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Benzodiazepines: Overview and Types of Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are a class of medicines with amnesic, anticonvulsant, anxiolytic, hypnotic, muscle relaxant, and sedative properties. Due to these properties, Benzodiazepines are often used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and manage the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Benzodiazepines work by enhancing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Gamma-aminobutyric acid is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that nerves in the brain use to send messages to one another. As a result, people who use these drugs may experience altered mood, drowsiness and relaxed muscles.

In some cases, benzodiazepines may causes what is known as a paradoxical effect such as nervousness, nervous tension, nightmare and sweating.

Types of Benzodiazepines

Some common types of Benzodiazepines include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax) is used in the treatment of panic disorder.
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium) and oxazepam are used to control the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
  • Clobazam (Onfi) is used in the treatment of certain convulsive (seizure) disorders, such as epilepsy.
  • Clorazepate (Tranxene) is used to treat anxiety, alcohol withdrawal and seizure.
  • Diazepam (Valium) is used to help relax muscles or relieve muscle spasm, treat alcohol withdrawal and epilepsy.
  • Lorazepam (Ativan) is used to treat anxiety disorders.
  • Temazepam (Restoril) is used for treating insomnia and anxiety.

Adverse effects of Benzodiazepines

The long-term use of benzodiazepines can result in physical dependence. People who are physically dependent on benzodiazepines may experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using the drug. The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on the type of benzodiazepine used, the amount used, and the length of time it is used. Withdrawal symptoms can include headache, trouble sleeping, depression, and sweating.

Benzodiazepine overdose is rarely fatal unless the drugs are mixed with alcohol, barbiturates, opioids, or tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). The most common symptoms of benzodiazepine overdose are central nervous system depression, slurred speech and intoxication with impaired balance and movement control.

Long-term regular use of benzodiazepines should be reduced gradually, with medical supervision.

Benzodiazepines use in pregnancy and breastfeeding

The FDA classifies benzodiazepines as pregnancy category D, which means that benzodiazepines can potentially cause birth defects if administered to pregnant women. If benzodiazepines have to be used in pregnant women or if the patient may become pregnant while taking benzodiazepines, the patients must be informed of potential risks to the fetus.

Benzodiazepines enter breast milk and can cause lethargy and weight loss in the unborn or breastfeeding baby. Therefore, they should not be used in nursing mothers.

Tell your doctor or the health care provider that manage your pregnancy if you are using benzodiazepines. They will be able to help you care for your baby.

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