Benzodiazepines enhance the effect of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) by increasing the frequency of chloride channels. They therefore are used for a variety of purposes:
  • Sedation
  • Hypnotic
  • Anxiolytic
  • Anticonvulsant
  • Muscle relaxant

Adverse effects

Patients commonly develop a tolerance and dependence to benzodiazepines and care should therefore be exercised on prescribing these drugs. The Committee on Safety of Medicines advises that benzodiazepines are only prescribed for a short period of time (2-4 weeks).

If patients withdraw too quickly from benzodiazepines they may experience benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, a condition very similar to alcohol withdrawal syndrome. This may occur up to 3 weeks after stopping a long-acting drug. Features include:
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Tremor
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tinnitus
  • Perspiration
  • Perceptual disturbances
  • Seizures