Benzodiazepines, Are They Safe?

by Diana L. Walcutt, M.D. Health Professional

I cannot tell you how many times I read this question. Yes, people are often using brand names, but they are asking whether they are safe, how much they can take, if they can change the dose or stop taking it without asking their doctors.

Just so we know what we are talking about, Benzo's go by
many brand names, such as:

Xanax, Librium, Valium, alprazolam, Ativan, Elavil, Kalma; Xet, Clonazepam, triazolam, lorezapam, Tranxene, Versed, diazepam, chlordiazepoxide, clorazepate, midazolam, Dalmane, Diastat, Doral, Klonopin, Niravam, Paxipam, ProSom, Restoril, Serax, and those are only some of the ones that you can get in the United States. I won't list the International names since the list is way too long. But, do you get the picture?

There are TONS of benzodiazepines on the market and there is only one reason for that. They WORK They are used for anxiety, panic, stress, sleep, seizures, some types of tremors, and for sedative-hypnotics and skeletal muscle relaxants.

But there is a cost to these, or side effects that you should be aware of before you start downing medications that you have no idea what they are capable of. These are a powerful group of drugs.

Side effects can include drowsiness, falls, dizziness, and benzo's depress the Central Nervous System, which means that your breathing, pulse and blood pressure can decrease, sometimes to dangerous levels.

Benzo's should be considered carefully if you have depression, emphysema, trouble swallowing, myasthenia gravis, sleep apnea, epilepsy, Glaucoma, or kidney or liver disease.

They can be very addictive. That is, you can find yourself needing more and more for the drug to be effective. And, you should never try to quit them cold turkey. Benzo's are dangerous in acute withdrawal because you can experience seizures, and those can even be fatal. They are very dangerous with Alcohol, as they tend to work in your system in a similar manner.

Ok, have I scared you witless? If you are with a physician whom you trust, then don't be afraid of taking the medication as prescribed. You doctor knows about the dangers of benzo's and will monitor you carefully. But talk with him about these medications. If he won't discuss them with you, FIND A DOCTOR WHO RESPECTS YOU ENOUGH TO EXPLAIN THESE THINGS TO YOU!

There are some problems that respond best to these medications, and if you need them and they work for you, then great! If you are taking Aunt Sally's prescription, then stop. You can be getting yourself into something you don't want to know about.

If you doubt me, read The Accidental Addict.
Great book, and you will come away with a deeper respect for this very powerful medication.

If you are using these to manage stress or anxiety, consider talking with a therapist who can help you learn to master these issues. Find one in your area at Psychology Today.

Best of luck in your path towards good living!

Diana L. Walcutt, M.D.
Meet Our Writer
Diana L. Walcutt, M.D.

Diana L. Walcutt, M.D., is a psychologist who wrote about mental health for HealthCentral.