Benzodiazepines are one of the most frequently prescribed drugs in the world and are used to treat a variety of common disorders. They are also highly abused and may be dangerous in certain situations. But how are they safely used? Are they worth the risk? Here’s a benzodiazepine list including the most familiar brands, their uses, and their side effects.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines (also called benzos) are a class of psychoactive drugs that affect the central nervous system by enhancing the gamma-aminobutyric acid neurotransmitter at the GABA receptor. Benzos essentially affect the brain in a way that facilitates sleep, sedation, anti-anxiety, and muscle relaxing.
Benzos were discovered in 1955 by Leo Sternbach and they became available on the market five years later. In 1977, only 22 years after their inception, benzos became the most prescribed drug in the world. Their growth in popularity could have a few different causes. They are effective remedies for several common problems including anxiety and insomnia. They are also somewhat less dangerous than barbiturates in that they are less likely to lead to an overdose, especially when taken as directed.
Benzos are typically designed to be used for short periods of time, shorter than four months. In fact, they are effective in treating anxiety even if they aren’t taken chronically. However, a 2008 study (the most recent, comprehensive study of benzo use in the US) found that 5% of Americans between 18 and 80-years-old were prescribed benzos and a significant number of them were for long-term use.
Considering the wide-use of benzodiazepines, are their potential risks. How safe are the most common benzo prescriptions?
Benzodiazepines have many potential medical uses that are relatively common. The sedation and muscle relaxant effects alone have several medical applications. The anxiolytic effects can be used for psychological disorders, and the anticonvulsant effects can stop seizures of a variety of causes. Here are some of the most common medical uses for benzos:
- Panic disorders. Benzos can remedy episodes of panic resulting from psychological disorders or severe anxiety. But they may not be effective in the long term. Though this is debated, some suggest that benzos should only be used in cases of panic disorders that are resistant to other therapies.
- General anxiety disorder. Benzos have been proven to be useful in the treatment of anxiety but, again, long-term use isn’t recommended.
- Insomnia. Benzos cause sedation and hypnotic effects which can remedy insomnia. After four weeks; however, users risk dependency.
- Epileptic seizures. Benzos can be used for anticonvulsant properties to combat epilepsy. Fast-acting options are often used in medical emergencies.
- Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome. Benzos are commonly used to treat alcohol withdrawal which can cause anxiety, irritability, and seizures, in some cases.
Side Effects of Benzodiazepines
Because of their sedating effects, there are a few common side-effects that are to be expected. These typical effects include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of alertness
Because of these common effects, benzos are not recommended for use in treating insomnia in older adults. One study suggests that nonpharmacological approaches have proved effective but are often underutilized. Long-term use, especially in elderly patients, can cause loss of coordination, daytime sedation, higher risk of accidents and falls, and dependency.
Despite the risks of using benzos to treat insomnia in geriatric patients, their use seems to steadily increase with age. The highest percent of benzo use is found in the 65 to 80-year-old age bracket. Besides an increased risk of accidents and dependency, one study shows a potential link between benzo use and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Benzos are also associated with some negative cognitive and psychological effects like depression and disinhibition. It may also affect memory in short-term use, and some researchers believe those effects may worsen after long-term use.
Potential for Paradoxical Reactions
Some pharmaceutical drugs come with the risk of what is called a paradoxical reaction. This is when the medicine has an effect that causes the very symptom that it was prescribed to alleviate. For example, if a medication intended to treat pain symptoms caused a painful reaction, that would be a classic example of a paradoxical reaction.
Certain people who take benzodiazepines may experience an increase in symptoms that the drug is intended to remedy, especially if a person is susceptible or predisposed to these effects. In some cases, benzo caused extreme behavior changes that included violence, anger, self-harm, depression, mania, physical dependence, and schizophrenia.
Benzodiazepine List: The Five Most Common
- Chlordiazepoxide (Librium) – Chlordiazepoxide was the first benzodiazepine that was discovered in 1955. It is prescribed as a short-term remedy for severe anxiety and alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
- Alprazolam (Xanax, Xanax XR) – This might be the most used and most known benzo brand. It’s commonly used to treat anxiety disorders and depression caused by anxiety.
- Alprazolam (Valium) – Alprazolam is prescribed to treat anxiety. Again, it is most effective in short-term use. This drug can also be used to treat muscle spasms and tremors that come with alcohol withdrawal.
- Clonazepam (Klonopin) – Clonazepam is used to treat anxiety, epilepsy, seizures, and panic attacks.
- Lorazepam (Ativan) – Lorazepam is another option for treating anxiety and depression caused by anxiety.
Benzodiazepine Addiction Potential
Benzodiazepines seem to be most beneficial for short-term use. Otherwise, prolonged use can lead to physical dependence. The potential for benzo abuse also seems to be most common in cases of co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse. This means that patients that have mental health issues and a substance abuse disorder have a higher risk of becoming addicted to benzos.
Recreational abuse of benzodiazepines is a significant problem, especially among people that also use other drugs. This poses an even greater health risk. While benzos rarely cause significant health complications on their own, they can be dangerous when mixed with other drugs or alcohol.
If you are struggling with benzodiazepine abuse or addiction, there are solutions that can lead to recovery. Call Arete Recovery at 844-318-7500 or contact us online to find out more about benzodiazepine detox.