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Benzodiazepines - effect, side effects and risk of addiction

Benzodiazepines are powerful drugs that help calm and promote sleep. However, they should only be used for a short time, otherwise there is a risk of addiction.

Benzodiazepines are among the most commonly prescribed sedatives (tranquilizers) and sleeping pills (hypnotics). Up to 1.6 million Germans are dependent on these prescription drugs. The best-known representative came onto the market as early as the 1950s: the active ingredient diazepam under the trade name Valium. In order to reduce the side effects of the highly effective substance and to reduce the risk of addiction, numerous other benzodiazepines have been developed to date.

List of the most important Benzodiazepines

The most common active substances among the benzodiazepines include:

  • Alprazolam
  • Bromazepam
  • Brotizolam
  • Chlordiazepoxide
  • Clobazam
  • Clonazepam
  • Diazepam
  • Dipotassium chlorazepate
  • Flunitrazepam
  • Flurazepam
  • Lorazepam
  • Lormetazepam
  • Medazepam
  • Midazolam
  • Nitrazepam
  • Oxazepam
  • Prazepam
  • Temazepam
  • Triazolam

Benzodiazepines - their effect on the mind and body

Benzodiazepines are prescription psychotropic drugs, so they work through the brain on the psyche. Benzodiazepines influence the metabolism in the brain and the messenger substances (neurotransmitters). Docking sites (receptors) for benzodiazepines are not only found in the brain, but also in the spinal cord and many organs. Benzodiazepines therefore act in the entire central nervous system.

They change the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-amino-butyric acid (Gaba). This in turn affects the hormones norepinephrine, acetylcholine and serotonin. As a result, benzodiazepines work both physically and mentally. The physical effects of benzodiazepines are antispasmodic and muscle relaxant.

Psychological effects of benzodiazepines:

  • anxiety-relieving
  • reassuring
  • sleep-inducing
  • mood-lifting to euphoric
  • anti-aggressive
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Depending on the substance, one or the other effect is in the foreground. Accordingly, benzodiazepines are prescribed for the following diseases:

In addition, benzodiazepines are often given to patients before surgery to keep them from feeling so excited.

Benzodiazepines - Side Effects and Degradation Duration

Like any highly effective drug, benzodiazepines have a number of side effects. The most common are:

  • dizziness
  • a headache
  • Loss of libido
  • Drowsiness
  • fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Impairment of reaction time: In order to avoid accidents, patients should not drive or otherwise use machines and heavy equipment, especially at the beginning of treatment.

Elderly people can also experience confusion and excitement as a side effect. In addition, the risk of falling increases in this age group when taking benzodiazepines.

It is also important to know that benzodiazepines have a very long half-life. This means that the drugs are broken down very slowly in the body. Depending on the active ingredient, the substance may only have completely disappeared from the organism after several days. If benzodiazepines are taken regularly, it can lead to an accumulation.

Benzodiazepines and Alcohol: Hazardous Mixture

In principle, psychotropic drugs may only be used in consultation with a doctor or psychologist. Benzodiazepines should also never be taken with alcohol, heroin or methadone. Alcohol and the aforementioned addictive substances increase the effect of the tablets. Lethal side effects such as respiratory paralysis can develop.

Contraindications: Who should not take benzodiazepines

As a general rule, benzodiazepines should not be taken during pregnancy, in the case of narrow-angle glaucoma (a special type of glaucoma) and in the case of previous alcohol, drug or medication abuse.

Benzodiazepines and Addiction: Benzo addiction is common

A particularly dramatic side effect of long-term treatment with benzodiazepines is addiction. Drug addiction is not a problem for a fringe group, but affects more than a million people in Germany, especially women. This figure is based on data from the prescription benzodiazepines. The number of unreported cases of private prescriptions is not known.

Studies have shown that with benzodiazepines there is a risk of physical or psychological dependence after one to four weeks. Short-term use is useful for many diseases, such as an epilepsy attack or an anxiety disorder.

However, constant consumption is dangerous. The effect of the tablets gradually weakens, and some patients then take more and more of them. Other signs of benzodiazepine addiction include:

  • Change in personality
  • massive mood swings
  • Everyday tasks can hardly be mastered
  • Muscle weakness

Withdrawal symptoms when stopping benzodiazepines

But how should benzodiazepines be discontinued? If the intake is stopped from one day to the next, withdrawal symptoms occur. This is possible even if the drug has only been used in low doses, but over a longer period of time. Withdrawal symptoms range from difficulty sleeping and tremors to nausea and panic attacks.

Benzodiazepines should therefore only be tapered off under the supervision of a doctor and strictly according to his instructions. This means that the dose is gradually reduced so that the body and mind get used to doing without the substance again.

"Benzos", "Slides", "Flunies": Benzodiazepines as drugs

However, because of their anti-anxiety and relaxing effects, benzodiazepines are also misused as drugs. In scene jargon they are called "Benzos", "Dias" or "Flunies" depending on the active ingredient. They are taken as high-dose tablets, their powder sniffed or dissolved, and intravenously injected. Because of the high dose, it is easy to become dependent. Benzodiazepines are also misused as knockout drops because of their relaxing effect.

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