Benzodiazepines belong among the most commonly prescribed tranquillizers and hypnotics, i.e. drugs with increasing popularity in the Western society.
Benzodiazepines act on the central nervous system by influencing so-called neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters are substances that allow transmission of impulses among nerve cells. More specifically, benzodiazepines positively affect neurotransmitter known as GABA (aminobutyric acid). GABA causes brain inhibition and induces sleep.
Benzodiazepines have a great potential especially in psychology and psychiatry. They have a sedative effect, calm the patient, cause muscle relaxation and induce sleep. They are quite often used in bad mood, depression and in anxiety disorders (panic disorder, phobias and others). Benzodiazepines are also commonly prescribed in insomnia as sleeping pills. Some benzodiazepines are administered before medical procedures to remove anxiety, to cause sedation and eventually to forget an unpleasant medical intervention. The injection forms of benzodiazepines are great in acute epileptic seizure.
There are a number of benzodiazepine substances; I shall mention only the most clinically used and prescribed. They include oxazepam, midazolam, alprazolam, bromazepam, diazepam, clonazepam and tetrazepam.
Overdose may cause impairment of consciousness, disturbance of the respiratory center and threaten the patient's life. Medications should not be combined with alcoholic beverages. In long-term use of benzodiazepines to induce sleep, their sudden discontinuation may cause unpleasant insomnia. Regular use may lead to addiction and the discontinuation causes withdrawal symptoms such as headache, muscle pain, anxiety, palpitations and restlessness. Benzodiazepines should not be administered to patients with myasthenia gravis.
Note: In case of overdose benzodiazepines have their own antidote, which is a substance known as flumazenil. Flumazenil quickly suppresses the effects of benzodiazepines and may save life of an overdosed patient.