Learn about benzodiazepines, their effects on your health and the risks of problematic use.

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About benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are depressant drugs that target the brain. These drugs slow down brain activity. This produces a drowsy or calming effect, which can be used to treat people with conditions such as:

  • anxiety disorders, including panic attacks
  • sleep disorders
  • seizure disorders

Benzodiazepines are only legally available by prescription and usually in pill form, such as diazepam and lorazepam.

Problematic use of these medications can cause substance use disorder, overdose and even death.

Short-term effects of benzodiazepines

The most common side effects of benzodiazepines can include:

  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • drowsiness
  • constipation
  • memory loss
  • slurred speech
  • muscle weakness
  • loss of coordination and balance

Some people can also experience:

  • delusions
  • hallucinations
  • skin reactions
  • sudden anxiety
  • euphoria (feeling high)
  • restlessness and agitation
  • irritability and aggressiveness

Long-term effects of benzodiazepines

Long-term effects of benzodiazepines can include:

  • problems learning or concentrating
  • tolerance
  • physical dependence
  • substance use disorder

Developing tolerance means that more of the drug is needed to get the same effect. If you stop taking the drug for a few days and then start taking the drug at the same dose you were used to, it may increase chances of an overdose. This is because you lose tolerance to the medication when stopping it, even for a few days.

If you're prescribed benzodiazepines, talk to your health care provider to make a plan to help reduce your risk of negative effects.

Problematic benzodiazepine use

Taking benzodiazepines with or without a prescription can lead to physical dependence. When benzodiazepine use is suddenly stopped or a much lower dose than usual is taken, withdrawal symptoms may appear.

Symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include:

  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • restlessness
  • stomach pain
  • trouble sleeping

Less common symptoms include:

  • confusion
  • irritability
  • depression
  • extreme anxiety
  • epileptic seizures
  • shaking and sweating
  • hallucinations and losing touch with reality

The risks of misusing benzodiazepines are:

  • substance use disorder
  • having an adverse drug interaction, which can lead to death
  • having your symptoms return and get worse when you stop taking the drug or reduce your dose (rebound effect)
  • reacting to the drug in the opposite way you would expect (paradoxical effect)

How to treat benzodiazepine use disorder

There are several treatments available for substance use disorder for benzodiazepines, and they can be combined to be more effective.

If you or someone you know has a substance use disorder related to benzodiazepines, consult a health care provider to discuss possible treatment. Ideally, treatment should balance well-being with reducing the risk of withdrawal symptoms.

Help prevent problematic benzodiazepine use

You can help prevent the possibility of problematic benzodiazepine use and substance use disorder with the following guidelines.

Use your medication properly, by:

  • using all medications exactly as directed, including:
    • taking the right dose at the right time
    • following the dosing instructions provided by your health care provider
    • never changing your dose or discontinuing use without consulting with your health care provider
  • making sure your health care provider is aware if you have a history of or current issue with alcohol or drugs

Keep your medication safe to help prevent problematic use by others by:

  • never sharing your medication with anyone else
    • this is illegal and may also cause serious harm or death to the other person
  • keeping track of the amount of pills remaining in a package
  • storing in a safe place to prevent theft, problematic use or accidental exposure
  • returning unused medication to the pharmacy for safe disposal as soon as possible
    • this prevents any possibility of illegal use and protects the environment from contamination

Help for substance use disorder

If you or someone you know is struggling with problematic drug use, help is available.

For more information

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