All You Need to Know About Benzos: Uses, Side Effects, and Risks


Benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” have become a common and controversial topic in the world of mental health. As a widely prescribed psychoactive drug, their benefits and risks are subject of constant debate. In this post, we’ll explore benzodiazepines from origin to their uses, side effects, and dangers, offering a comprehensive guide to help understand and navigate the complexities of these drugs.

Key Takeaways

  • Benzodiazepines are psychoactive drugs used to treat anxiety and other conditions, but can lead to dependence.
  • They should be taken as prescribed for short-term treatment due to potential side effects and adverse reactions.
  • Find Rehab offers personalized treatments programs for individuals struggling with benzodiazepine addiction.

Understanding Benzos: What Are They?

Benzo Addiction
A person taking benzodiazepines to treat anxiety and alcohol withdrawal

Benzodiazepines, also known as benzodiazepine drugs, are a class of psychoactive drugs that act as central nervous system depressants, typically prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, and other conditions. These medications can be highly effective for short-term treatment, but their long-term use may lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms. The dangers of benzodiazepines are further amplified when taken in combination with other substances, such as alcohol or other drugs, which can lead to overdose and even death.

There are two main categories of benzodiazepines: hypnotics and anxiolytics, both of which are types of depressant drugs. These medications work by enhancing the effects of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter responsible for inhibiting the activity of nerve cells in the brain. The result is a calming effect on the central nervous system, which can be beneficial for individuals suffering from anxiety disorders, insomnia, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal.

Origin and History of Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines were first discovered in the 1960s and have since become widely prescribed medications for various conditions. Chlordiazepoxide (Librium), the first benzodiazepine, was synthesized in 1955, but the initial pharmacological properties were found to be unsatisfactory. Over time, the development of new benzodiazepines led to a better understanding of their therapeutic potential and risks.

In the 1980s, concerns were raised about the potential for dependency on benzodiazepines, prompting a re-evaluation of their use in long-term treatment. This realization led to a shift in medical practice, with a greater emphasis on short-term use and caution in prescribing benzodiazepines for extended periods.

Common Types of Benzodiazepines

The most common types of benzodiazepine medication are diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), and lorazepam (Ativan). Each of these medications, along with other benzodiazepines, has different potencies, durations of action, and applications, making them suitable for various conditions. Generally, benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, seizures, muscle spasms, and alcohol withdrawal.

Different benzodiazepines may interact differently with certain drugs. This becomes particularly relevant due to the associated risks of benzodiazepine misuse, such as withdrawal symptoms and drug interactions.

For safe use, it’s necessary to adhere to prescribed dosages and be mindful of possible drug interactions.

Medical Applications of Benzos

Benzo Pills
An image of a packet of benzos medication used for medical applications

Benzodiazepines are utilized to treat a range of conditions, such as:

  • anxiety disorders
  • treat insomnia
  • seizures
  • alcohol withdrawal

These medications, also known as sedative medication, can offer short-term relief for anxiety disorders, reducing excessive worry, restlessness, and tension. However, their use should usually be confined to a maximum of four weeks to avert dependence and other potential risks. Long-acting benzodiazepines can be used to help manage the effects of acute alcohol withdrawal. Diazepam is one such example of this type of medication.

For optimal effectiveness, taking benzodiazepines should be done as a single dose or for a short period of several weeks. Sticking to prescribed dosages and refraining from combining them with other substances that could amplify their effects or cause adverse side effects is necessary for safe and successful use of these medications.

Short-term vs Long-term Treatment

Benzodiazepines can be effective for short-term treatment. However, long-term use can result in dependence, tolerance, and other undesirable effects. For this reason, benzodiazepines are typically prescribed for short-term treatment of anxiety disorders, insomnia, seizures, and panic disorders.

Benzodiazepines should not be prescribed for long-term relief of severe anxiety. Their prolonged use can lead to increased tolerance and dependence, complicating discontinuation and escalating the risk of withdrawal symptoms. To minimize these risks, it’s advisable to adhere to prescribed dosages and seek professional help if necessary.

Benzodiazepines for Specific Conditions

Benzodiazepines are often prescribed for specific conditions, such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and alcohol detoxification. For example, benzodiazepines are a preferred treatment for panic disorders due to their demonstrated efficacy in reducing the intensity of panic symptoms and their rapid onset of anti-anxiety effects.

Long-acting benzodiazepines, such as lorazepam, are especially effective in preventing and controlling acute seizures during alcohol withdrawal. This underlines the need for treatment to be tailored to the specific needs of the individual and the condition being treated, to ensure the most effective and safe use of benzodiazepines.

