Benzodiazepines

Highlights

Benzodiazepines are useful for treating insomnia and anxiety, which people with bipolar disorder may experience. They are highly addictive, and their use is normally limited to a short-term, as-needed basis. They are carefully restricted. Benzodiazepines should not be combined with alcohol or other substances that inhibit the central nervous system.

Where Benzodiazepines Fit In

Benzodiazepines are used as a sleep aid and anti-anxiety medicine. They help treat symptoms such as decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, unusual talkativeness, increased activity, agitation, or distractibility, which may be part of a manic or hypomanic episode in people with bipolar disorder. There is a risk of addiction, so these medications are usually limited to short-term use for temporary relief of these symptoms.

How Benzodiazepines Work

Benzodiazepines affect the messenger chemical (neurotransmitter) gamma-aminobutryic acid (GABA). By increasing GABA in the brain, these drugs have a relaxing, sedative effect that works to relieve anxiety. Drugs in this class slow the nervous system down, helping to ease feelings of anxiousness and nervousness. They are often prescribed for short-term use for people suffering from unusual anxiety, stress, unprovoked anger, or similar symptoms that can occur in people with bipolar disorder. These drugs have the advantage of taking effect quickly but are not recommended for long-term or routine use. See how benzodiazepines and other medications affect brain chemistry by using Healthline's Bodies in Motion.

Side Effects

Benzodiazepines are widely prescribed drugs, but they are usually only recommended for short-term use, as long-term use can lead to dependence and resistance. People aged 65 years and older are at a higher risk of these effects, and pregnant women should avoid benzodiazepines as they may lead to possible birth defects such as a cleft palate. Benzodiazepines also can have an adverse affect on coordination and cause sleepiness and amnesia. If you’re taking them, talk to your doctor before you operate a vehicle or equipment, or perform exercises that require a focus on details. In some cases, these drugs can also cause hostile and aggressive behavior.

Available Types of Benzodiazepines

Common benzodiazepines include:

  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)