Benzodiazepines, also referred to as “benzos,” are central nervous system (CNS) depressants that treat symptoms of anxiety disorders like panic disorder, epilepsy, and sleep disorders. Additionally, these prescription drugs may be used to help treat alcohol withdrawal.
Benzodiazepines are Schedule IV controlled substances. When abused, benzodiazepines can lead to psychological and physical dependence. These drugs work by targeting the neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain.
Children and older adults may be prescribed short-acting benzodiazepines, while others may require long-acting options. However, benzodiazepines are typically prescribed for short-term use, not long-term use.
While benzodiazepines can help treat panic attacks in those with severe anxiety, this class of drugs can cause a variety of physical and mental side effects.
Physical Effects Of Benzodiazepines
There are numerous physical side effects associated with the use of benzodiazepines, including:
- slurred speech
The common side effects of benzodiazepines may range in severity, especially if the benzodiazepine is not taken as prescribed.
If you suddenly stop taking benzodiazepines, notify your prescribing doctor. It is not advised to abruptly stop taking the medication, as withdrawal symptoms can take place.
Some of the physical symptoms which can occur with benzodiazepine withdrawal include:
- ringing in your ears
- prickling in hands or feet
- difficulty sleeping
- muscle spasms
Those who abuse benzodiazepines by taking the drug in high doses have an increased risk of life-threatening adverse effects, including drug overdose. Physical symptoms of a benzodiazepine overdose may include:
- fluctuations in blood pressure
- respiratory depression
- extreme sleepiness
The risk of benzodiazepine overdose increases when the drugs are mixed with other CNS depressants like alcohol, opioids, and other benzos.
Mental Effects Of Benzodiazepines
Because many benzodiazepines are used to help treat those suffering from certain anxiety disorders, various mental health issues can take place, including:
- cognitive impairment
- mood swings
- mental confusion
Mental effects associated with those suffering from benzodiazepine withdrawal may consist of:
- agitation or irritability
- mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or suicidal ideations
- memory problems
- difficulty concentrating
- hallucinations or psychosis
An increased risk of overdose can be caused when a person abuses the drug in any manner. Those suffering from a benzodiazepine overdose may experience several mental health issues which can include an altered mental status.
Benzodiazepines may worsen the mental health issues in which the benzo was first prescribed.
During an overdose, a person can exhibit serious mental issues including extreme psychosis, anxiety, and irritability. Certain benzodiazepine withdrawal effects may overlap with overdose symptoms.
Examples Of Benzodiazepines
There are a variety of benzodiazepines approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some of the commonly prescribed benzodiazepines consist of:
- alprazolam (Xanax)
- diazepam (Valium)
- clonazepam (Klonopin)
- lorazepam (Ativan)
- temazepam (Restoril)
- chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
- flurazepam (Dalmane)
- midazolam (Versed)
- oxazepam (Serax)
- triazolam (Halcion)
- clobazam (Onfi)
- clorazepate (Tranxene)
- estazolam (ProSom)
Multiple benzodiazepines should not be taken together. In addition to this, those prescribed a benzodiazepine should avoid opioids, tranquilizers, and barbiturates.
Do not take antidepressants with benzodiazepines unless first speaking with your doctor.
Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment
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- Australian Prescriber - Management of benzodiazepine misuse and dependence https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4657308/
- Drug Enforcement Administration - Benzodiazepines https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2023-04/Benzodiazepines%202022%20Drug%20Fact%20Sheet_1.pdf
- Food and Drug Administration - Benzodiazepine Drug Information https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/benzodiazepine-drug-information
- National Alliance on Mental Illness - Risks of Benzodiazepines https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatment/Mental-Health-Medications/Risks-of-Benzodiazepines
- National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Alprazolam https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a684001.html