Benzodiazepines also called benzos, are prescription medications most commonly used for reducing anxiety and for inducing sleep.
All benzodiazepines have anti-anxiety, sedative and hypnotic properties. Benzos are also used to reduce the unwanted side-effects of stimulants like cocaine and ecstasy, and depressants like heroine and alcohol. High doses or long periods of use can cause addiction and, if usage is stopped, withdrawal symptoms are activated.
Users can develop cross-tolerance between benzos and other drugs, like alcohol and barbiturates, which means that benzodiazepine users will develop tolerance to the other drugs at a higher rate than normal.
Mixing alcohol with benzodiazepines, creates a high risk of respiratory failure. If mixed with opioids, respiratory failure, coma and death is possible. There is a high risk of interaction with many other drugs.
Users of benzodiazepines experience drowsiness, slow reaction times and poor hand-eye coordination. Using vehicles and machines while under the influence of these drugs is dangerous.
The different types of benzodiazepines vary in how quickly they start working, how long the effects last, and how long it takes to flush them from the body. Fast-acting benzos start working quickly, but there are also intermediate-acting and slow-acting benzodiazepines. The length of time that the beneficial effects of the drug are felt by the user, is expressed as the “duration time”.
Benzodiazepines have different brand names and generic names. Examples include:
Xanax (alprazolam): Fast-acting, intermediate-duration anxiolytic tranquilizer for controlling anxiety, panic disorder, depression, social phobia and insomnia. Onset period is less than an hour. Can be taken as a periodic single dose on an “as-needed” basis.
Klonopin (clonazepam): Fast-acting, long-duration antiseizure medication for treating epilepsy. Also useful for anxiety and as a sleeping aid. This medication does not work when taken on an “as needed” basis. It requires one or more daily doses to maintain the beneficial effects.
Librium (chlordiazepoxide): Long-acting sedative-hypnotic with onset time of between 2 and 4 hours. Used for anxiety, compulsive behaviour, preoperative apprehension, sleep disorders and acute alcohol withdrawal. Used on a daily basis until a prescribed course is completed, but can also be taken as a periodic single dose on an “as-needed” basis.
Valium (diazepam): Fast-acting, long-duration medication with an onset time of one hour or less. Commonly used for treating anxiety, muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal and insomnia. Used on a daily basis until a prescribed course is completed, but can also be taken as periodic single doses on an “as-needed” basis.
Restoril (temazepam): A slow-acting, intermediate-duration agent used for insomnia. Helps patients to fall asleep sooner, stay asleep longer, and reduces the number of times they wake up during the night. Use only when you have time for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Premature waking may cause ongoing drowsiness, memory loss and inability to use machines safely.
Withdrawals can include:
To stop using benzos and to limit the withdrawals, the dosage should be reduced gradually, over a period of weeks. The rate of reduction depends on the severity of the addiction.
Medical detox decreases the withdrawal period. There are medications that can ease the discomfort and accelerate recovery. Medical supervisors can also constantly assess the patient’s condition and make timeous adjustments.
Therapeutic treatment in a rehab centre is usually required for long-term healing of the underlying cause of anxiety, insomnia and other ailments.