What are Benzodiazepines?

Pronounced as /ben-zō-dī-ˈa-zə-ˌpēn/

Benzodiazepines are types of prescription drugs that act on the central nervous system for a wide range of applications that include anxiety, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal.

In the brain, they influence neurotransmitters to secrete chemicals that inhibit excessive neural communication processes. One of these chemicals includes gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which blocks neural communication pathways.

The medical field believes that mental disorders induce dramatic nerve activities which need to be suppressed in order to gain mental stability. These drugs are formulated to slow down nerve activities in the brain and spinal cord by stimulating the release of GABA.

What do benzodiazepines look like?

These prescription drugs can be in tablet, capsule and liquid form. Most medicines under this class are taken orally either in tablet or capsule form such as Valium, Ativan, and Librium. Examples for those taken intravenously is midazolam (Versed) while others are dissolved under the tongue such as Ativan.

What are the other names of benzodiazepines?

Here are the following brand and generic names under this drug:

Generic NameBrand Name

Generic NameBrand Name
alprazolamNiravam, Xanax, Xanax XRdiazepamValium

What are the street names?

The drug is known in the streets by different names, depending on the area or what it is mixed with.

Here are some street names:

  • Benzos
  • Blue V
  • Candy
  • Downers
  • Sleeping Pills
  • Tranks
  • Nerve pills
  • Rohypnol: Roofies, Roofinol, Rope, Rophies
  • Jellies
  • Sleepers
  • Moggies
  • Eggs
  • Rugby balls
  • D5s
  • D10s
  • roche

What are benzodiazepines used for?

These prescription drugs have the general effect of calming the brain. Below are the specific medical applications for these substances.

  • These substances are prescribed to treat anxiety and nervousness which are common alcohol withdrawal symptoms. They are only prescribed for a certain number of weeks due to their highly addictive potential.
  • These drugs such as Klonopin, Ativan, and Valium are also used to treat epileptic seizures. Ativan has a longer effect in controlling this illness but Klonopin offers stronger anticonvulsant function.
  • These medications are used to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) but must only be prescribed within 2 to 4 weeks only to avoid dependence.
  • These prescription drugs are also administered to treat insomnia.
  • They’re also used to medicate panic disorder.
  • They’re used as a “calming” agent for patients scheduled for surgery.
  • Other uses include muscle spasm treatment, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and abnormal sleep patterns.

How do benzodiazepines work?

These substances generally work by depressing the central nervous system. They target specific parts of the brain called GABA-A receptors. GABA serves as the main neurochemical that blocks or slows down nerve action. There are three kinds of GABA receptors: GABA-A, GABA-B, and GABA-C. These receptors regulate body movement, vision, anxiety, and several neural actions.

These prescription drugs stimulate the inhibitory activity of the GABA receptors by opening the GABA-activated chloride pathways and allowing chloride ions to enter the neuron. As a result, the neurons become negatively charged and resistant to any stimulation. This action induces the sedative, anti-anxiety, or anti-epileptic function of these medicinal substances.

How strong are benzodiazepines?

All prescription drugs under this group are classified by the DEA as Schedule IV controlled substances. Technically, they have a lower potential for abuse compared to Schedule III substances but they still pose a huge potential for dependence and misuse.

As a group, they do not cause excessive enzyme elevations and are rarely linked to acute liver diseases. However, high dosage intravenous intake of these substances can lead to severe side effects such as coronary blood vessel expansion and neuromuscular blockade or paralysis. Further, these prescription drugs are highly reactive with several other substances resulting in a magnified effect that can lead to heart and lung failure.

Here are some of the substances that have drug interactions with these medication drugs:

  • Grapefruit
  • Other sedatives
  • Cough medicines
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Some calcium channel blockers
  • St. John’s Wort
  • Antihistamines
  • Some antibiotics
  • Antidepressants

There are several kinds of these medicines under this group with varying duration effects and illnesses to treat. Below are some of the specifications for each kind.

  • Diazepam (Valium) and Clorazepate (Tranxene): start working within 30-60 minutes
  • Clorazepate (Tranxene), midazolam (Versed), and triazolam (Halcion): effects lasts within 3 to 8 hours
  • Oxazepam (Serax): slow onset effect
  • Lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax), and clonazepam (Klonopin): intermediate onset effect

How long do benzodiazepines stay in your system, blood, urine, saliva, hair?

If you are to undergo a drug test, you may be wondering how long these drugs stay in your system.

  • Blood test: 2-3 days
  • Urine test: 2-28 days
  • Saliva test: up to 3 days
  • Hair test: up to 90 days

For further information, below is a summary chart showing the half-lives of common prescription drugs under this group.

