Understanding Benzodiazepines

Unlike popular drugs like heroin and cocaine, Benzodiazepines were not frequently talked about in the same context with addiction. But, after a spate of overdose deaths linked to this almost obscure substance, understanding Benzodiazepines suddenly became trendy.

Like any other substance of abuse, Benzodiazepines acquired “Benzo” as its street name. Members of the media forced to talk about this killer drug with the hard to pronounce name are still trying to decide whether this “Benzo” is the same substance that has been touted as a miracle remedy for every psychiatric woe from anxiety to alcohol recovery. In fact, the latest data from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggest that there has been a five-fold increase in the number of Benzodiazepines related overdose deaths between 2001 to 2014.

History of Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are a class of psychoactive drugs that was officially introduced to the scientific community in 1960 under the brand name Librium. This drug evolved from efforts by Leo Sternbach in 1955 to develop an effective tranquilizer. After some disappointing test outcomes, Sternbach abandoned his research. Two years later, his co-worker Earl Reeder observed a crystalline compound left over from the project while spring cleaning the lab.  Tests later showed that this substance had strong sedative, muscle relaxant and anticonvulsant effects. By 1963, a commercially successful benzodiazepine product was being marketed by Hoffman-La Roche under the brand name Valium.  And, as the popularity of benzodiazepines increased, the use of prescription barbiturates simultaneously decreased. By the 1970s benzodiazepines had completely replaced barbiturates for sedative and hypnotic uses.

Today, Benzodiazepine is the primary ingredient in prescription drugs such as Valium, Xanax and Klonopin that is often prescribed to treat a host of medical conditions including:

  • Anxiety
  • Alcohol withdrawal syndrome
  • Seizure control
  • Sleep disturbances or insomnia
  • To induce amnesia for certain procedures

Under the Federal Controlled Substances Act Benzodiazepine is classified as a Schedule IV drug. Also, some benzodiazepine products such as Flunitrazepam and Temazepam require specially coded pads in certain states and are therefore subject to more stringent FDA regulations. Still, although benzodiazepines are now recognized as a chemical substance that is capable of causing drug dependence, addiction and overdose deaths Still; attempts at understanding benzodiazepines has continued to be sketchy at best.

How Benzodiazepines Work

The core structure of benzodiazepines facilitates the chemical fusion of a benzene ring and a diazepine ring. As a result, Benzodiazepines work by enhancing the effect of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid in the brain. By increasing the efficiency of this natural brain chemical, it calms excitability by limiting communication between neurons. This initiates a sedative, muscle relaxant and anticonvulsant effect that help to:

  • Reduce anxiety
  • Relax muscle spasms
  • Control seizures

Benzodiazepines Side Effects

Benzodiazepines are considered safe to use as long as individuals take this medication as directed by their physician and discontinue if adverse reactions occur within the recommended timeframe. Studies show Benzodiazepines has the potential to cause physical dependence if use is continued after two weeks.  Unfortunately, some patients are lured into continued use by the calm feelings produced by products containing this drug. Use that goes beyond this period typically result in the development of tolerance levels through gradual increase in dosage. Dependence is also usually accompanied by the following Benzodiazepines side effects:

  • Unusual sleep behaviors
  • Anterograde amnesia
  • Next day drowsiness or “hangover effect”
  • Severe allergies
  • Cognition impairments to thinking and reasoning abilities

Individuals who combine benzodiazepines with other drugs or alcohol are also at risk of cardiovascular complications including heart attack, stroke, respiratory depression and death. There are many other potential side effect effects which may differ from person to person. As such, patients should check with their pharmacy regarding their potential risks.

Benzodiazepines Withdrawal

Physiological dependence on benzodiazepines is also accompanied by uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if consumption of the drug is halted too abruptly.  Benzodiazepines withdrawal symptoms may include but are not limited to:

  • Sleep disturbance
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Hand tremors
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea and dry retching
  • Weight loss
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches
  • Muscular pain
  • Perceptual imbalance

High doses of Benzodiazepines have also been shown to produce more severe withdrawal symptoms such as seizures and psychotic episodes. At this time, scientist warn that the extent of risks for physiological dependence on Benzodiazepines is still relatively unknown.


  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7841856
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.