Benzodiazepines are a type of medication known as tranquilizers. Familiar names
include Valium and Xanax. They are some of the most commonly prescribed
medications in the United States. When people without prescriptions take these drugs
for their sedating effects, then use turns into abuse.
Doctors may prescribe a benzodiazepine for the following legitimate medical
Inducing amnesia for uncomfortable procedures
Given before an anesthetic (such as before surgery)
Benzodiazepines act on the central nervous system, produce sedation and
muscle relaxation, and lower anxiety levels.
Although more than 2000 different benzodiazepines have been produced, only
about 15 are currently FDA-approved in the United States. They are usually
classified by how long their effects last.
Benzodiazepines are commonly abused. This abuse is partially related to the
toxic effects that they produce and also to their widespread availability. They
can be chronically abused or, as seen more commonly in hospital emergency
departments, intentionally or accidentally taken in overdose. Death and serious
illness rarely result from benzodiazepine abuse alone; however, they are
frequently taken with either alcohol or other medications. The combination of
benzodiazepines and alcohol can be dangerous.
Benzodiazepines have also been used as a "date rape" drug because they can
markedly impair and even abolish functions that normally allow a person to
resist or even want to resist sexual aggression or assault. In recent years,
the detection and conviction of people involved in this has increased
dramatically. The drug is usually added to alcohol-containing drinks or even
soft drinks in powder or liquid forms and can be hard to taste.
Although some people may have a genetic tendency to become addicted to
drugs, there is little doubt that environmental factors also play a significant
role. Some of the more common environmental influences are low socioeconomic
status, unemployment, and peer pressure.
Benzodiazepine Abuse Symptoms
At normal or regular doses, benzodiazepines relieve anxiety and insomnia.
They are usually well tolerated. Sometimes, people taking benzodiazepines may
feel drowsy or dizzy. This side effect can be more pronounced with increased
High doses of benzodiazepines can produce more serious side effects. Signs
and symptoms of acute toxicity or overdose may include the following:
Lack of coordination
Signs of chronic drug abuse can be very nonspecific and include changes in
appearance and behavior that affect relationships and work performance. Warning
signs in children include abrupt changes in mood or deterioration of school
performance. Chronic abuse of benzodiazepines can lead to the following
symptoms that mimic many of the indications for using them in the first
Despite their many helpful uses, benzodiazepines can lead to physical and
psychological dependence. Dependence can result in withdrawal symptoms and even
seizures when they are stopped abruptly. Dependence and withdrawal occur in
only a very small percentage of people taking normal doses for short periods.
The symptoms of withdrawal can be difficult to distinguish from anxiety.
Symptoms usually develop at 3-4 days from last use, although they can appear
earlier with shorter-acting varieties.