Medications can frequently help to manage or minimize symptoms of anxiety, although they do not cure anxiety. One type of medication prescribed for short-term anxiety relief is benzodiazepines. These medications slow down the central nervous system and make you feel more relaxed. Some commonly prescribed benzodiazepines are:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
Benzodiazepines usually start reducing anxiety in ½ to 1 hour. They are often prescribed to those suffering from anxiety or panic attacks because they can be taken as soon as you feel anxiety starting. Even though they are effective, they do have side-effects and can be addictive.
Side Effects of Benzodiazepines
Some of the most common side-effects include:
- Slurred speech
- Blurry vision
- Memory loss/forgetfulness
- Impaired thinking
Everyone can experience side-effects differently. Some have difficulty with even low doses, while others will have side-effects only when higher doses are taken. In addition, benzodiazepines metabolize slowly so if you take these medications on a regular basis, you can experience a build-up of the medication in your system, causing behavior similar to someone who is drunk: incoordination, muscle weakness, mental confusion. You may also feel like you have a hangover as the medications are wearing off. Oversedation can be especially difficult in the elderly.
Drug Interactions of Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines can be dangerous when combined with other central nervous system depressants. For example, these medications should not be taken with alcohol, prescription painkillers or sleeping pills. Over-the-counter cold medicines and allergy medications can also cause interactions. In addition, some anti-depressants (Prozac, Zoloft) can be dangerous when combined with benzodiazepines.
As with all medication, you should let your doctor know of all other medications, including over-the-counter, supplements and vitamins before you take this medication.
Benzodiazepines are meant for short-term anxiety relief. They are meant to be taken only when needed, not every day as antidepressants are. This type of medication can be addicting and cause withdrawal symptoms if you have been taking them on a regular basis and suddenly stop or decrease their dosage. Because of this, you should always speak with your doctor before stopping this medication and slowly wean off the medication. For some, dependence can occur after only a few weeks.
In addition to dependence, if you take these medications on a regular basis, you may develop a tolerance and need more medication than before to manage your anxiety.
“Adverse Effects of Benzodiazepines,”,2008, July 22, C. Heather Ashton, Web4Health.info
“Benzodiazepines–Side Effects, Abuse Risk and Alternatives,” 2000, April, Lance P. Longo, M.D., Brian Johnson, M.D., American Academy of Family Physicians
“What Are The Side Effects Associated With Benzodiazepine Treatment For Anxiety Disorders, And Are There Any Long-Term Risks?” 2008, Feb 27, Brian Brennan, M.D, ABCNews.com
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.