Do you know everything that you need to know about benzodiazepine anxiety medication?
Benzodiazepine anxiety medication is among the most widely prescribed medication today. The reason? The drugs provide fast, effective relief for people with anxiety-related ailments.
But, despite their efficacy, there are safety concerns surrounding the use of benzodiazepines, specifically the potential side effects and the risk for tolerance and abuse. These anti-anxiety drugs are highly addictive. Also, they may only offer benefits to patients as a short-term medical solution.
Considering taking benzodiazepines for anxiety or some other troubling condition or disorder? Are the drugs right for you? It’s important to know the facts before you start taking anxiety medication. Be sure to ask your doctor the following frequently asked questions before you fill any prescriptions.
How does benzodiazepine anxiety medication work?
Benzodiazepine anti-anxiety drugs (benzos) operate mainly in the brain. Here, they affect thinking, memory, and emotions, as well as coordination, muscle tone, and control of consciousness.
Drugs that fall into the benzo drug category work by interacting with neurotransmitters in the brain, which are chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells. Specifically, they enhance the action of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). This is the brain’s tranquilizing neurotransmitter.
Simply put, benzodiazepine anxiety medication works by suppressing excessive activity of the nerves in the central nervous system, resulting in reduced anxiety and feelings of sedation and tranquility. The liver metabolizes the drugs once absorbed in the stomach and small intestine.
What conditions do benzodiazepine anti-anxiety drugs treat?
Doctors typically prescribe benzo drugs to treat generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobias, but benzodiazepines are also used in the treatment of other conditions.
For example, benzodiazepine anxiety medication is commonly used to relax muscles and to help manage depression and severe insomnia. They are also powerful anticonvulsants that can prevent epileptic seizures, and the drugs can minimize the effects of alcohol withdrawal during detox.
In hospital settings, benzo anti-anxiety drugs are used in anesthesia to induce relaxation and memory loss of surgical procedures. People with mitral valve prolapse, especially those with the MVP syndrome, often take benzodiazepines to relieve anxiety and panic symptoms.
Are there different types of benzodiazepines?
Yes. Various types of benzodiazepines are available. Usually sold as pills, they differ in potency, the rate at which the body metabolizes the anti-anxiety drugs, and their specific therapeutic use.
Benzodiazepine anxiety medication can be long acting, intermediate acting, or short acting. Common benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), and alprazolam (Xanax), flurazepam (Dalmane), clonazepam (Rivotril), lorazepam (Ativan), and temazepam (Restoril).
The benzodiazepines list above is not definitive; there are many types and brands. While all benzos are generally effective at relieving anxiety, certain types are better suited for treating insomnia, muscle spasms, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal, or for use before medical or dental procedures.
What are the benzodiazepines side effects?
As one may expect, a number of adverse effects are possible when taking prescription benzodiazepine anxiety medication and anti-anxiety drugs. As a matter of fact, some of the benzo side effects in people taking the anxiolytic drugs can be rather severe and disturbing.
The most common benzodiazepines side effects are dizziness, weakness, fatigue, and impaired coordination, along with lower concentration and alertness levels. In addition, patients may experience trembling, memory loss, depression, dry mouth, decreased libido, and/or erectile dysfunction.
Other side effects with benzo drugs include headaches, nausea, and confusion, constipation, weight gain, blurry vision, euphoria, and nightmares. In severe cases, fainting, breathing problems, jaundice, chest pain, seizures, hypotension, and heart rate changes may occur. Liver toxicity is rare.
What’s this about benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms?
Regular, long-term use of benzodiazepine anxiety medication can lead to physical tolerance and dependence. It can also lead to benzo addiction. Stopping therapy suddenly may cause benzo withdrawal and rebound symptoms, where the original symptoms reemerge.
Symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include agitation, irritability, and increased anxiety, insomnia, digestive problems, sweating, muscular spasms, and tremors. There may also be panic attacks, seizures, and depression, depersonalization, derealization, psychosis, and delirium tremens.
Benzo withdrawal symptoms can be severe, especially with benzodiazepine addiction. But, this is often due to poor benzo detox management, and tapering off anti-anxiety drugs slowly can minimize symptoms. Generally, benzo detox medications are effective in benzo withdrawal treatment.
How about benzodiazepine drug interactions?
Most healthcare professionals agree that taking benzo pills in small and occasional doses is relatively safe. However, combining benzodiazepines or anxiolytics (minor tranquilizers) with other depressants of the central nervous system can be hazardous to your health. It can even be deadly.
The combination of benzos and alcohol or narcotics is known to be particularly dangerous. It can result in coma or death. Combining sleeping pills and pain drugs such as Vicodin with benzodiazepine anxiety medication can also cause problems. Opioids and benzodiazepines don’t mix.
Other drugs to avoid when taking benzo pills and anti-anxiety drugs include antidepressants and antihistamines. SSRIs like Zoloft and Prozac can amplify the effects of benzodiazepines, as can antihistamines, which are found in numerous cold, sleep, and allergy medications.
Are there any other possible benzo interactions?
Antibiotics, oral contraceptives, and antifungal medications may interact with benzodiazepines. They can reduce rate of elimination and increase the effects. Antacids and acid reducers such as Tums, Prilosec, and Maalox can slow down absorption of some types of benzodiazepines.
Foods and herbs can also interact with benzo anxiety medication. Patients should not eat grapefruit with anti-anxiety drugs, nor should one combine them with milk thistle, kava, valerian, or St. John’s wort. Smokers should be aware that smoking decreases the effectiveness of benzo pills.
Certain individuals are at a higher risk of experiencing dangerous benzodiazepines side effects. If you are over the age of 65 and/or have a history of substance abuse, use benzos with extreme caution. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also be cautious when taking these drugs.
What else should you need know about benzodiazepines for anxiety?
Doctors prescribe benzo anxiety medication to relieve anxiety and related ailments. However, in some cases, benzo pills can have a paradoxical effect, intensifying symptoms rather than reducing them. These reactions occur most commonly in children, the elderly, and the mentally disabled.
On the topic of symptoms, benzodiazepine anti-anxiety drugs can amplify depression, according to some experts. Moreover, studies indicate that it can cause depression that doesn’t respond to treatment. Numbness, emotional blunting and suicidal feelings and thoughts may occur.
People taking benzodiazepines should be careful when driving, operating machines, and performing tasks that require physical coordination, as benzos cause drowsiness. Never stop taking medication that your doctor has prescribed. Call emergency services in case of a benzo overdose.