A benzodiazepine /ˌbɛnzɵdaɪˈæzɨpiːn/ (sometimes colloquially “benzo”; often abbreviated “BZD”) is a psychoactive drug whose core chemical structure is the fusion of a benzene ring and adiazepine ring. The first benzodiazepine, chlordiazepoxide (Librium), was discovered accidentally by Leo Sternbach in 1955, and made available in 1960 by Hoffmann–La Roche, which has also marketed diazepam (Valium) since 1963.

Street names – Benzo, Downer, Pills, Tranks, Zannies, bars, zanny bars, V’s, pins

Popular examples – Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ambien, Librium

Effects – Benzodiazepines enhance the effect of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) at the GABA receptor, resulting in sedative, hypnotic (sleep-inducing), anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), anticonvulsant, and muscle relaxant properties; also seen in the applied pharmacology of high doses of many shorter-acting benzodiazepines are amnesicdissociative actions. These properties make benzodiazepines useful in treating anxiety, insomnia, agitation, seizures, muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal and as a premedication for medical or dental procedures. Benzodiazepines are categorized as either short-, intermediate- or long-acting. Short- and intermediate-acting benzodiazepines are preferred for the treatment of insomnia; longer-acting benzodiazepines are recommended for the treatment of anxiety.

Withdrawal Symptoms – Withdrawal from Benzodiazepines can be fatal. The most frequent symptoms of withdrawal from benzodiazepines are insomnia, gastric problems, tremors, agitation, fearfulness, and muscle spasms. The less frequent effects are irritability, sweating, depersonalization, derealization (dissociation), hypersensitivity to stimuli, depression, suicidal behavior, psychosis,seizures, and delirium tremens. Severe symptoms usually occur as a result of abrupt or over-rapid withdrawal. Abrupt withdrawal can be dangerous, therefore a gradual reduction regimen is recommended.

Long-term use – The long-term effects of benzodiazepine use can include cognitive impairment as well as affective and behavioural problems. Feelings of turmoil, difficulty in thinking constructively, loss of sex-drive, agoraphobia and social phobia, increasing anxiety and depression, loss of interest in leisure pursuits and interests, and an inability to experience or express feelings can also occur. Not everyone, however, experiences problems with long-term use. Additionally an altered perception of self, environment and relationships may occur.

Statistics – SAMSHA reported that in 2004 benzodiazepines were the most widely abused prescription medications. With the 100 million prescriptions written for prescription pills each year in the US, this has become a near epidemic problem. It is difficult to get accurate statistics about benzodiazepines since most people that abuse them subsequently abuse other substances too.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, between 1998 and 2008, the number of people admitted into the hospital for benzodiazepines nearly tripled. The highest group were male and between the ages of 18 and 34.

Research from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) indicates that in 2002 over 100,000 drug abuse-related emergency room visits involved benzodiazepines and that 78% of the benzodiazepine-related emergency room visits involved more than one drug.

Benzodiazepines take much longer to fully detox from than other drugs do. People that are going through this type of detox are uncomfortable, extremely stressed, and agitated. A 28 or 30 day treatment program is usually not enough to combat a prescription pill addiction because of the way that the drugs have affected the brains neurochemistry.