Benzodiazepines and Their Risks

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Benzodiazepines are one of the most frequently prescribed, applied and unfortunately also abused psychiatric drugs. Everyone must have heard the words Lexaurin, Diazepam or Neurol at least once in their life. Modern times have their price to be paid and this medication is often prescribed to patients to calm their anxieties or sleep disorders.

Under certain circumstances, they can serve well in extreme situations, but due to the fact that it is medication that may easily cause addiction, it is always necessary to be careful and not use benzodiazepines if we have another option to deal with the given problem. It is therefore important to realise, that while benzodiazepines as medication may sometimes be helpful, they may also be often very harmful.

What Are Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are often considered anti-depressants by laymen; however, they are not interchangeable. Benzodiazepines are a type of medication divided into two large groups. Firstly, benzodiazepines are classified as anxiolytics (anti-anxiety agents) and also as hypnotics (sleeping pills). Their chemical structure is based on linking the benzene and diazepine rings.

Benzodiazepines are usually applied in the form of pills. However, their abuse may also lead to other forms of application, e.g. intravenous application or sniffing.

Which Medications Are Benzodiazepines and What Is in Them?

Notorious medicine containing benzodiazepines prescribed by Czech doctors is e.g. Lexaurin, Neurol, Diazepam, Xanax, Rivotril or Oxazepam. Benzodiazepines include also Valium, produced earlier.

These drugs always contain one of the active benzodiazepine substances; we can state again e.g. bromazepam, tetrazepam, oxazepam or alprazolam and others. From the lay perspective, we can say that if your drug contains something called something ending with "-zepam" or "-zolam", be alert.

What Do Benzodiazepines Help With

Benzodiazepines are used to remove anxiety, fear, restlessness, delirium, hallucinations, insomnia or epilepsy. Doctors often prescribe them to patients after a traumatizing experience such as death of a loved one, serious relationship problems or other emotionally difficult situations.

Doctors prescribe benzodiazepines for:

  • anxiety             

  • fear

  • restlessness

  • delirium

  • hallucinations    

 
  • insomnia

  • epilepsy

  • alcohol addiction

 

 

Basic actions of benzodiazepines may result in induction of the following effects:

  • anxiolytic effect = removes anxiety, fear and reducing mental tension
  • hypnotic effect = central inhibition, sleepiness
  • sedative effect = overall calm-down
  • muscle relaxant effect = relaxes muscles and muscle tension
  • anticonvulsant effect = relaxes muscle convulsions and cramps

Literature often states their specific efficiency as the main advantage of benzodiazepines. That means that a particular benzodiazepine is suitable for treatment of a particular disorder. Another advantage is the speed by which benzodiazepines deliver results. They usually take effect about 15 minutes after ingesting the pill.

Benzodiazepines - Possible Advantages

  • specific efficiency
  • fast-acting
  • solution to acute problems

Benzodiazepines - the Dark Side

 We should print at least several exclamation points here. Using benzodiazepines is undoubtedly related to many risks.

Benzodiazepines - Easy Addiction

Not only are these drugs often overused, but they fairly easily come with tolerance, physical addiction and even abstinence syndrome upon withdrawal. The patient sometimes soon finds themselves failing to imagine life without benzodiazepines. But addiction to benzodiazepines is comparable to addiction to opiates!

Benzodiazepine drugs are not designed for long-term treatment. Even before the patient starts taking the drugs, they should carefully consult their physician and set out a specific time period in which they intend to take benzodiazepines and also determine dosage.

Both short-term and long-term undesirable effects of benzodiazepines are more dangerous for older people. They are also prohibited during pregnancy as they cause abstinence symptoms in newborns.

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Benzodiazepine Overdose

As it is true for almost every drug, you can overdose on benzodiazepines. Unfortunately, fairly easily. Benzodiazepine overdose cause dangerous coma. On the other hand they are much less toxic than their predecessors, barbiturates. Death occurs very rarely directly after ingesting benzodiazepines. A much more serious problem arises when they are combined with inhibitors.

When on Benzodiazepines, Do Not Combine

Benzodiazepines amplify effects of all substances which have inhibiting effects on the central nervous system. This may not concern only drugs, but also alcohol or opiates. When mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol, you are facing a serious risk. Many people fail to realise it, but combining benzodiazepines with other substances, mainly alcohol, the benumbing capacity of alcohol on the breathing centre in the brain stem is amplified. There is therefore extreme danger of asphyxiation. There is risk of falling into deep sleep or into a condition when you feel no pain and therefore there is serious danger of injury. Unfortunately, benzodiazepines are often abused as drugs and in such cases, they are often mixed with other drugs.

General Risks of Benzodiazepines

  •  frequent abuse
  • easy addiction
  • not designed for long-term use
  • application should have a SPECIFIC time limit
  • lowered attention: prohibition to drive motor vehicles, etc.
  • prohibited to take during pregnancy
  • problematic application in the elderly

Benzodiazepines and Attention - Don't Benzo and Drive!

People on benzodiazepines are unable to react appropriately and in time - this medication lowers attention. Operating a car or another motor vehicle or any activity requiring heightened attention is absolutely forbidden. For obvious reasons, it is impossible to donate blood when using benzodiazepines.

Acute Manifestations of Benzodiazepines

  • fatigue
  • inability to concentrate
  • very slow reactions
  • microsleep
  • dampened reflexes
  • limited spatial orientation
  • malaise
  • exhaustion
  • headache

How Long Benzodiazepines Last in Our Body?

The onset of action of most benzodiazepines occurs approximately 15 minutes after taking the medication. Duration and intensity of the effects of benzodiazepines depends on the type of drug and of course also on the amount ingested. Also, the time span of the effects varies in types of different benzodiazepines; it is usually 12 to 70 hours.

In this context, it is possible to divide benzodiazepines according to the so-called elimination half-life into benzodiazepines with a long, medium and short half-life. The benzodiazepine elimination half-life benzodiazepine refers to the time it takes for the body to get rid of half the quantity of the drug. Distribution of benzodiazepines by their elimination half-life is as follows

  • benzodiazepines with long elimination half-life = more than 18 hours
  • benzodiazepines with medium elimination half-life = between 12 and 18 hours
  • benzodiazepines with a short elimination half-life = less than 18 hours

Benzodiazepines with short and medium elimination half-life are usually preferred in the treatment of insomnia, benzodiazepines with long elimination half-life in treatment of anxiety. Lexaurin, one of the most notorious drugs, belongs to this group.

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A Window to History

The first benzodiazepine was developed in 1955 and introduced to the market five years later under the name Librium by the company Hoffman-La Roche. In 1963, the same company introduced a diazepam drug called Valium. The arrival of benzodiazepines led to reduction in prescribing barbiturates. Eventually, awareness on undesirable benzodiazepine side effects is rising, but the rate of prescriptions made to relieve the patient from anxiety for a short period of time, is not dropping significantly.

Beware

Benzodiazepines are therefore still the most frequently prescribed psychoactive drugs. They may really help overcome certain problems to some people, but that doesn't mean that everyone really needs them and that there is not other or a slightly more alternative solution at hand. After all, they are still narcotic substances alternating our view of reality. We should always be mindful of the possible positives that any application of the drug can cause but also of the negatives. That is why doctors shouldn't give prescriptions for them out like flyers and patients should not eat them as if they were M&Ms.


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