Benzodiazepines are a class of commonly used drugs with sedative and anti-anxiety effects. They can be effective in treating anxiety, but they also have some side effects and risks that you should be aware of.
These drugs used to be the most common treatment for anxiety, but there are newer and often more effective treatments that do not carry many of the same risks associated with benzodiazepines. If you have an anxiety disorder, knowing more about the use of benzodiazepines to treat this disease can help you determine whether this is the right treatment option for your needs.
How benzodiazepines treat anxiety
Benzodiazepines affect the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. This action causes the central nervous system (CNS) to slow down, leading to a relaxed state. Benzodiazepines act quite quickly and can relieve symptoms in a short period of time.
They can also be used to treat insomnia, which can be a symptom of anxiety or a contributing factor. Anxiety may interfere with sleep, but lack of sleep can also cause or aggravate anxiety symptoms.
Depending on your condition and symptoms, benzodiazepines can be taken once a day, multiple times a day, or as needed. Your doctor may start with a lower initial dose, which may increase if you still have symptoms. The therapeutic dose varies from person to person and may depend on the severity of a person’s symptoms and his or her unique body chemistry.
In addition to prescribing benzodiazepines, your doctor may also recommend psychotherapy to help treat your anxiety. Studies have found that a combination of drugs and treatment may be the most effective treatment option. A therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most commonly used methods to treat anxiety disorders.
Examples of benzodiazepines
Common uses of benzodiazepines include the treatment of anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia. Benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety related to panic disorder or other anxiety disorders include:
- Xanax (alprazolam): for short-term relief of anxiety symptoms
- Klonopin (clonazepam): used to treat panic disorder and panic attacks
- Valium (diazepam): can be prescribed at the initial stage of panic disorder treatment
- Ativan (lorazepam): can be used to treat anxiety symptoms caused by other mental illnesses
- Librium (chlordiazepoxide): can be used to treat anxiety and alcohol withdrawal
Benzodiazepines can also be used for other conditions, including seizures, muscle cramps, and abstinence from alcohol or other drugs. They can also be used to treat sleep disorders and induce a state of relaxation before surgery.
Benzodiazepines should only be taken as directed by your doctor. You should not increase the dose without consulting a doctor. If you are prescribed benzodiazepines, please do not stop them without the advice of your doctor. Doing so may cause unnecessary withdrawal symptoms or worsen your condition and symptoms.
In the United States, benzodiazepines are classified as Schedule IV controlled substances.
Benzodiazepines can cause drowsiness, which can affect your ability to drive safely. If you feel sleepy or drowsy, you should avoid driving or operating other heavy equipment. You should also avoid taking benzodiazepines with alcohol or other tranquilizers.
Certain drugs, including certain types of SSRIs, may affect how benzodiazepines are metabolized and excreted from the body. This may lead to increased levels of benzodiazepines in the blood. When taking benzodiazepines and SSRIs or other drugs, be sure to follow your doctor’s dosage instructions to avoid increasing the risk of overdose or unnecessary side effects.
Mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol or other types of sedative (depressant) drugs may increase central nervous system depression. These interactions can be serious and can lead to an increased risk of overdose. There have been reports of deaths involving these interactions.
This list is not exhaustive. Before starting benzodiazepine treatment, your doctor may need to consider other drug interactions and medical issues. Be sure to tell your doctor about all medicines, including over-the-counter medicines and supplements you are taking. Consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking any prescription or over-the-counter medicines containing benzodiazepines.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Taking benzodiazepines in the first trimester of pregnancy is associated with congenital birth defects. They are also excreted in human milk. If you are taking benzodiazepines and become pregnant, please consult your doctor immediately.
Benzodiazepines are generally not used to treat anxiety in children and adolescents. These drugs may cause irritability rather than calming.
The elderly may also be more sensitive to the effects of benzodiazepines. As a result, they are more likely to experience confusion and poor muscle coordination, which can lead to falls, fractures, or other accidents.
Before starting benzodiazepine treatment, please tell your doctor if you have any of the following conditions:
- History of alcohol or other drug abuse or dependence
- Kidney or liver disease
- History of epilepsy
- A history of bipolar disorder or depression
- Suicidal thoughts
The most common side effects of using benzodiazepines are drowsiness and impaired coordination. When benzodiazepines are taken in low doses for a short period of time, these side effects are often mild and may not be noticeable or cause trouble. Other side effects include:
- Memory impairment
- Psychological processing slows down
Once the effect of the drug disappears, the side effects associated with benzodiazepines will diminish. When used to treat insomnia, you may notice the lingering feeling of daytime sleepiness the next day.
If you experience these or other side effects and continue to be troubled, please consult your healthcare provider.
It is also important to note that such drugs carry FDA black box warnings that indicate serious risks of abuse, addiction, physical dependence, and withdrawal. Even when taken in prescribed doses, benzodiazepines can cause physical dependence, and sudden withdrawal can cause severe withdrawal reactions, including seizures.
Possibility of overdose
When used as directed, benzodiazepines are generally safe and effective. However, there have been reports of overdose of benzodiazepines used alone or in combination with alcohol or other drugs. These events can be life-threatening.
Symptoms and signs of overdose include:
- Extremely sedated
- Impaired coordination
- Weakened reflex
- Difficulty breathing
If an overdose of benzodiazepines is suspected, seek medical attention immediately.
Tolerance, dependence and withdrawal
Benzodiazepines may cause physical dependence during long-term use, especially at high doses. They may also cause psychological addiction to some people.
Studies have shown that people who take benzodiazepines for a long time may develop tolerance and reduce the effectiveness of treatment. If tolerance occurs, larger doses of benzodiazepines may be required to achieve the desired effect.
If the drug is suddenly stopped or reduced, long-term use of benzodiazepines may cause physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Diarrhea/upset stomach
- Muscle cramps
- Concentration reduction
- Shortness of breath
Similarly, do not stop or reduce the dosage of benzodiazepines without consulting a doctor. It may be necessary to reduce the dose slowly to avoid withdrawal complications.
Very good sentence
Anxiety is a treatable disease, and benzodiazepines are only a way to relieve symptoms. If you have symptoms of anxiety, please work with your doctor to find the best treatment for you.