Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that are used to help curb insomnia and anxiety.

Where Benzodiazepines Fit In

Medication is an important part of most treatment plans for bipolar disorder. Benzodiazepines are used as a sleep aid and anti-anxiety medicine. But there is a risk of addiction, so use of these medications is usually limited to short-term.

How Benzodiazepines Work

These class of drugs slow the nervous system down, helping to ease feelings of anxiousness and nervousness. They are often prescribed for short-term use for people with bipolar disorder. These drugs have the advantage of taking effect quickly.

Benzodiazepines affect the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutryic acid (GABA). By increasing GABA in the brain, it has a relaxing, sedative effect that works to combat anxiety.

See how benzodiazepines and other medications affect brain chemistry using Healthline's Bodies in Motion.

Who Benzodiazepines Are For

These are widely prescribed drugs, but are usually only recommended for short-term use as long-term use can lead to dependence and resistance. The elderly 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.

Side Effects

Benzodiazepines can be very addictive, and their use must be carefully regulated to avoid addiction and the potential of withdrawal. Their use is usually limited to short periods of time.

They can have an adverse affect on coordination, cause sleepiness and amnesia.

In some cases, these drugs can also cause hostile and aggressive behavior.

They should not be combined with alcohol or other substances that inhibit the central nervous system.

Available Types of Benzodiazepines

Common benzodiazepines include:

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

Highlights

Benzodiazepines are useful for treating insomnia and anxiety, which people with bipolar disorder often experience.

They are highly addictive, and their uses are normally limited to the short-term and carefully restricted.

What The Expert Says

Dr. Soroya Bacchus, a psychiatrist practicing in Los Angeles, said she does not prescribe benzodiazepines for more than a few weeks.

According to Dr. Bacchus, “These drugs are addictive and because of tolerance always (precipitate) bipolar events, not to mention drugs like these can easily be overdosed in a suicidal depressed episode of (bipolar disorder) and be lethal. Sadly I see this too often.”