Benzodiazepine Abuse Overview
- Benzodiazepines are a type of medication known as anxiolytics or tranquilizers or minor tranquilizers, as opposed to the major tranquilizers used to treat psychosis. Familiar names of these drugs include diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), and alprazolam (Xanax). They are some of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States. When people without prescriptions take these drugs for their sedating or intoxicating effects, then use turns into abuse.
- Doctors may prescribe a benzodiazepine for the following legitimate medical conditions:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Insomnia (for only a brief period)
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Seizure control
- Muscle relaxation
- Inducing amnesia for uncomfortable procedures
- Given before an anesthetic (such as before surgery)
- Benzodiazepines act on the central nervous system, produce sedation and muscle relaxation, and lower anxiety levels.
- Although more than 2,000 different benzodiazepines have been produced, only about 15 are currently FDA-approved in the United States. They are usually classified by how long their effects last. Types of benzodiazepines therefore include those the following:
- Benzodiazepines are commonly abused. This form of drug abuse is partially related to the toxic effects that they produce and also to their widespread availability. They can be chronically abused or, as seen more commonly in hospital emergency departments, intentionally or accidentally taken in overdose. Death and serious illness rarely result from benzodiazepine abuse alone; however, they are frequently taken with either alcohol or other medications. The combination of benzodiazepines and alcohol can be dangerous, even fatal.
- Benzodiazepines have also been used as a "date rape" drug because they can markedly impair and even abolish functions that normally allow a person to resist or even want to resist sexual aggression or assault. In recent years, the detection and conviction of people involved in this practice has increased dramatically. The drug is usually added to alcohol-containing drinks or even soft drinks in powder or liquid forms and can be hard to taste.
- The use of benzodiazepines during pregnancy is a risk factor for cleft lip or palate, lower muscle tone, and withdrawal symptoms in the developing fetus.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/12/2014
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