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What Are Benzodiazepines?

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The basic structure of benzodiazepines.

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Question: What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a class of psychoactive drugs that act as central nervous system depressants. Because death from from benzodiazepine overdose is rare, these are the CNS depressants most prescribed and have largely replaced barbiturates for use as hypnotics, anesthetics and sedatives.

History of Benzodiazepines

The first benzodiazepine was chlordiazepoxide (Librium), which was created for medical uses during the 1960s. Shortly after, the drug Valium was developed and it quickly became the highest-selling prescription drug from 1972 until 1978.

Because of their tendency to create dependence, benzodiazepines are classified as a Schedule IV drug. Drugs placed in this category have a lower potential for abuse and are accepted as a medical treatment, but they can still lead to limited physical or psychological dependence.

Effects of Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines have been used for a wide variety of purposes, including in the treatment of back pain, anxiety and insomnia. The drugs work by selectively affecting neurons that have receptors for the neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). When benzodiazepines are introduced, the inhibiting effects of GABA are magnified. As a result, people taking these drugs experience altered mood, relaxed muscles and drowsiness.

In some instances, benzodiazepines can have what are known as paradoxical effects. Unusual symptoms such as nervousness, anxiety, sweating, tension, restlessness and nightmares can occur.

Examples of Benzodiazepines

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Deazepam (Valium)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)

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Kendra Cherry

Kendra Cherry
Psychology Guide

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