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(bĕn'zōdīăz`əpēn'), any of a class of drugs prescribed for their tranquilizing, antianxiety, sedative, and muscle-relaxing effects. Benzodiazepines are also prescribed for epilepsy and alcohol withdrawal. Introduced in the early 1960s with chlordiazepoxide (Librium), benzodiazepines were heralded as a safer alternative to barbituratesbarbiturate
, any one of a group of drugs that act as depressants on the central nervous system. High doses depress both nerve and muscle activity and inhibit oxygen consumption in the tissues. In low doses barbiturates act as sedatives, i.e.
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 and meprobamate because they were relatively non–habit forming and were less lethal in overdose.

There has been considerable debate over their side effects, addictiveness, and abuse, beginning with negative media attention given to diazepam (Valium) in the late 1960s and continuing with debate over triazolam (Halcion), which culminated in its withdrawal from the market in Britain and several other countries. All benzodiazepines appear to have amnesic side effects. Triazolam has been associated with depression, increased daytime anxiety in poor sleepers, and some cases of psychosis. Physical dependence on benzodiazepines is seen predominantly in patients who have taken the medications over long periods. Upon withdrawal the original symptoms often recur, and patients may experience anxiety, insomnia, perceptual changes, hallucinations, and seizures. These symptoms can be lessened by slowly tapering off the dose.

Abuse of benzodiazepines occurs most often in young white males who also abuse other substances. In this group benzodiazepines, especially diazepam and alprazolam (Xanax), are used, sometimes nasally, to ameliorate the unwanted effects of street drugs, such as cocaine. Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), a prescription benzodiazepine sedative not approved in the United States, is increasingly being abused by teen-agers in some areas of the country. While many doctors feel benzodiazepines are safe and effective, especially for short-term relief of anxiety and insomnia, others feel that they mask underlying problems and invite dependence. There are 12 benzodiazepines now on the market, including clonazepam (Clonopin) and temazepam (Restoril).

See also antianxiety drugantianxiety drug,
drug administered for the relief of anxiety. Although their action is not fully understood, most antianxiety medications appear to affect the action of neurotransmitters in the brain (see serotonin and norepinephrine).
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A group of tranquilizers that are used to combat anxiety and convulsions.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
He was also told not to prescribe opiates or benzodiazapenes for the treatment of drug addiction.
barbiturates, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, benzodiazapenes, and NSAIDs.
The drug of choice for the 75 lawyers treated was as follows Drug Number Percentage Alcohol 43 57 Cocaine 19 25 Opiates (4) 6 8 Benzodiazapenes (5) 2 3 GHB (6) 2 3 Methamphetamine 2 3 Marijuana 1 1 Type Number Percentage DSM Prevalence (10) Antisocial 21 17.6 3% to 30% Dependent 20 16.8 high Narcissistic 14 11.7 2% to 16% Schizoid 13 10.9 uncommon Avoidant 12 10 10% Borderline 9 7.6 10% Obsessive- Compulsive 9 7.6 3% to 10% Paranoid 7 5.8 2% to 10% Depressed 6 5 n/a Histrionic 4 3.4 10% to 15% Sadistic 3 2.5 n/a Passive- Aggressive 1 .8 n/a