Benzodiazepines

This section gives information about benzodiazepine medication. Your doctor may prescribe benzodiazepines if you have severe anxiety or if you are very distressed.

Overview

  • Benzodiazepines are a sedative
  • They are used to treat symptoms such as anxiety.
  • You may get side effects from taking this kind of medication. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about side effects.
  • Benzodiazepines are addictive. You should not take them for longer than one month.
  • You may get withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking benzodiazepines. Talk to you doctor before stopping medication.

About

What are benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a type of sedative. They are usually a short-term treatment given for 2-4 weeks. They are sometimes known as ‘benzos.’

Benzodiazepines will usually be taken through your mouth by table or solution. In rare situations they can be injected to help control panic attacks.

What are benzodiazepines used for?

Severe anxiety

You may be given benzodiazepines for the short-term relief of severe anxiety. You should not be given them for long term relief.

Panic disorders

You may be given benzodiazepines:

  • When you first start taking antidepressants, or
  • if you don’t respond to antidepressants.

Sleeping

Benzodiazepines can be used to treat insomnia. Insomnia means that you find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.

You should only be offered benzodiazepines to treat insomnia if it is severe, disabling or is causing you a lot of distress.

They should only be offered for short term use.

Acute alcohol withdrawal

Long acting benzodiazepines are used to help with the effects of acute alcohol withdrawal.

You should stay in hospital during withdrawal if you have severe alcohol dependence. Withdrawal without medical support can cause dangerous side effects such as seizures.

You can find out more information about:

  • Anxiety by clicking here.
  • Drugs, alcohol and mental health by clicking here.

Are there different types of benzodiazepines?

There are 2 different types of benzodiazepines. These are hypnotics and anxiolytics.

Hypnotics are shorter acting. They are mostly used for treating sleep problems such as insomnia.

Anxiolytics are longer lasting. They are mostly used for treating anxiety.

Below is a table of benzodiazepines and their trade names.

Hypnotic Benzodiazepines
Medicine name Trade name Use to treat
Flurazepam Dalmane Sleep problems
Loprazolam   Sleep problems
Lormetazepam   Sleep problems
Nitrazepam Mogadon Sleep problems
Temazapam   Sleep problems
Anxiolytic Benzodiazepines
Medicine name Trade name Use to treat
Alprazolam   Anxiety disorders
Chlordiazepoxide Hydrochloride   Anxiety disorders, alcohol withdrawal
Diazepam Rimapan Anxiety disorders, Anxiety with sleep problems, alcohol withdrawal, muscle spasms
Lorazepam Ativan Anxiety disorders
Oxazepam   Anxiety disorders
Clobazam Tapclob Anxiety disorder

You can find more information about ‘Anxiety Disorders’ by clicking here.

Side effects & withdrawal

Are there any side effects?

Not everyone who takes benzodiazepines will get side effects. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about side effects.

Addiction

You should only be prescribed benzodiazepines for the shortest amount of time possible. Taking benzodiazepines regularly for a few weeks or more can lead to addiction. Doctors recommend that you only take them for 2-4 weeks.

Intermittent use may help to avoid addiction. Intermittent means that you don’t take it regularly. For example, you don’t take it every day.

The risk of addiction is higher if you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse. Or if you have a personality disorder.

Common side effects

Common side effects include:

  • drowsiness or sleepiness
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • confusion
  • numbed emotions
  • reduced awareness
  • muscle weakness
  • tremor
  • Ataxia. Such as:
    • balance and walking
    • speaking
    • swallowing
    • your motor skills, such as writing and eating
    • vision

You have an increased risk of falls and associated fractures if you are elderly and use benzodiazepines.

Less common and rare side effects

Less common and rare side effects include:

  • stomach upset and diarrhoea
  • nausea,
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • depression
  • insomnia
  • dry mouth
  • increased appetite
  • memory loss
  • delusions
  • aggression

What if I want to stop taking benzodiazepines?

Withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines can happen if you have been taking the medication regularly for 4-6 weeks.

Talk to your doctor about stopping if you have been taking benzodiazepines regularly for more than 4-6 weeks. They will be able to help you stop taking them.

It is safer to reduce your medication slowly with your doctor’s support. This is because your body will be used to the medication and you might experience withdrawal symptoms.

These are some common physical side effects of withdrawal.

  • Stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Stomach problems
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Visual problems

These are some common psychological side effects of withdrawal.

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Depersonalisation
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations. This is when you see, her, smell or feel things that are not there.
  • Delusions. This is where you have beliefs that don’t match reality

When will withdrawal side effects stop?

