What are benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are the anxiolytic medication most used. They are part of the psychoactive family. It is a legal substance, available only through prescriptions. Benzodiazepines are a part of the central nervous system depressants, meaning they slow down brain activity. They are also used to treat various disorders such as:

Benzodiazepines are one of the most prescribed medications. When used correctly, they are proven to be effective and can alleviate symptoms associated with the disorders mentioned above. However, their use can become problematic if, for example, they are used over an extended period, they are taken with other substances or if they are not taken as prescribed. Thus, there is a rick of addiction, as well as overdoses which can be fatal.

Did you know?

Since September 1st, 2000, benzodiazepines became a part of «targeted substances» i.e., they are more controlled than other medications. This decision was made when an increase in excessive use was noted as well as its health impacts.

Side effects

As with any medication, benzodiazepines can cause side effects whose severity depends on many factors such as, quantity taken, psychological state of the person, tolerance, mix with other substances, etc.

Most common side effects:

  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased alertness
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Dizziness

Other side effects:

  • Nervousness and agitation
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Sudden anxiety
  • Hallucinations

Used over an extended period, benzodiazepines can cause learning difficulties, memory loss and loss of concentration.

Mixing and risk of overdose

Mixing benzodiazepines with other psychoactive substances can be especially dangerous. This is particularly the case with alcohol since both substances are depressants. One increases the effects of the other which can cause one’s breathing to slow down and even completely stop, resulting in death.

However, mixing alcohol and benzodiazepines is quite common. People that drink the most are also the most likely to use benzodiazepines. The desired effects in either substance are in fact, similar: reduced anxiety, help with sleep, etc. The question of tolerance (see following paragraph) to benzodiazepines and alcohol can push people to increase the doses of each and thus increasing the risk of overdose.

D’une manière générale, les interactions entre les médicaments et d’autres substances – comme d’autres médicaments – peuvent être dangereuses. Il est donc important de toujours informer les professionnels de santé de toute consommation d’alcool, de médicaments ou d’autres substances pouvant interagir.

Tolerance, addiction and withdrawal

Benzodiazepines, as with other psychoactive substances, can create tolerance. That means that the body gets used to a substance and becomes less sensitive to its effects. Thus, to feel the same effects as the first times, one is pushed to:

  • Increase the number of uses
  • Increase the dosage at each use

There is also a risk of developing an addiction to benzodiazepines. This addiction can be psychological since benzodiazepines relieve unpleasant symptoms (anxiety, insomnia…). Some may find such pleasure that they keep looking to replicate the experience more often and more intensely to the point that they cannot live without it.

Besides a psychological addiction, due to its effects, benzodiazepines can also create a physical addiction. This means that a sudden decrease or complete stop can cause withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain

In fact, these symptoms resemble those for which it was prescribed in the first place. Less frequently, more severe withdrawal symptoms can appear, such as:

  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Shaking
  • Hallucinations

For all these reasons, people who use benzodiazepines in copious quantities and/or for a prolonged period, will need medical attention to cease their treatment. A doctor can prepare a plan to gradually decrease the doses which will limit withdrawal symptoms.


Asking for help

Our team regularly receives calls for help regarding problematic benzodiazepine use. If your benzodiazepine use, or that of a loved one, is troubling you, contact us. Call us at 1-800-265-2626 or chat with us, bottom right. We can provide you with support, personalized information and referrals to resources suited to your needs. Our services are available 24/7.