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The Beginnings of Benzodiazepines

Quick Facts

Classification: Schedule 4 Drug

Forms: Capsules, Tablets, Injectable Solutions

Method of Consumption: Swallowed or Sometimes Injected

Long-Term Effects: Psychological dependence, and Eventual Dependence Issues

Short-Term Effects: Tranquility, Feelings of Relief, Sleepiness and Sometimes Confusion and Slurred Speech

With the introduction of Librium in the 1960s, the class of drug known as benzodiazepines have become the most widely prescribed form of medication with an estimated 15-20% of the American population using them for a variety of problems including anxiety, panic attacks and at times for surgical procedures and to treat people suffering seizures. Benzos tend to be less dangerous than the class of drug known as barbiturates which has widely been replaced by benzoz known as Valium or Ativan. Another popular use of the drug is to relieve the symptoms of illegal drug use, particularly ecstasy and amphetamines but it is also used by heroin addicts who are attempting to quit or can't get their hands on heroin itself. The drug is far from perfect, as it can lead to addiction quite quickly and in some cases leads to aggression.

Dealing with Being Anxious and Panic

The way benzos tend to work is primarily based on the ancient principle our earliest ancestors used to survive known as the “fight or flight” response. While we rarely need to rely on this response today, the body at times tells us the best option is to run or fight. When quick feelings of fear occur in an intense manner it's known as a panic attack. If the symptoms present are not acute but constant, it is known as anxiety. Enter the drugs themselves that can deal with the worst of the symptoms and will facilitate the transition from medication to helpful counseling in order to deal with the underlying stress, anxiety and panic attacks.

Some Benzo Science For You

Certain commands in the brain produce the fear response. After receiving those commands the nerve impulses pass through the sympathetic nervous system which connects to the peripheral nervous system which then connects the brain to the rest of the body. Usually this system is kept in check by an acid known as gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) which the body produces from food. Benzos attach themselves to receptors close to GABA receptors. Once in place they intensify the relationship between GABA molecules and GABA receptors which magnifies the presence of GABA sites, and eventually results in the calming of the fear response in the brain.

The Tolerance and Dependency of Benzodiazepine

Like many medications, people being treated with benzos must steadily increase the does for the medication to remain effective. Naturally the decrease in response to benzodiazepines is an obvious mark of tolerance. As tolerance begins to take effect, the natural ability of GABA receptors to calm the fear response begins to fade and weaken until the receptors recover fully. Withdrawal symptoms are common as well as the returning of anxiety if the dose of the benzo in question is not lowered at a slow rate in order for the GABA receptors to recover.

Applications of Benzodiazepine

Because there are a variety of benzo options, it may sometimes be difficult for a physician to select the perfect one for their patient. Like other medications a lower dose is usually what a doctor will prescribe first and will eventually raise or lower the dose until the optimal level for that patient is achieved. The dose may also increase as tolerance begins to form. For anxiety and panic attacks, the drug most prescribed is diazepam. It is a short acting benzo that provides fast relief for anxiety symptoms and remains in the body for a fairly long time which offers continuous relief to the patient. Diazepam and Ativan also offer relief of pain from physical injury or an acute disease.

Sleep disorders can also be effectively treated by benzodiazepines. The drug flurazepam is long-acting and allows a patient to fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep. It also provides daytime sedation if that is desired.

Benzodizepines are also extremely helpful in surgery. When diazepine is combined with anesthetics it is an extremely effective form of sedation. Midazolam is a good option for outpatient surgical procedures and dental procedures. Benzos also help those who suffer from seizures, including people with epilepsy and recovering alcoholics who are experiencing withdrawal symptoms (who are at a risk of seizures). Clonazepam is commonly used as a long-term treatment for epilepsy while diazepine is very useful when it comes to treating a seizure when it occurs.

Addiction and Withdrawal

In the 1960s the new benzos were used and prescribed openly. Unfortunately they were prescribed without much regard to the eventual problem of dependence. This resulted in many patients being stuck with an addiction to certain benzos for years. Prozac, a newer medication, is a much better option for treating anxiety and it is much less addictive than other benzos. The process of gradually taking a patient off benzodiazepines is conducted by switching the patient from their current benzo to a much less addictive option and gradually reducing the dose until the addiction is cured.