Benzodiazepines, often called “benzos”, belong to a class of drugs used as sedatives, anticonvulsants and muscle relaxants, as well as for anxiety, seizures, panic disorders, agitation, insomnia, and alcohol dependency. They help with anxiety more quickly than many antidepressants. Sometimes, they are used before surgery to reduce anxiety and also have the effect of suppressing the memory of the procedure. They may be used in psychiatric situations such as extreme agitation where a patient needs a quick acting drug.
This class of drugs works by suppressing the central nervous system. They can be habit forming but less so than opiates. Long-term use is not encouraged. Since they work on the nervous system, side effects include drowsiness, confusion, dizziness, trembling, grogginess, impaired vision, headaches and feelings of depression. If a dependency develops, the patient should never quit without a doctor’s supervision. They should never be used in conjunction with alcohol or opiates. This class of drugs is one of the most widely abused in the United States, accounting for a large amount of hospital admissions.
Taking contraceptives, antifungals or antidepressants at the same time increase the drug’s side effects, while taking St. John’s Wort (herb) or certain antibiotics, or certain anticonvulsants decrease the effectiveness. Older people run a risk of developing dementia with this drug. Doctors should be informed of a pregnancy or if nursing.
The popular drug, Valium, (generic Diazepam), has been used since 1963 and is one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world. Xanax (generic: Alprazolam), is the most widely prescribed benzodiazepine in the United States. People taking these drugs may develop a tolerance that reduces the effect of the drugs, especially the sedative, anticonvulsant and muscle relaxant properties. Some of these drugs are retained in the body for a while after quitting.
Benzodiazepines are usually taken orally but can be injected or given rectally.