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Home » Benzodiazepines


Submitted by on December 8, 2010 – 9:15 pm | 690 views

– Pronounced: ben-zo-dye-az-e-peens


What are benzodiazepines used for?

Benzodiazepines are a group of medicines usually used to relieve the symptoms people may have with (feeling tense, fearful or on edge) and insomnia (not being able to sleep or waking up earlier than usual). Medicines are often used to treat more than one condition, so if you are not sure why you have been prescribed a benzodiazepine, you should discuss this with your doctor. Benzodiazepines are also used to manage other problems such as epilepsy, symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, panic disorder and manic episodes. Your medicine may also have a trade or brand name. This is the name that the manufacturer gives to the medicine, for example Ativan® is a brand name for lorazepam, Rivotril® is a brand name for and Xanax® is a brand name for alprazolam. Other examples of benzodiazepines are diazepam and oxazepam.

What are the benefits of taking a benzodiazepine?

People with anxiety may feel uneasy because they may worry or may be fearful. There are different types of and these may be mild or severe. People with anxiety disorders may feel nervous and tense. These feelings may be experienced as physical symptoms such as sweating, irregular or unusually fast heartbeat, butterflies or cramps in the stomach and tremor (feeling shaky). There are a number of anxiety disorders, for example panic disorder when people sometimes feel panicky or frightened and may try to change their life to avoid situations that make them feel like this. Another example of an anxiety disorder is generalised anxiety disorder where people may experience symptoms most of the time. These symptoms may include sleep problems, worry, difficulty in concentrating and feeling constantly on edge.

The amount of sleep people need is different. Some people may manage on as little as four to five hours while others may require up to ten hours per night. People with insomnia may wake up in the middle of the night or have difficulty falling asleep. They may not feel refreshed after a sleep or may wake up very early in the morning. Insomnia means not being able to sleep properly and difficulty staying asleep. There can be many different reasons for this. Benzodiazepines are used to relieve the symptoms of anxiety and insomnia.

How quickly do benzodiazepines work?

Benzodiazepines usually take between 15 and 45 minutes until they have their full effect. Some symptoms may start to improve before others. Not everybody benefits from benzodiazepines, but most people do. If you do not feel any benefit or improvement in your symptoms, you should discuss this with your doctor or healthcare worker.

What are the usual doses of benzodiazepines and how should I take them?

Refer to the manufacturer’s patient information leaflet for the benzodiazepine that you have been given. Do not change the dose of your benzodiazepine without checking with your doctor, as it can affect your response to the medication or may be harmful.

What should I do if I miss a dose?

You will get the most out of your medication when taken correctly. If you miss, or forget a dose at your usual time, but remember within an hour or two then take it straight away. If it is longer than this just leave out the missed dose and take the next dose at the usual time. Never take extra medication at the next dose.

For how long should I take benzodiazepines?

Your doctor will discuss with you the length of treatment, which will vary depending on the type of illness you have. Benzodiazepines are usually taken for a few weeks or less. Your doctor should regularly review your medication to make sure that you do not take medicines for longer than needed. If you take benzodiazepines for longer than you need to, you may become dependent on the medicine or the medicine may not be as effective as it was (you become tolerant as the body gets used to the medicine). If you stop taking or reduce the dose of a benzodiazepine suddenly you may get unpleasant symptoms called ‘withdrawal’ and these can range from mild to severe. Check with your doctor for advice about this.

What are the side effects of benzodiazepines?

As with all medicines there is a risk of unwanted effects (side effects). Some can occur soon after starting treatment so you may experience these before you feel better. Most are temporary and should go away after a few days or weeks. Not everyone will get side effects and people experience them to different degrees. If you feel that you have side effects that are causing you discomfort, discuss this with your doctor, pharmacist, nurse or healthcare worker. The table on the following page lists some of the main recognised side effects of benzodiazepines.

What about alcohol and ‘street’ drugs?

Both alcohol and benzodiazepines can affect the brain so it is not recommended that you drink alcohol while taking benzodiazepines. Drinking alcohol can cause drowsiness and in combination with benzodiazepines can cause severe drowsiness. Once you are used to the medication and know the effects of taking alcohol you may be able to drink alcohol occasionally and in small amounts. It is good to be cautious because alcohol affects people in different ways, especially when taking medication.

Do not stop taking your medication because you feel like drinking alcohol. If you drink alcohol, drink only small amounts. Never drink alcohol and drive while taking medication.

