Benzodiazepines – The Uses, Side Effects, and Withdrawal Symptoms

Last Updated: June 9, 2020

Authored by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Presently, Benzodiazepines are prescription medicine. Scientists created them to work in the central nervous system, particularly the brain. In many cases, they have different potencies and timeline of actions. In addition, people consider Benzodiazepines as sedative or calming drugs.

Uses of Benzodiazepines

Doctors often give Benzodiazepines to patients for the treatment of the following conditions:

  • Used as sedative-hypnotic for individuals having difficulty to sleep.
  • Reduce anxiety problems (anxiolytic)
  • Panic attack
  • Seizures
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Muscle relaxant

Benzodiazepines Mechanism Of Action

Hand PillsGABA (gamma-aminobutyric) receptors have three types:

  • GABA-A
  • GABA-B
  • GABA-C

The main function of GABA is to inhibit the brain activity. Here, it allows the neuron to charge negatively and resist any form of excitation. They work in the central nervous system, occupying some protein areas in the brain called GABA-A receptors. As a result, the GABA-A act as anti-anxiety, anticonvulsant and sedative.

What are the Common Uses of Benzodiazepines?

Alcohol Withdrawal

Firstly, they often give it to patients undergoing alcohol treatment program. They consider it as an initial treatment to control and manage the withdrawal symptoms an alcoholic may experience:

  • Delirium tremens
  • Insomnia
  • Mental confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

There are many brand names for benzodiazepines brand names for patients with alcohol addiction. They are Ativan, Lorazepam. In addition, for patients with liver problems are diazepam (Valium) and Oxazepam.


This is a common problem for adults. However, when the condition of anxiety problem worsens the diagnosis is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). In other words, this is the chronic case of anxiety that lasts for a duration of six months or more. Therefore, the signs that will confirm a patient has GAD are:

  • Severe anxiety that lasts for more than six months and not due to mental disorder, medication or drug or substance abuse.
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling of fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of focus
  • Mood swings
  • Tension on the muscle

They give Benzodiazepines to patients suffering GAD. Of course, the medication treatment will vary and depend on the level of anxiety disorder, age, and medical condition. Among the common benzos brand names given to patients with GAD are:

  • Alprazolam
  • Diazepam
  • Lorazepam

Doctors give Benzodiazepines under the strict supervision. Of course, this is especially to adult patients. It’s because of the sedative side effects that could lead to strong sedation and confusion. As a result, GAD patients should avoid long-term use of benzodiazepines at all cost.


Their role in patients with insomnia is as a hypnotic to promote sleep and lengthen the sleeping time. For this reason, doctors must only give this medication treatment for only a short while. This is due to the long-term side effects. For example, if a patient with insomnia uses triazolam. This drug has a shorter duration and lower side effects compared with diazepam. Otherwise, it could stay longer in the patient’s system. For example, it could be for days and has long-term side effects. Among the FDA-approved Benzodiazepines that doctors give to patients with insomnia are:

  • Restoril (temazepam)
  • Halcion (triazolam)

Muscle relaxant

Presently, Benzodiazepines like diazepam are a short-term treatment medication for individuals with skeletal muscle tone problems. The effect of the drug is muscle pain relief.

Panic attack problems

Another form of anxiety problem is the panic attack. In that case, the victim may experience repeated episodes of anxiety. However, it can occur without warning. The following are the signs that a person has a panic attack disorder:

  • Rapid pulse rate
  • Unexplained trembling or tingling sensations
  • Feeling of restlessness
  • Sweating or flushing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Intense fear even with no sign of danger
  • Excessive worrying about death or being out of control
  • Agoraphobia (avoidance of crowd or public places)

In many cases, panic attacks can affect an individual for a long period of time. As a result, it will become a chronic condition. There are medications to reduce the symptoms of panic attacks like antidepressants and benzodiazepines. Usually, they give Benzos as initial part of the treatment program. This way, it can reduce the symptoms. Meanwhile, they give antidepressants for a period of four to six weeks. Benzos are safe because of their immediate relief to the patient’s panic symptoms. Among the common brand names of benzodiazepines given to patients with panic disorder are:

  • Klonopin (clonazepam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Valium (diazepam)

They use slow tapering for patients trying to withdraw from their use. This is because of the rebound effect that could lead to more withdrawal symptoms of anxiety and insomnia.

Conscious sedation

In addition, they also classify Benzodiazepines as a sedative or tranquilizer. They are part of the anesthesia to help the patient remain calm. Furthermore, doctors will give Benzodiazepine together with an opiate analgesic to relieve a patient’s pain. For example, it can be during a medical procedure like a dental operation. In many cases, outpatient procedure like tooth extraction and other surgery treatments could last for one hour or more. For that reason, the patient with benzodiazepine may remain awake and conscious. Oddly enough, under the sedative state, patients are able to respond to verbal commands.


Benzodiazepines are also anticonvulsant drugs. Furthermore, doctors give them to patients with episodes of seizures. Below are the common benzos to treat seizure attacks:

  • Clobazam
  • Clonazepam
  • Clorazepate
  • Diazepam
  • Lorazepam
  • Midazolam

In same cases, intravenous (IV) or a rectal benzodiazepine is the first-line of treatment. For example, these are patients with cases of prolonged or acute seizure attacks.

Benzodiazepines Side Effects

Overall, benzodiazepines have short-term side effects. However, prolonged use could lead to misuse or abuse and high dependency or addiction. Among the adverse side effects of Benzodiazepines are:

  • Apnea
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Nausea
  • Respiratory depression
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Skin rashes

According to several studies Benzos users have an increased risk of incident dementia.

Benzodiazepines Withdrawal Symptoms

As mentioned, one should only stop using Benzodiazepines slowly. Of course, this is because of the dangers of the withdrawal symptoms. It’s especially if the patient has been taking Benzos for a long period of time. Here are the common symptoms that a patient will experience while withdrawing from the medicine.

  • Rebound effect of insomnia and anxiety
  • Feeling of restlessness
  • Mood swings (irritability)
  • Fatigue
  • Panic attacks
  • Body tremors
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations

Page Sources

  1. The United States 
Drug Enforcement Administration. Benzodiazepines.
  2. Guina J., Merrill B. Benzodiazepines I: Upping the Care on Downers: The Evidence of Risks, Benefits and Alternatives. Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2018; 7(2): 17. doi:10.3390/jcm7020017.
  3. Hoffman B. F., Shugar G. Benzodiazepines: uses and abuses. Canadian Family Physician. 1982; 28: 1630–1639.

Published on: March 15th, 2017

Updated on: June 9th, 2020

About Author

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

After successful graduation from Boston University, MA, Sharon gained a Master’s degree in Public Health. Since then, Sharon devoted herself entirely to the medical niche. Sharon Levy is also a certified addiction recovery coach.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.


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