Generic NameBrand NameHalf-life (hours)
AlprazolamXanax, Xanax XRShort-effect: 6-26h
ChlordiazepoxideLibraxLong-effect: 30-100h
ClobazamOnfiLong- effect: 71-82h
ClonazepamKlonopinLong- effect: 20-50h
ClorazepateTranxeneLong- effect: 20-100h
DiazepamValiumLong- effect: 20-100h
EstazolamProSomMedium- effect: 10-24h
FlurazepamDalmaneLong-effect: 40-100h
LorazepamAtivanMedium-effect: 10-20h
MidazolamVersedShort-effect: 2.5h
OxazepamSeraxShort-effect: 5-15h
TemazepamRestorilMedium-effect: 10-20h
TriazolamHalcionShort-effect: 2-5h

How does one get addicted to benzodiazepines?

Dependence and intentional abuse of these substances are the two major concerns in society today. The sole use of these prescription drugs for intentional abuse and addiction is rare because they usually combine it with other substances to increase the effect.

Likewise, any person who uses these drugs for more than 2 to 4 weeks without the advice from a medical personnel is more prone to tolerance and addiction. Addictive potentials to these prescription medicines are high to people who also use heroin and cocaine.

How does benzodiazepine use affect the brain and the body?

The use of these prescription drugs affects the GABA receptors in the brain wherein it stimulates the secretion of GABA neurochemicals which slows brain activity and resists any stimulation. In effect, it relaxes the mind, mood, and muscles of the user.

What are the short and long-term effects of benzodiazepines?

Aside from the intended effect on the brain, mood, and muscle, here are other short-term and long-term effects:

Short-term effects:

  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Confusion
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Disturbed motor skills
  • Muscle weakness

Long-term effects:

  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Depression
  • Mental impairment
  • Numbness
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Agoraphobia

Why are benzodiazepines dangerous?

These medications are dangerous for two reasons: (1) addiction poses severe health dysfunction and (2) severe side effects associated with their reactivity to other drugs. Abuse of these medications can lead to severe adverse health effects such as verbal dysfunction, seizures, extreme sleepiness, hypotension, breathing difficulties , and extreme muscle weakness. Further, a continued high-dosage intake of these drugs can increase the risk of developing dementia, which is a mental illness resulting in gradual memory loss and decreased brain functionality.

What causes benzodiazepine overdose?

Overdose from these drugs happens when the person takes more than what is prescribed by the medical personnel in order to achieve faster results. Further, people tend to overdose on these substances when mixed with other drugs such as alcohol, heroin, and cocaine for recreational purposes.

What are the signs of an overdose?

Here are some of the visible signs and symptoms when a person overdoses on these prescription drugs.

  • Drowsiness
  • Blurry vision
  • Fatigue
  • High-level irritability
  • Uncoordinated muscle movements
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased sexual pleasure

How do you treat benzodiazepines overdose?

Flumazenil (Romazicon) is the common medicine to counteract the adverse effects of benzodiazepine overdose. This treatment drug stops the main effect induced by the substance being overdosed by competitive interaction at the specific receptor in the brain.

What are the withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepine?

Withdrawal symptoms may occur after a few hours the drug was last taken. These symptoms may last for a week but some may continue to experience symptoms after a few months.

Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Delusions
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Increased light sensitivity
  • Muscle spasms
  • Vomiting
  • Agitation
  • Excessive sweating
  • Seizures
  • Convulsions
  • Increased heartbeat

How can you treat benzodiazepine addiction?

Abuse of these kinds of substances is treatable. Treatment must be done step-by-step for complete recovery. You can consider the following steps for your treatment process:

  • Consult your medical personnel or clinician for a comprehensive guideline in order to recover from drug dependence.
  • Below are some of the drug medications to treat substance addiction:
    o Klonopin (Clonazepam): Minimize symptoms for short-acting substances. It is used to cure seizures, panic attacks, and anxiety. Intake should be controlled.
    o Phenobarbital: This drug is under the class known as “barbiturates”. It is used to minimize seizures and anxiety.
    o Buspirone (Buspar): It is an anxiolytic drug for it stimulates the production of serotonin in the brain.
    o Tegretol (Carbamazepine): This calms the brain and reduces anxiety.
    o Tofranil (Imipramine): This drug is under the tricyclic antidepressant group. It is used to cure depression and anxiety as a result of the addiction.
  • Reward System: A contingency management plan where sets of rewards will be given to the patients who avoid using these substances.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A treatment process seeking to determine the variables causing drug abuse, risk reduction methods, and enhancing coping mechanism.
  • Recovery Group: A community-based plan which allows the patient to meet other victims and have a sharing about their experiences and success.