By Dr. Cheryl Lane, Wed, December 02, 2015
By Dr. Cheryl Lane, PhD
Benzodiazepines are a type of fast-acting medication primarily used to treat anxiety symptoms and insomnia. They are also used in the treatment of muscle spasms, agitation, acute mania, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and seizures. These sedative-hypnotic drugs are also referred to as anxiolytics and minor tranquilizers.
Popular medications that fall in this category include Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Klonopin. Because of their high potential for addiction, benzodiazepines are typically prescribed for short term use (usually no longer than 4 weeks).
When taken as prescribed, benzodiazepines quickly produce a sedating, calming effect. They provide relatively fast relief for individuals who suffer from acute anxiety and panic attacks. For individuals with insomnia, benzodiazepines help induce sleepiness.
How Benzodiazepines Work
Benzodiazepines work by targeting the receptors of a neurotransmitter known as GABA (which stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA helps keep the nerve cells in the brain from becoming overexcited. By enhancing GABA’s function, benzodiazepines bring about a state of clam as they reduce any over-activity in the brain. Because of this effect, they are classified as a “central nervous system depressant”.
Two Types of Benzodiazepines
There are two primary types of benzodiazepines: short-acting and long-acting. This is based on how fast and how long they act, how quickly they are eliminated from the body, and whether or not they accumulate when taken in multiple dosages.
Short-acting benzodiazepines include:
Long-acting benzodiazepines include:
However, like all medications, there are potential side effects. The most common side effect is sedation or drowsiness, which is why benzodiazepines should never be taken while (or shortly before) driving a vehicle or operating any kind of machinery.
Other common side effects of benzodiazepines include:
Dizziness or light-headedness
Changes in appetite
Abuse and Addiction
All benzodiazepines have a high risk for abuse and addiction. This is largely because they produce such a quick sense of calm and relaxation. If you take these medications for longer than prescribed or at higher or more frequent doses than prescribed, you may develop a tolerance to and dependence upon them. If this occurs it can be dangerous to abruptly stop taking the medication. Gradual tapering of the dose, under the supervision of a physician, is advised in order to prevent withdrawal symptoms which may include seizures, muscle cramps, and nausea.
Some commonly prescribed benzodiazepines
Inderide LA [CD]
Lexapro ( Lexaprotm )
Tranxene – SD