Disorders and Treatment
- Mental Illness
- Bipolar Disorder
- Mood Disorders
- Borderline Personality
- Mental Health Diagnosis
- Mental Health Treatments
- Alternative Meds
- Case Studies
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.
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”.
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.
Most benzodiazepines can be used interchangeably, although some are use more frequently than others for certain things. For example, Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Tranxene, Ativan, and Librium are often used for the treatment of anxiety. Seizures are most commonly treated with Valium, Tranxene, or Klonopin. Librium is the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepine for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, while Valium is frequently used for muscle spasms. Ativan is also often used to treat agitation. Restoril, Ambien, ProSom, Halcion, Doral, and Dalmane are often used for treating insomnia.
Most people are able to tolerate benzodiazepines quite well. 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.
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
The information provided on the PsyWeb.com is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of PsyWeb.com nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.