‘Street’ drugs (for example, cannabis, , speed, and ) can also often affect your treatment. People taking cannabis and heroin with benzodiazepines may become very drowsy and this can be harmful. There is very little information on taking benzodiazepines with other ‘street’ drugs and so the effect and safety of doing this is unknown. It is best if you do not take ‘street’ drugs whilst taking benzodiazepines. You may need to get advice and support to help you do this.

What about other medicines?

If you take any other medicines or herbal remedies including any that have been newly prescribed or bought, it is important to check with your doctor or pharmacist that they are safe with benzodiazepines.

When I should be cautious?

It is usually safe to take benzodiazepines as prescribed by your doctor, but they are not suitable for everyone. If any of the following situations apply to you, you should tell your doctor immediately:

1 If you are allergic to benzodiazepines (if you have had one before and developed a rash, itching, a swollen mouth or throat);

2 If you have epilepsy (or have had a fit in the past), suffer from depression, kidney or liver disease;

3 If you have sleep apnoea (long intervals between breaths when sleeping);

4 If you have breathing difficulties (eg wheezing or asthma);

5 If you suffer from myasthenia gravis;

6 If you are pregnant, or are planning to become pregnant; or

7 If you are breastfeeding.

Side effect What is it? What should I do if it happens to me?
Drowsiness Feeling sleepy or sluggish. Do not drive or use machinery. This is most common at the start of treatment, and it may help to take your medicines at bedtime. If this continues after a couple of weeks, speak to your doctor over the next few days.
Blurred vision Things look blurry and you cannot focus properly. Do not drive. Speak to your doctor over the next few days if this continues or gets worse.
Feeling light-headed and faint. Do not stand up too quickly. Try and lie down when you feel dizzy. Do not drive. If this continues after a couple of weeks speak to your doctor over the next few days.
Unsteadiness and clumsiness. Speak to your doctor at your next appointment.
Hypotension A low blood pressure. You may feel faint or dizzy when you stand up. If you feel dizzy, do not drive. Lying down flat may help. Speak to your doctor over the next few days if this does not stop.
Upset stomach Feeling or being sick, may also have loose bowel motion. Reduce coffee, citrus fruits, fatty foods, onions, alcohol and chocolate intake. Drink plenty of water.
Your head is pounding or painful. Try a mild painkiller such as paracetamol. If it does not help, speak to your doctor at your next appointment.
Agitation Feeling tense, fearful or on edge. Try relaxation methods. Speak to your doctor over the next few days if this does not go away or gets worse.
Amnesia Loss of memory or difficulty remembering. Speak to your doctor at your next appointment.
Confusion Unclear thoughts. Speak with your doctor over the next few days if this continues or gets worse.
Rashes Red rashes on skin that may be itchy. If the rash is severe or does not go away, contact your doctor over the next few days.
Restlessness Wanting to move all the time. This is most common at the start of treatment. It should settle after a couple of weeks. If this continues after a couple of weeks speak to your doctor at your next appointment.
Change in sex drive or sexual ability, for example lack of orgasm, abnormal erection and ejaculation. Speak to your doctor at your next appointment.
Urinary retention Difficulty in passing urine. Speak to your doctor over the next few days.
Jaundice Yellowing of skin and eyes. This is a serious condition and occurs rarely. Contact your doctor immediately.

Please refer to the manufacturer’s patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine for more information and the full list of side effects and precautions. If you have any questions or concerns about your medicines, or if you are worried about anything you think might be a side effect, ask your doctor, pharmacist or nurse.

This leaflet gives you some information about this medicine. It does not replace the expertise or judgement of a doctor, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. It is not a manufacturer’s patient information leaflet and is not to be taken as a substitute for, or an endorsement of, the manufacturer’s information or advice in respect of any medicine referred to in this leaflet. You might find more information in other leaflets or books, or on the internet but remember, the internet is not always accurate.

Whilst every care has been taken in the compilation of this leaflet, CNWL is not responsible for any loss or damage howsoever caused as a result of any inaccuracy or error contained in this leaflet, including (for the avoidance of doubt) in relation to breach of contract, misrepresentation or negligence whether of CNWL or any other person; but nothing in this leaflet shall exclude or restrict liability for death or personal injury resulting from negligence.

The information given in this leaflet is current as at the publication date.

This leaflet has been written by Central and North West London Mental Health NHS Trust Pharmacy Department, 30 Eastbourne Terrace, London W2 6LA www.cnwl.org – Publication Date: May 2007

Source: http://beh.zedcore.com

A previous article entitled Discontinuing Antidepressants provides information... abdominal cramping, Alcohol ve All antidepressants

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