Benzodiazepines are some of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States.
Benzodiazepines are psychoactive drugs that help relax muscles and relieve anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Doctors also administer them as an anesthetic before certain procedures or surgeries.
Benzodiazepines are among the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States.
They work by altering the effect of a chemical messenger, or neurotransmitter, called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
In 1955, Leo Sternbach discovered chlordiazepoxide (Librium), which was the first benzodiazepine. It became available in 1960.
Other benzodiazepine drugs include:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Clorazepate (Tranxene)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Estazolam (Prosom)
- Flurazepam (Dalmane)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Midazolam (Versed)
- Oxazepam (Serax)
- Temazepam (Restoril)
- Triazolam (Halcion)
- Quazepam (Doral)
Benzodiazepines are classified by how long their effects last. They can be ultra-short acting, short-acting, or long-acting.
Some also break down into other drugs that are active and can therefore have a longer duration of action.
Benzodiazepines can be habit-forming and are often abused.
Using these drugs in higher doses or more often than a doctor prescribes is dangerous and can result in injury or death.
Short-term use of benzodiazepines is safe, but long-term use can lead to dependence.
Some of these medicines are known as "date rape" drugs, because they're added to a person's drink to impair judgement and make him/her susceptible to sexual assault.
These benzodiazepines include flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), Klonopin, and Xanax.
Rohypnol, commonly known as a "roofie," is no longer available legally in the United States, but can be purchased in other countries.
Benzodiazepine Side Effects
Benzodiazepines can cause side effects, such as:
- Dry mouth
- Weight gain
- Changes in vision
- Worsening breathing problems
- Birth defects if taken during pregnancy
Elderly people who take benzodiazepines are more likely to suffer side effects and may be at an increased risk for accidents or falls.
You can experience serious withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking benzodiazepines suddenly.
Symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include:
- Seizures and sometimes death
If you have been taking a benzodiazepine drug regularly, talk to your doctor before you stop taking it.
Symptoms of a benzodiazepine overdose include:
- Blurred vision
- Breathing difficulties
- Slurred speech
- Lack of coordination
If you suspect an overdose, contact a poison control center or go to an emergency room immediately.
You can get in touch with a poison control center at (800) 222-1222.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Hypnotics; MedlinePlus, National Institutes of Health
- Date Rape Drugs Fact Sheet; Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services