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Benzodiazepines – What Are They and What Are Their Side Effects?

The rational use of benzodiazepines can alleviate the effects of anxiety, panic attacks or insomnia. However, due to its irresponsible and prolonged use considerable side effects can occur.

Benzodiazepines are drugs that are part of the group known as tranquilizers , recommended in the treatment of anxiety and insomnia. Historically they emerged to replace barbiturates and have become the most commonly consumed prescription drugs.

Since its launch on the market in the 60s, the public began to recognize them as the most effective solution to overcome some of the main psychiatric pathologies. In fact, they began to be called pills for the pain of  life and became part of the daily life of millions of patients.

Although benzodiazepines are safer than their predecessors , they have considerable side effects. While there is no denying that they are effective, their excessive and indiscriminate intake carries risks of considerable concern.

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are psychotropic drugs, that is, they act on the central nervous system. They have sedative, anxiolytic, anticonvulsant and myorelaxant effects that can facilitate the therapy of disorders such as anxiety, insomnia or epilepsy, among others.

Groups the drugs that act by increasing the effect of GABA, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for giving an inhibitory message to neurons to reduce their activity. Therefore, benzodiazepines serve as a “brake” for the central nervous system in case of hyperactivity.

Main Uses

Benzodiazepines are medicines that can only be consumed under medical prescription. Although they can be combined with antidepressants and antipsychotics , it is vital that a specialist prescribe and control the doses for each particular case. Thus, the main uses of this medicine include:

  • Control of panic states
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Relief of insomnia
  • Support for alcoholic abstinence
  • Supplement for epilepsy
  • Mediator for the detoxification of other drugs
  • Relief of surgical pain
  • Muscle relaxant

Types of Benzodiazepines

Deadly dose of drugs.

The term benzodiazepines may sound strange to many people. However, when they are referred to by their generic names, some identify them immediately as their treatment or that of a family member. Usually these drugs are classified according to the duration of their effect on the body .

Reduced duration (between 1 and 1.5 hours)

  • B-rotizolam
  • N-fidazolain

Short duration (between 5 and 20 hours)

  • Alprazolam
  • Lormetazepam
  • Lorazepam
  • Oxacepam

Intermediate duration (between 20 and 40 hours)

  • Clonazepam
  • Bromazepam
  • Flunitrazepam
  • Nitracepam

Extended duration (between 40 and 200 hours)

  • Clobazam
  • Clorazepate
  • Chlordiazepoxide
  • Diazepam
  • Fluracepam
  • Medacepam
  • Pinacepam
  • Clotiacepam
  • Pracepam

Side Effects

The ignorance of the side effects of these drugs, in addition to their overuse, is influencing their widespread and indiscriminate use. The most worrisome is that many confuse them with antidepressants and similarly acting drugs . Although they are effective, their prolonged use produces dependence.

Those who receive the treatment feel a strong sense of relief about the symptoms of their problem. Your emotional disorder is more bearable and disappear, for example, sleep difficulties. But like everything, it has a price, taking them for more than 4 or 6 weeks carries more risks than benefits.

Common side effects

  • Feeling tired and drowsy
  • Dizziness, confusion and lack of balance
  • Speech disorders
  • Muscular weakness
  • Constipation and nausea
  • Blurry vision
  • Dry mouth

Progressive Effects on Memory

Benzodiazepines significantly reduce the ability to store new information. However, its prolonged consumption is much more aggressive for memory, as it interferes with important cognitive processes : it affects concentration, reduces the ability to solve problems, prevents relating ideas, etc.

Paradoxical Reactions

The paradoxical reactions in a drug are those results opposite to the expected. In the case of benzodiazepines, patients can experience them when they have been taking the medication for several months or years. Symptoms include:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Feelings of irritability or anger
  • Agitation and hallucinations
  • Sensation of melancholy
  • Indifference of their environment
  • Depression and personality changes
  • Feeling that your environment is not real
  • Psychosis and suicidal thoughts

Side effects in the Elderly

Some primary care physicians often prescribe short-term benzodiazepines for the control of insomnia in patients over 60 years of age. However, although it is a common procedure, some studies  warn of the harmful effects of these treatments at advanced ages. Its consumption can cause:

  • Cognitive disorders
  • Increased risk of falls
  • Greater probability of suffering traffic accidents
  • Risk of developing dementia

So … Is it convenient to ingest benzodiazepines? The answer is very simple: its use must be rational and should only be taken under medical prescription.   Therefore, both doctors and patients should be aware of the risks involved in prolonged use.

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