Potential Side Effects and Adverse Reactions

A Person Experiencing Cognitive Effects Of Benzodiazepines
A person experiencing cognitive effects of benzodiazepines

Common side effects of benzodiazepines include drowsiness, dizziness, and cognitive impairment. However, paradoxical reactions can also occur, where individuals experience the opposite reaction to what would be expected, such as agitation, anxiety, hallucinations, insomnia, or bizarre behavior. These reactions are relatively rare and occur in approximately 1% of the general population, comparable to placebo.

Long-term use of benzodiazepines can also result in a worsening of psychiatric symptoms and may inhibit deep stage sleep and memory consolidation. Awareness of these potential side effects and adverse reactions is necessary when using benzodiazepines, and a healthcare professional should be consulted if any concerns arise.

Cognitive Effects

Benzodiazepines can affect memory formation and consolidation, with long-term use potentially leading to cognitive impairments. Research has shown that benzodiazepines can impede both short-term and long-term memory function, displaying anterograde amnesic properties which affect memory formation and consolidation.

Fortunately, the cognitive effects of benzodiazepines are reversible, and cognitive function returns to normal after discontinuation of benzodiazepine use. This underlines the significance of using benzodiazepines for short-term treatment and under the supervision of a healthcare professional to reduce the risk of cognitive impairments.

Physical Health Risks

Long-term use of benzodiazepines may increase the risk of falls, accidents, and other health issues, particularly in the elderly. Studies have demonstrated that the use of benzodiazepines, especially long-acting ones, is associated with an increased risk of falls and fall fractures in elderly individuals. Benzodiazepines can also have an effect on motor skills, which can lead to a lack of motor control, loss of coordination, dizziness, and sedation. These effects can impair driving ability and increase the risk of falls and injuries.

Misuse of benzodiazepines in the general population can have serious neurological consequences. This is because it leads to excitotoxicity, which can damage or even kill nerve cells due to excessive levels of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. Addressing benzodiazepine dependence across all age groups is necessary to mitigate these dangers.

Mental Health Risks

Benzodiazepines may worsen anxiety, sleep, and agitation over time, and inhibit deep stage sleep and memory consolidation. A study published in 2020 discovered that long-term use of prescription benzodiazepines is linked to an increased risk of all-cause mortality among individuals aged 65 or younger, but not those older than 65.

Prolonged benzodiazepine use can have a detrimental effect on memory functions, including deficits in working memory, processing speed, and long-term memory. It can also impede concentration and attention. These mental health risks underscore the significance of using benzodiazepines for short-term treatment and under a healthcare professional’s supervision to minimize potential harm.

Risks Associated with Benzodiazepine Misuse

A Person Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms From Benzodiazepines
A person experiencing withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines

Misuse of benzodiazepines can lead to addiction, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms, with the potential for overdose and fatal interactions when combined with other substances. The misuse of benzodiazepines is a concern for both the general population and those with prescribed benzodiazepines. Signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine misuse may include drowsiness, confusion, slurred speech, poor coordination, memory difficulties, fluctuating moods, increased tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms.

The concurrent use of benzodiazepines with alcohol, opioids, and other central nervous system depressants can lead to an amplified effect, which can result in increased sedation, impaired motor coordination, suppressed breathing, and other potentially fatal adverse effects. For safe use, it’s necessary to adhere to prescribed dosages and refrain from mixing benzodiazepines with other substances.

Withdrawal Symptoms and Challenges

Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be difficult and may require professional support, with symptoms potentially lasting up to a year. Common withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • anxiety
  • confusion

Discontinuation of benzodiazepines can be dangerous. It can lead to excitotoxicity, which is a condition caused by excessive levels of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. This can result in damage and even death to nerve cells.

Treatment options for benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Mood-stabilizing medications
  • Melatonin
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy

These approaches can help manage withdrawal symptoms and ensure a successful recovery for those struggling with benzodiazepine physical dependence.

Mixing with Other Drugs

Combining benzodiazepines with other drugs, such as alcohol or opioids, can be dangerous and increase the risk of overdose and death. Both benzodiazepines and opioids may cause respiratory depression, and when taken together, this effect may be exacerbated, potentially resulting in difficulty breathing or even respiratory failure. Thus, it’s necessary to refrain from combining these two types of medications unless explicitly instructed by a healthcare provider.

The concurrent use of benzodiazepines and alcohol can lead to a range of adverse effects, including:

  • Increased side effects
  • Impaired judgment and coordination
  • Increased risk of accidents and injuries
  • Respiratory depression
  • Coma
  • Death

Refraining from mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol or other drugs is necessary for your safety.

Contraindications and Special Considerations

A Person Mixing Benzodiazepines With Other Drugs
A person mixing benzodiazepines with other drugs

Certain populations, such as the elderly and those with specific medical conditions, should exercise caution when using benzodiazepines, and potential drug interactions should be considered. Benzodiazepines may be contraindicated in cases of:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Psychotic illness
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Breathing-related sleep disorders
  • Respiratory compromise
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Neurocognitive disorders

Caution is advised when administering benzodiazepines to elderly individuals and those with medical conditions, considering potential drug interactions. This includes being mindful of potential risks and side effects, and seeking professional guidance and support when necessary.

