Benzodiazepines: Types, Uses, Interactions, and Side-effects

Benzodiazepines are a group of minor tranquilizers discovered in the 1950s. These drugs treat a range of mental and physical health conditions, including anxiety, seizures, and panic attacks. Since they are sedatives, they may treat anxiety and sleeping problems. These prescription drugs are usually effective and safe when used for a short time.

However, it also bears the FDA’s black box warning, one of the most serious warnings ever issued. Below, we discuss the types, interactions, uses, and side effects of Benzodiazepines.

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But first, let’s understand how they work.

1. How Benzodiazepine Works

Benzodiazepines are a group of drugs taken to increase the impact of a brain chemical called GABA, [1*] or the Gamma Amino Butyric Acid. GABA works to reduce certain brain activities relating to emotions, essential functions such as breathing, memory, and rational thought.

However, people with chemical imbalance tend to experience disorders such as anxiety. By taking Benzodiazepines, the action of GABA on the neurotransmitters increases, and consequently, the symptoms of any disorders.

2. What Are the Types of Benzodiazepines?

Although Benzodiazepines work along the same lines, there are a few differences between the various categories. These differences depend on:

  • The condition they treat
  • How long they take to start working in your body
  • The period they continue working in your body
  • The potency of the drug

The most common tool used to differentiate between the various types of Benzodiazepines is the drug’s half-life. Based on this, there three classifications, including:

i. Short-acting Benzodiazepines

These sedatives have a short half-life. When you take the drug, it is absorbed into your body quickly and leaves your body quickly. However, you are more likely to experience withdrawal with this category because the body did not fully adapt to the drug.

Examples include;

  • Clorazepate- an anti-anxiety medicine
  • Midazolam- used to induce sleepiness and relieve anxiety before medical procedures.
  • Triazolam- Sedative medicine used for insomnia

ii. Intermediate-acting Benzodiazepines

These drugs have an average half-life. Therefore, they take a little longer to affect the body, and the effects last longer.

Examples of these Benzodiazepines include:

  • Xanax- treats anxiety and panic disorders.
  • Serax/ Oxazepam- Treats anxiety with depression, alcohol withdrawal, and anxiety.
  • Lorazepam/Ativan– Treats insomnia, anxiety with depression, and general anxiety.

iii. Long-acting Benzodiazepines

These are Benzodiazepines with a long half-life. The body processes these drugs slower, and they have the longest-lasting effects of all Benzodiazepines.

Common examples include:

  • Diazepam/ Valium- Treats anxiety, relaxes muscles, alcohol withdrawal, and seizures.
  • Quazepam/Doral- Sedative used to treat insomnia.
  • Chlordiazepoxide/ Librium- An anti-anxiety drug that also treats alcohol withdrawal symptoms

The short-acting Benzodiazepines are thus used as sleeping pills to treat insomnia, while the long-acting drugs treat anxiety. However, this is not to mean that this one difference restricts all their application.

3 Types of Benzodiazepines

3. When Do You Use Benzodiazepines?

Let’s start by noting that Benzodiazepines are prescription drugs, and under no circumstances should you take them without consulting a physician.

Also, patients with severe cases of anxiety and insomnia are the best suited for these prescription drugs. These mild tranquilizers work best when taken as a one-off dose, rather than a long-term and recurrent prescription.

Most importantly, doctors advise that you take Benzodiazepines for less than four weeks. And finally, do not take these drugs every day as they have a higher risk of dependence.

However, ALWAYS consult with a licensed physician before you start or stop your dose to avoid complications.

4. Who Should Take Benzodiazepines?

Sedatives work differently on people. And before you get your prescription, a doctor analyzes your medical history and condition to determine if you are qualified to use the drugs.

However, some people on this list cannot use the drug, while others need some caution before proceeding.

Those who should not use Benzodiazepines include:

  • Patients with breathing problems
  • People with sleep apnea-developing breathing problems during sleep
  • Liver and kidney disease patients

Those to proceed cautiously include:

  • Patients with chest or lung problems
  • Personality disorder patients
  • Persons with a history of alcohol and drug abuse
  • Muscle weakness

The following group should take a reduced dose:

  • Liver and kidney problems
  • Patients with a rare inherited condition called porphyria, which is a liver disorder

As for children and older people, Benzodiazepines should not be the only treatment for depression except for exceptional cases you can discuss with your physician.

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5. Benzodiazepines and Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a delicate stage of any woman’s life. At this moment, you look out for your health and that of your unborn baby. That is why taking most drugs during pregnancy is discouraged.

Pregnant mothers should avoid Benzodiazepines at all costs. The unborn child might likely experience the side effects of Benzodiazepines.

Such problems include:

  • Heart abnormalities
  • Urinary tract complication
  • Dyslexia
  • Autism
  • ADHD       
  • Stomach abnormalities, among others.

Also, if you are under medication, do not breastfeed. The drugs could spread through the milk into the baby, resulting in effects such as:

  • Breathing problems
  • Withdrawal symptoms, such as tremors, sleep disruption, shaking, and stomach discomfort.
  • Drowsiness
  • Low body temperature

6. How Does Benzodiazepine Interact With Other Medication?

As mentioned before, Benzodiazepines have a black box warning from the FDA. That means that you should be careful when using these sedatives along with other prescription drugs. However, some medications may be taken alongside Benzodiazepines, including:

  • Anti-depressants- can be prescribed together or before the anti-depressants prescription.
  • Anti-psychotics- When used together, this combination treats conditions such as schizophrenia.

However, some drugs are highly discouraged. For instance, you should NEVER use Benzodiazepines with opioids. You increase your risk of developing severe sleepiness, coma, respiratory depression, and sometimes death.

Side-effects of Benzodiazepines

7. Side-effects of Benzodiazepine

The FDA warning carries on to caution about possible side effects of Benzodiazepine. These include:

  • Developing physical dependence, even when taking the drug according to the prescription
  • Misuse of the drug leads to addiction and the chances of overdose.

Other side effects of Benzodiazepine may include:

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness and dizziness
  • Impaired coordination
  • Depression or even increased anxiety
  • Behavioral change
  • Memory problems
  • Increased risks of dementia

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Millions of US citizens suffer from anxiety and panic attacks every day. As part of your treatment, you might have discussed Benzodiazepines with your physician. However, it is crucial you only take these prescription drugs if you have severe insomnia and anxiety cases. Although they are useful, you can also develop an addiction.

All in all, consult with a professional before you start taking any form of Benzodiazepines. Visit EZCare Clinic and book an appointment with us.


+1 sources
  1. Physiology, GABA. (2023)
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