The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the use of benzodiazepines for those experiencing seizure activity. Benzodiazepines act as an anticonvulsant and are considered to be a first line of treatment for status epilepticus.
Although benzodiazepines may be used to treat epileptic seizures, it is possible for benzodiazepines to indirectly cause seizures. However, this is only because seizures caused by benzodiazepine use typically take place if a person abruptly stops taking their medication.
Seizures may be a result of withdrawal symptoms that stem from quitting benzodiazepines “cold turkey.” Speak with your prescribing doctor before stopping your benzodiazepine medication.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Seizures
The discontinuation of benzodiazepines may lead to serious side effects including seizures. It is not advised to stop taking benzodiazepines “cold turkey” as a variety of severe withdrawal symptoms may occur, including:
- increased mental health issues such as anxiety or depression
- cravings for the drug
- memory problems
- muscle spasms
- sleeping problems
Seizures may accompany withdrawal, especially in those who have taken the medicine for a prolonged period of time and in higher doses. Those participating in benzodiazepine abuse may be more susceptible to life-threatening seizures.
How Benzodiazepines Work To Prevent Seizures
Benzodiazepines work to help prevent convulsive status epilepticus. The drug can be taken orally, via intravenous injection, or via intramuscular rectal administration.
These drugs work by targeting the central nervous system (CNS) and acting on the gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter receptors. This creates feelings of sedation and calmness.
Benzodiazepines can be used to help treat those suffering from:
- acute repetitive seizures
- complex partial
- prolonged seizures
- tonic-clonic seizures
- epileptic seizures
While benzodiazepines are used in the treatment of epilepsy, there are also other forms of treatment required which may include antiepileptic drugs, anticonvulsant drugs such as phenytoin (Dilantin), or phenobarbital.
Additionally, electroencephalography (EEG) can be used to help diagnose those who have epilepsy.
Side Effects Of Benzodiazepines
Various side effects are associated with benzodiazepines such as:
- diazepam (Valium)
- lorazepam (Ativan)
- clonazepam (Klonopin)
- alprazolam (Xanax)
- midazolam (Versed)
- clobazam (Onfi)
Side effects of any benzodiazepine use may consist of:
- cognitive impairment
- slurred speech
- blurry vision
- dry mouth
Combining other medications with benzodiazepines can lead to adverse events and life-threatening health problems. Speak with your healthcare provider before combining the following with a benzodiazepine:
- over-the-counter pain medications
Adverse effects may take place when benzodiazepines are combined with any of these substances.
Benzodiazepine toxicity can occur if the drug is taken in large quantities. Abusing benzodiazepines can lead to an increased risk of overdose.
According to the DEA, symptoms of a benzodiazepine overdose can include:
- fluctuations in blood pressure
- psychosis or hallucinations
- respiratory depression
- extreme sleepiness
If an overdose is suspected, contact 911 immediately to seek urgent medical attention that can help prevent a drug overdose death.
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- National Center for Biotechnology Information - Benzodiazepines https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470159/
- National Center for Biotechnology Information - Benzodiazepines in the Management of Seizures and Status Epilepticus: A Review of Routes of Delivery, Pharmacokinetics, Efficacy, and Tolerability https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9477921/
- National Center for Biotechnology Information - Benzodiazepine withdrawal seizures and management https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21815323/#:~:text=Withdrawal%20seizures%20usually%20occur%20in,use%20and%20at%20therapeutic%20dosage.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information - The Role of Benzodiazepines in the Treatment of Epilepsy https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26923608/
- National Center for Biotechnology Information - Management of benzodiazepine misuse and dependence https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4657308/
- United States Drug Enforcement Administration - Benzodiazepines https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2023-04/Benzodiazepines%202022%20Drug%20Fact%20Sheet_1.pdf