconds until help arrives.10,11
  • Keep the person awake and on their side until first responders arrive. 

Learn about opioid overdose prevention.

Link Between Eating Disorders and Benzodiazepine Use

Both eating disorders and benzodiazepine misuse can be serious. People with an eating disorder are significantly more likely than the general population to also have a substance use disorder, and vice versa. These disorders share common risk factors, such as:12,13,14,15

  • Anxiety
  • Depression.
  • Family history of these or other mental illnesses.
  • Low self-esteem or a susceptibility to social pressures.
  • Traumatic and adverse life experiences, including racialized trauma and weight stigma.
  • Genetic predispositions.

Find Treatment and Start Your Recovery

Recovery from eating disorders and benzodiazepine dependence is a personal journey, and there’s no single solution that works for everyone.16

Start by finding a trained health care professional to assess your mental and physical health needs. They can work with you to create a recovery plan.17 Find treatment and support near you for eating disorders and substance misuse.

Learn More


[1] U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020). Benzodiazepine drug information. 

[2] U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020). FDA expands boxed warning to improve safe use of benzodiazepine drug. 

[3] U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration  . (2022). Drug Fact Sheet: Benzodiazepines. DEA.,Ativan%C2%AE%2C%20and%20Klonopin%C2%AE

[4] Qeadan, F., English, K., Luke, A., & Egbert, J. (2023). Eating disorders and substance use: Examining associations among US college students. The International journal of eating disorders, 56(5), 956–968.

[5] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2023). Benzodiazepines and opioids. National Institutes of Health. 

[6] Kang, M. (2023). Benzodiazepine toxicity. StatPearls.

[7]  National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2023). Benzodiazepines and opioids. National Institutes of Health. 

[8] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, August 22). Drug overdose deaths.

[9] White House Executive Office of the President, & Office of National Drug Control Policy. (2023). Fentanyl adulterated or associated with xylazine response plan.

[10] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, November 28). What you should know about xylazine. 

[11] Seladi-Schulman, J. (2020). What Is Rescue Breathing and How Does It Differ from CPR? Healthline.

[12] National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. (2003). Food for thought: Substance abuse and eating disorders. Commonwealth Fund & National Institute on Drug Abuse. Available at:  

[13] Eskander, N., Chakrapani, S., & Ghani, M. R. (2020). The Risk of Substance Use Among Adolescents and Adults With Eating Disorders. Cureus, 12(9), e10309.  

[14] Ressler, A. (2008). Insatiable Hungers: Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse. Social Work Today, (8) 4, 30. Available at:  

[15] Munn-Chernoff, M. A., Grant, J. D., Agrawal, A., Sartor, C. E., Werner, K. B., Bucholz, K. K., Madden, P. A., Heath, A. C., & Duncan, A. E. (2015). Genetic overlap between alcohol use disorder and bulimic behaviors in European American and African American women. Drug and alcohol dependence, 153, 335–340. 

[16] Bahji, A., Mazhar, M. N., Hudson, C. C., Nadkarni, P., MacNeil, B. A., & Hawken, E. (2019). Prevalence of substance use disorder comorbidity among individuals with eating disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychiatry research, 273, 58–66.

[17] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). Clients With Substance Use and Eating Disorders. SAMHSA Advisory, (10) 1. Available at: