Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines (“benzos”) are fast-acting anti-anxiety medications. They produce a calming, sedative effect. This makes them helpful for short-term anxiety, panic attacks, or insomnia (trouble sleeping). They are also used to treat seizures and muscle spasms. [1]

Benzodiazepines take effect quickly—usually within 30 minutes to an hour. They also leave your system quickly—the strongest effects wear off within a few hours. [2]

Like other mental health medications, these work by impacting chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters. Benzodiazepines enhance the action of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which slows down the central nervous system. This produces the calming, sedative effect that helps with anxiety.

Benzodiazepines and addiction

Although benzodiazepines are generally considered safe and effective in the short term, they can become habit-forming in the long term. If you take them too often, after a while you will need more and more to get the same effect [2]. Some people use them as a party drug, and they can become addictive.

They are not a good choice if you’ve had problems with drug or alcohol abuse. The way benzodiazepines work in the brain is similar to alcohol—for both better and worse. (One of the reasons alcohol is commonly used in social settings is because it reduces people’s social anxiety—but it can lead to addiction.)

Examples include:

Generic nameBrand name(s)
AlprazolamXanax
ChlordiazepoxideLibrium
ClonazepamKlonopin
ClorazepateTranxene
DiazepamValium
LorazepamAtivan
OxazepamSerax
TemazepamRestoril
TriazolamHalcion

Side effects of benzodiazepines

Here are some of the most common side effects [3][4]:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Vertigo, feeling light-headed
  • Extra sensitivity to alcohol
  • Muscle weakness or slow movement
  • Trouble remembering events that happened while you were under the influence of benzodiazepines
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth

Less Common:

  • Headaches
  • Low blood pressure
  • Double vision
  • Tremors (shaking)

References

  1. The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Benzodiazepine.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 July 2017, www.britannica.com/science/benzodiazepine.
  2. Schmitz. (2016). Benzodiazepine use, misuse, and abuse: A review. The Mental Health Clinician 6(3), pp. 120-126. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6007645/
  3. Longo, Lance P, and Brian Johnson. “Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines–Side Effects, Abuse Risk and Alternatives.” American Family Physician, vol. 61, no. 7, Apr. 2000, pp. 2121–2128.
  4. Mind, the mental health charity. (2021). Side effects of benzodiazepines. Retrieved from https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/sleeping-pills-and-minor-tranquillisers/side-effects-of-benzodiazepines/