Benzodiazepines – Types, Side Effects, Addiction and Withdrawal

Last updated: March 26, 2019

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that are sometimes called benzos. The primary use of these drugs is as a treatment for anxiety. However, they are also effective as a treatment for several other conditions. Doctors can prescribe benzodiazepines for medical conditions such as seizures or alcohol withdrawal.

How do they work?

Although the exact mechanism of benzodiazepines is unknown, they appear to work by blocking the excessive activity of the nerves in the brain. They also work on the nerves in other areas in the central nervous system. Popular benzodiazepines include Alprazolam (Xanax), Lorazepam (Ativan), and Diazepam (Valium).

Benzodiazepines have been in development for a long time. They received approval from the Food and Drug Administration in the 1960s. Aside from the popular brand-name benzos, there are also generic benzos available at a more affordable price.

Benzodiazepines are commonly used as:

  • Treatment for sleep disorders
  • Muscle relaxant
  • Treatment for memory loss
  • Anti-anxiety medication

Can I get just any benzodiazepines or are there different types?

There are different types of benzodiazepines. Each type has its own use. These types include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax) – used for treating anxiety and panic disorders
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium) – used to manage alcohol withdrawal syndrome
  • Clorazepate (Tranxene) – a hypnotic or sedative drug used as a treatment for severe insomnia or anxiety disorders.
  • Diazepam (Valium) – A medication used to reduce anxiety. It is also a hypnotic, sedative, and anticonvulsant drug. This fast-acting drug is used to treat panic attacks, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal. It is also effective in treating sleep-related disorders such as insomnia, and restless leg syndrome.
  • Estazolam – a sedative used as a short-term insomnia treatment. It is also used to reduce anxiety.
  • Flurazepam (Dalmane) – this is another sedative drug that is effective in treating mild to moderate insomnia. Doctors also prescribe this to reduce anxiety.
  • Oxazepam – A medication that can control symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. It is also used as a treatment for anxiety and insomnia.
  • Temazepam (Restoril) – This is a short-term treatment for insomnia.
  • Triazolam (Apo-Triazo, Halcion, Hypam, or Trilam) – These are sedatives that should only be used in treating severe insomnia.

Do they have side effects?

Yes, the use of benzodiazepines can cause side effects. Common side effects include:

  • Drowsiness, sleepiness, or dizziness. These are the most common side effects of this class of drugs. This is why patients who take these drugs should not drive or operate machinery. They also should not perform dangerous tasks or tasks that require complete mental alertness. These side effects can heighten if you drink alcohol while taking benzos.
  • Anterograde amnesia. This type of amnesia is different from the amnesia that we are familiar with. We often think of amnesia as not being able to remember things. Anterograde amnesia is the partial or complete inability of a person to recall recent events. This is due to the loss of the ability to create new memories. If you have anterograde amnesia, you can still recall what happened years ago but not what happened or what you did yesterday.
  • Confusion
  • Trembling
  • Impaired coordination

Is it true that benzodiazepines are addicting?

Yes, you can get addicted to benzodiazepines. Although there is always a potential for abuse with any drugs, benzodiazepines are highly-addictive. There is a higher chance of abusing these drugs compared to others.

How should I know if someone is abusing benzodiazepines?

There are physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms that you should look for. These symptoms will indicate if a person is addicted to these drugs. If you are using benzodiazepines, you should also watch for symptoms that may indicate if you are addicted to these drugs yourself. Symptoms include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Poor judgment or thinking
  • Mood changes
  • Doctor shopping
  • Combining benzodiazepines with alcohol or other drugs

When you abuse benzodiazepines or any other drugs for that matter, your body naturally builds a tolerance for the drugs. This means that it will require a higher dosage for a person to experience the high that benzodiazepines can give. You won’t be able to use them as a treatment for sleep disorders because your body is no longer affected by the drugs.

Although it is rare, you can also overdose from a benzodiazepine. This can be fatal if you use benzos with barbiturates, opioids, alcohol, or tricyclic antidepressants.

Are there withdrawal symptoms associated with benzodiazepine?

When you have used benzodiazepines, it is important that you don’t suddenly stop taking them. This can lead to the onset of withdrawal symptoms. If you’re planning to stop taking benzos, you should talk to your doctor. Your doctor can gradually decrease the dosage that you are taking. This way, you can safely wean yourself from these medications.

If you suddenly stop taking benzodiazepines, you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Tremors
  • Muscle cramps
  • Life-threatening seizures

Benzodiazepines are effective in treating many mental disorders. They can also be used to treat sleep disorders. When used properly, they can improve the quality of your life. They can even help you get quality sleep. However, these drugs are highly addictive. You should use them exactly as prescribed so you can enjoy their benefits without fear of getting dependent on them or suffering from severe side effects.

Additional Resources