What Are Benzodiazepines


Benzodiazepines are extremely addictive tranquilizers that can be lethal

Because of their sedative effect, Benzodiazepines ((ben·zo·di·az·e·pine) also known as benzos) can be a gateway drug for painkillers, alcohol and marijuana. They are very dangerous when mixed with alcohol or other drugs.

Benzodiazepines are classified as Schedule IV in the Controlled Substances Act. Commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include Xanax© (alprazolam), Librium© (chlordiazepoxide), Valium© (diazepam), and Ativan© (lorazepam).

Alprazolam and diazepam, the two most prescribed benzodiazepines in the United States, and therefore, have been deemed “the most addictive.” The Drug Abuse Warning Network specifies they are the most mentioned benzodiazepines, and the National Household Survey indicates significant abuse of the tranquilizers.

How many benzodiazepine medications are there

More than 15 different types of benzodiazepine medications exist to treat a wide array of both psychological and physical maladies based on dosage and implications. Each kind of benzodiazepine displays one or more of the following drug actions: anxiety relief, hypnotic, muscle relaxant, anti-convulsant, or an amnesiatic (mild memory-loss inducer).

Ativan, or lorazepam, is one of the most potent of all benzos. It is prescribed for anxiety disorders, depression, and panic attacks. Ativan’s potency makes it very addictive, and the drug carries an extremely high risk of dependence.

Benzos, like alcohol, heroin and other painkillers are downers and very dangerous and even life-threatening when abused. This is largely due to how quickly dependence and addiction can form. After three to four weeks of consistent use, a person will likely experience withdrawal, which means they’ve become physically dependent on the drug. This may happen quicker if a person is using an amount greater than has been prescribed. Benzos are a depressant that affect the central nervous system. Aside from alcohol, they are the only other classification of drugs in which death is possible during withdrawal. A safe detox requires medical observation.

What is the long term effect of Benzodiazepines

Benzo use often created cognitive impairment or forgetting. Researchers explored the correlation between impairments and benzodiazepine use. They discovered consistent links between doses medication and cognitive deficits. Most obvious was the fact that participants in the study — who were both older and younger than age 60 — experienced the same impairment as a result of benzo use, thus reducing the alternative explanation that the declines were due to natural aging in the older demographic. Developing Alzheimer’s disease is far more likely if you are a long-term benzo user and dying early is also a tragic possibility.


“Another benzodiazepine that has been the focus of a great deal of media attention is flunitrazepam, trade name Rohypnol©, which is known widely as “the date-rape drug” due to its involvement in many sexual assault cases in recent years.”

History of Benzodiazepines

During the 1930’s, Leo Sternback discovered benzodiazepines while working for the Hoffman-LaRoche Company. However, the first benzodiazepine was not introduced to the general public until 1957, when Hoffman launched Librium©, which is used primarily to relieve anxiety.5 Abuse of benzodiazepines was not specifically addressed until the 1980s, when they became among the most prescribed medications in America.

Long Term Effects

Some benzodiazepines are eliminated from the body slowly. Thus, ingesting multiple doses over long periods of time can lead to significant accumulation in fatty tissues. The symptoms of over-sedation may not appear for a few days. Some include:

  • Impaired thinking, memory, and judgment
  • Disorientation
  •  Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle weakness, lack of coordination

Tolerance, Dependence & Withdrawal

Tolerance to certain benzodiazepines occurs most often in those who have used for 6 months or more. Physicians counteract the effects of tolerance by increasing dosage in small increments or by adding another benzodiazepine to the prescription. Users most often develop tolerance to the milder effects of the drug, such as sedation and impairment of motor coordination. A fair amount of cross-tolerance exists between benzodiazepines and other depressants such as alcohol and barbiturates, thus users may not feel the effects of these drugs as potently as they would otherwise.

“Benzo belly” is a term used to describe the stomach uneasiness that occurs when someone withdraws from a benzodiazepine medication.To ease the symptoms of withdrawal, physicians recommend that users gradually reduce the amount of medication ingested until the dose is low enough that the individual will not feel discomfort. Withdrawal symptoms are most severe when a high dose of either a short-acting or intermediate-acting benzodiazepine is abruptly discontinued.

Methods of Use

Methods of use vary greatly depending on the purpose of the administered benzodiazepine. The most common method of ingestion is orally, in tablet or capsule form. Valium©, Ativan©, and Librium© are also sometimes dispensed intravenously, while midazolam (Versed©) is used exclusively as an intravenous medication. Ativan© comes in a tablet form that can be dissolved under the tongue.

If you are concerned about a family member who is addicted to benzos, check out Nar-anon.