Elderly Population

Older adults are at higher risk for dependence and adverse effects of benzodiazepines, including memory problems, sedation, and falls. The elderly population is more prone to benzodiazepine dependence due to prolonged use, heightened sensitivity to adverse effects, comorbid conditions, and higher prescription rates.

To minimize these risks, short to intermediate-acting benzodiazepines, such as oxazepam and temazepam, are the preferred options for elderly patients. Careful monitoring and regular reassessment of benzodiazepine use in older adults can help ensure safe and appropriate treatment.

Drug Interactions

Benzodiazepines can interact with other medications, potentially altering their effects or causing negative side effects. When benzodiazepines are combined with:

  • other sedatives
  • opiates
  • alcohol
  • barbiturates
  • strong pain relievers
  • antidepressants
  • anticonvulsants
  • antipsychotics
  • certain antihistamines
  • proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)

There is a potential for adverse interactions.

It is important to inform healthcare professionals of all medications being taken to avoid potential drug interactions and ensure the safe use of benzodiazepines. This includes:

  • Prescription medications
  • Over-the-counter medications
  • Supplements
  • Herbal remedies

Benzodiazepines and the Law

A Person From Elderly Population Taking Benzodiazepines
A person from elderly population taking benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are controlled substances, with legal restrictions on their possession, distribution, and use in many countries. In the United States, benzodiazepines are categorized as Schedule IV drugs, while in the United Kingdom, they are classified as Class C controlled drugs, with penalties for possession and supply.

Legal restrictions on benzodiazepines are in place to protect public health and safety. It is important to be aware of these regulations and to use benzodiazepines only as prescribed by a healthcare professional. This includes not sharing medications with others and keeping prescriptions in their original containers to avoid potential legal issues.

Staying Safe While Using Benzos

Minimizing risks associated with benzodiazepine use involves adhering to prescribed dosages, refraining from mixing with other substances, and seeking professional support if necessary. Combining benzodiazepines with alcohol or other drugs can have hazardous consequences, such as increased sedation, impaired motor coordination, suppressed breathing, and other potentially fatal adverse effects.

If you or someone you know is battling benzodiazepine addiction or misuse, it’s necessary to seek help from a professional rehabilitation program. These programs can provide the necessary support and resources for recovery, including medical detoxification, therapy, and aftercare support.

Getting Help for Benzodiazepine Addiction With Find Rehab

For those struggling with benzodiazepine addiction, seeking help from a professional rehabilitation program can provide the necessary support and resources for recovery. A successful benzodiazepine rehabilitation program typically encompasses:

  • Medical detoxification
  • Individualized treatment plans
  • Therapy and counseling
  • Medication management
  • Education and skill-building
  • Aftercare support

If you or a loved one is facing benzodiazepine addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Professional support can make all the difference in overcoming addiction and reclaiming control of your life.


In conclusion, benzodiazepines serve a valuable purpose in the treatment of various conditions, such as anxiety, insomnia, and alcohol withdrawal. However, it is vital to be aware of the potential risks, side effects, and legal implications associated with their use. By following prescribed dosages, avoiding mixing with other substances, and seeking professional support when needed, individuals can safely benefit from the therapeutic effects of benzodiazepines.

Frequently asked questions

What do Benzos do?

Benzodiazepines, commonly referred to as Benzos, are a type of sedative medication used to slow down the body and brain's functions. They are used to treat anxiety, insomnia and other related mental health conditions, as well as brain-related conditions like seizures.

What are the 3 types of Benzos?

Benzodiazepines come in three varieties: long-acting, intermediate, and short-acting. Short-acting benzos are particularly prone to addiction and have strong withdrawal effects.

Is Benzos the same as diazepam?

Yes, diazepam is a type of benzodiazepine, which belongs to the group of depressant drugs. It is commonly prescribed in the UK for anxiety or sleeping problems.

Is Benzos a sleeping pill?

Benzodiazepines are a group of medicines that can be prescribed for anxiety, sleeping problems or other disorders. Some short-acting benzodiazepines are used as sleeping pills and some long-acting benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety, but it can vary. Generally, drugs for anxiety may help you sleep if taken at night and lower doses of sleeping pills may help you feel calm during the day.

What are benzodiazepines used for?

Benzodiazepines are a class of medications that slow down activity in the brain and nervous system, and are used to treat anxiety, mental health conditions, seizures, insomnia, and muscle spasms. These prescription drugs are strictly regulated and must be prescribed by a doctor.

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