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How Do Benzos Affect Your Brain Chemistry?

How Do Benzos Affect Your Brain Chemistry?

There are 15 FDA approved benzodiazepine medications on the market; all of which affect the central nervous system

In the 1980s, benzodiazepines became some of the most widely prescribed medications in the United States. It was at this point that their addiction and abuse potential began to be seriously addressed, even though the drug had been discovered years earlier in the 1930s.

“Librium” was the name of the first publicly distributed form of the drug, designed as an anti-anxiety medication which began to be marketed to general patients in 1957.[1] With the passing of time, benzodiazepines have held their place on distribution charts. Today, they continue to be among best-sellers for anti-anxiety benefits.

However, with the development of pharmaceutical research and technology, there has been an outburst of uses discovered for this substance. Today it is found in several forms. In fact, over 15 medications currently on the market are considered benzodiazepines (or “benzo” drugs) including diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax).[2]

How Benzos Create the Desired Effect

Benzodiazepine drugs are commonly used to treat generalized anxiety disorder, although according to the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technology in Health’s official guidelines for addressing the use of Benzodiazepines in the elderly,[3] this treatment should not have a duration extending past one month. Likewise, when used to treat insomnia in serious cases, benzos should not to be used as regular treatment but only on strictly as-needed terms.

It states that “benzodiazepines may improve sleep outcomes but are likely to cause adverse events.” In the event of an epileptic seizure, these drugs can play the key role in calming the convulsions immediately. Anticonvulsant forms of benzodiazepine are generally distributed within hospitals. Another area where benzodiazepine drugs have found great success is in preventing alcohol withdrawal symptoms during detox. According to a study[4] at the Grecian University of Ioannina School of Medicine, the likelihood of withdrawal symptoms among the recovering alcohol addicts dropped by an amazing 84 percent with the administration of benzodiazepine medications as compared to those treated by placebo therapy. Also, because of their ability to decrease anxiety so quickly, these drugs are used to effectively treat occasional panic and anxiety attacks.

Though they vary in name and classification, all benzodiazepine drugs[5] have high sedative properties. We have seen from their uses that these can be in the way of anxiety relief, muscle relaxants, anticonvulsants and more. They also carry hypnotic properties. All of the above effects take place thanks to a process in the brain pertaining to the gamma-amino butyric acid. This acid, which we will refer to as GABA, inhibits or even stops the activity of the brain’s motor neurons.

Basically, your GABA is the system of little yellow lights in your brain that reminds your anxiously moving neurons to slow down a little. The good news is that unlike some traffic drivers, the billions of brain cells that pass under this neurotransmitter actually listen to its signals and perform accordingly.

However, sometimes the anxious traffic in your brain needs a little extra help, such as in the event of a panic attack, severe insomnia or the epileptic convulsions which we mentioned earlier. The traffic in your brain becomes overly excited, you might say, with such anxiety. Benzodiazepines have just the chemicals needed to enhance the bodies naturally calming abilities in the GABA. These help to tranquilize the brain, which in turn calms the nerve impulses and reduces the anxiety symptoms throughout the rest of the body.

Tolerance, Withdrawal and Addiction Help

Tolerance is a common problem with these drugs and is commonly treated with small dosage increases or further medication prescriptions. Interestingly, when combined with other depressants, cross-tolerance has been shown to occur. Withdrawal symptoms can be very severe, and patients are encouraged to go through them with professional attention if they have come to the point of severe physical dependency.

The effects of withdrawal of benzodiazepine tranquilizers can in fact be greater than the initial symptoms for which the drug was prescribed. According to the Department of Psychiatry in the University of Iceland,[6] these typically include sleep disturbance, irritability, an increase in tension and risk of panic attacks and basically any other possible side effect for which the drug may initially be sought after. For this reason, it is strongly encouraged that drugs such as these be taken with open communication and monitoring from a clinician who is well aware of your personal medication use history.

Abuse is common with these drugs, probably because of their sought-after effects along with their widespread availability. Also, the nervous system becomes accustomed to being tamed by these taming elements, and with continued use, psychological dependency can quickly develop. There is no shortage of anxiety in this system under which we live day to day, but please, don’t let addiction or prescription drug abuse become another source of tension for you and your loved ones. If you have questions or concerns regarding benzodiazepine drugs, contact us today! Our 24 hour, toll-free helpline is available for just that. Give us a call now!


[1] http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/benzos.asp

[2]  https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2012/04/well-known-mechanism-underlies-benzodiazepines-addictive-properties

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK174568/

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16034964

[5] https://www.drugabuse.gov/longdesc/mechanisms-benzodiazepine-addiction

[6] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7841856

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