Have you ever heard of Chlordiazepoxide, Flunitrazepam, Haloxazolam, Nitrazepam, or Tetrazepam? These are some names of medicine called ‘Benzos’ (short for ‘Benzodiazepines’), also known as blues/blueys, sedatives (sleeping pills), or ‘minor tranquilizers’ – this term appears to be misleading when taking into consideration the effect this medication can have on the human body. 

What are Benzo(diazepine)s? 

Available in the form of tablets, capsules, and occasionally as injectables, Benzos are a widely used medicine to treat anxiety, insomnia, and panic disorders as well as control epilepsy. 35 benzodiazepines are produced by different companies and are available under various brand names – all of them are under international control, two of the most well-known are Diazepam (Valium) and Alprazolam (Xanax). 

In general, there are 3 categories of Benzos on the market – long-acting, intermediate, and short-acting: The ones mentioned above are long-acting (diazepam) and short-acting (alprazolam). The difference is that short-acting medications are often more addictive and bring more muscular withdrawal symptoms. 

How do Benzo(diazepine)s work and why are they used? 

Our human body has a natural chemical called GABA (short for ‘gamma-aminobutyric acid’). This chemical reduces the activity in brain areas responsible for emotions and reasoning, memory, and essential functions such as breathing. Thereby, it sends calming messages to the body. 

Taking Benzos increases the effects of GABA on both the brain and the body. An individual taking this kind of medication feels sleepy and calm, therefore, feelings and emotions are felt less intensely, and muscles tend to relax. 

How strong the effects show in an individual, depends on the dose as well as the physical conditions and state of mind the individual is in. 

Benzos act as depressants of the central nervous system so they are used to induce calmness, drowsiness, and sleep, they slow down the brain and body functions – a sense of being disconnected or detached from reality occurs. 

Our human brain gets overstimulated when we feel anxious. By taking Benzos, this overstimulation gets countered. This helps muscles to relax and leads to Benzos being used to sedate individuals before medical procedures such as endoscopy as well.  

Benzo(diazepine)s are for short-term treatment only! 

All 35 Benzos are only available on prescription by a doctor – for good reasons: The human body tolerates this type of medication quickly, and dependency is easily created, therefore. 

A doctor prescribes Benzos only in cases of severe and disabling anxiety or insomnia, meaning when the person is significantly impacted by these conditions in their daily life. Some Benzos are most effective as a one-off dose. According to experts, treatment for longer than two weeks is not recommended. The longer an individual is under the influence of Benzos, the stronger the withdrawal symptoms will get when attempting to stop the intake. 

Regular intake of Benzos can lead to significant health issues such as headaches, impaired thinking, paranoia, lethargy, nausea, and skin rashes – this list is not intended to be exhaustive. 

Benzo(diazepine)s serve as a ‘quick fix’ only! 

This type of medication treats the symptoms of conditions like anxiety and insomnia, it does not solve the underlying causes, however, and can only be a part of an overall treatment plan. 

Long-term solutions for the treatment of anxiety and insomnia need to include psychological support in the form or counseling/therapy as well as a change in lifestyle including healthy eating habits and physical exercise. 

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Franziska Richter is a transcultural counsellor with the Willingness Team, offering counselling sessions to individuals and couples. She is particularly interested in sexuality, relationship issues, trauma and general mental health.