Your withdrawal side effects will usually stop after a few weeks. But they can last longer for a small amount of people. You may not get withdrawal side effects when you stop your benzodiazepine medication.

You should talk to your doctor or local pharmacist if you are worried about the withdrawal effects of benzodiazepines.

Is there anything that can help with my symptoms through withdrawal?

Antidepressant and mood stabilizing drugs may help with the withdrawal effects of benzodiazepines.

If you have insomnia you may benefit from treatment with melatonin.

If you have a panic disorder you may benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy whilst you are coming off the medication.

You can find more information about depersonalisation in our factsheet ‘Dissociative Disorders’ by clicking here.

Other medication, alcohol, driving and travel

Do benzodiazepines affect other medication?

Tell your doctor about any medicines you are taking before you start to take benzodiazepines. This includes any supplements or herbal medicines you take. Benzodiazepines can react with other types of medication and cause more side effects such as extra tiredness or low blood pressure. Medication that can react with benzodiazepines includes:

  • antidepressants,
  • antipsychotic medication,
  • antihistamines, and
  • beta-blockers.

Does alcohol affect my benzodiazepines?

Alcohol can increase the sedative effect of benzodiazepines. If you drink alcohol whilst taking benzodiazepines you are likely to feel more tired.

Can I drive when taking benzodiazepines?

Taking benzodiazepines can affect the way you drive. For example, they can:

  • affect your judgement,
  • make your reaction times slower, and
  • make you tired

If you are affected by your medication you should not drive until the effects wear off.

It is illegal to drive if you are affected by drugs such as benzodiazepines. Ask your doctor if you are safe to drive whilst taking your medication.

You should tell the DVLA if you are taking medication that may affect your driving. You should also tell them if you have a medical condition that could affect your driving.

You can find more information about ‘Driving and mental illness’ by clicking here.

Can I take my benzodiazepines overseas?

Benzodiazepines are a controlled drug. Controlled drugs mean that there are legal controls that must be followed.

If you travel overseas with your benzodiazepines you need to:

  • prove it is prescribed to you, or
  • get a personal licence if you’re travelling for at 3 months or more. Or carrying enough medication to last you 3 months or more.

How do I prove my medication is prescribed to me?

You need to get a letter from the professional who prescribed you the medication. The letter must include:

  • your name,
  • what countries you are going to,
  • when you are going to these countries,
  • a list of your medicine,
  • your dose and strength of medication, and
  • the signature of the professional who gave you the medication.

How do I get a personal licence?

You will need to:

  • fill in an application form,
  • get a letter to prove your medication is prescribed to you
  • send your application and letter to dflu.ie@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk
  • apply at least 10 days before travel

You can fill out your application form through the below website link:

www.gov.uk/government/publications/personal-import-export-licence-application-form

Other considerations

What else should I consider before taking benzodiazepines?

Sex

Benzodiazepines do not have any known effects on sexual performance. But drowsiness might have an impact on your sex life.

Pregnancy

Benzodiazepines should not be used regularly during pregnancy. They should only be used to help control seizures. If benzodiazepines are taken during pregnancy, this can affect the baby when it is born. The baby can get withdrawal symptoms. The baby can have breathing problems and low body temperature.

Tell your midwife and other healthcare professionals if you've been taking benzodiazepines through your pregnancy.

But there is no evidence to say that taking benzodiazepines before pregnancy will have a negative effect on pregnancy or birth.

Breastfeeding

You should not breastfeed while taking benzodiazepines. Medication you take will be in your breast milk.

Useful Contacts

Battle Against Tranquillisers
This is a user-led charity. It aims to help people and their families who are affected by addiction to benzodiazepines, tranquilisers, sleeping tablets and any other drugs which have similar effects.

Telephone: 0117 966 3629
Address: 1st Floor, East Wing, The Kingswood Estate, Britannia Road, Kingswood, Bristol, BS15 8DP
Website: www.bataid.org/

Bristol and District Tranquiliser Project
This organisation gives support and advice to people who are taking prescribed benzodiazepines, antidepressants and sleeping tablets. They also support people who are thinking about taking them or are trying withdraw from them.

Telephone: 0117 950 0020 (10am – 3:30pm Monday – Thursday).
Address: Suite 5A Westbury Court, Church Road, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, BS9 3EF.
Website: www.btpinfo.org.uk

Our website uses cookies

Find out more in our privacy policy and cookies policy