A benzodiazepine is a psychoactive drug, pharmacologically used to treat anxiety, insomnia, alcohol withdrawals and seizures due to its sedative, sleep inducing and anti-anxiety, muscle relaxant effects.

When used under professional medical care, benzodiazepines are safe and effective on a short term basis, though damaging effects and cognitive impairments are possible.

Benzodiazepines are commonly abused and misused as a recreational drug. This is partly due to their availability. “The wide human exposure to this group of drugs throughout the world is of great concern for human health” (Giri A K, Banerjee S. (1993). Genetic toxicology of four commonly used benzodiazepines: A rewiew. Mutation Research, 340, 93-108)

Bezodiazepine drug names

Bezodiazepine drug names include Zopiclone, Oxazepam, Alprazolam, Chlordiazepoxide, Clorazepate, Diazepam, Temazepam amd many others. Some of Benzodiazepine common brand names include Xanax, Lexotan, Dormex, Librium, Paxam, Valium, Rohypnol, Serax, Zopitan.

Short term side effects

Short term side effects can include; impaired motor coordination, drowsiness, lethargy and fatigue, impaired thinking and memory, confusion, depression, altered vision, slurred speech, stuttering vertigo, tremors, respiratory depression, nausea, constipation, dry mouth abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite and vomiting. Also when taken in high doses they can induce severe drowsiness, slowed reflexes, mood swings, hostile and aggressive behaviour and euphoria. Long term use of benzodiazepine may result in impaired thinking memory and judgment, disorientation, confusion, slurred speech, muscle weakness and lack of coordination. It is noted that the elderly are especially at risk of benzodiazepine dependence and are more sensitive to the adverse effects of it such as memory loss and impaired motor coordination. Long-term effects of benzodiazepine dependence can resemble dementia, depression and anxiety.

Dependence on benzodiazepines

Dependence on and tolerance of benzodiazepines is built up fast which may result in dose increase and withdrawal symptoms after as little as three weeks of continuous use. When used without medical supervision and for an excessive amount of time they may induce anxiety, insomnia, anorexia, headaches and weakness. The symptoms of withdrawal are difficult to manage and professional help and treatment are strongly encouraged.

Dependence on benzodiazepines can be psychological or physical. Psychological addiction occurs when a person feels like they need the drug to be able to cope with daily life or difficult situations and stressful events. They may feel they need the drug to relieve depression or panic attacks. Physical dependence tales place when users wish to experience intoxication or euphoria or want to relieve withdrawal symptoms.

Treating benzodiazepine dependency

There are various ways of treating dependency on benzodiazepines. Addiction treatment centres in the UK offer detox programmes and help such as 12 step treatment, cognitive behavioural therapy and addiction counselling in order to tackle psychological dependency.