The benzodiazepines are a class of drugs with sedative, hypnotic, anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, amnestic and muscle relaxant properties. Benzodiazepines are often used for short-term relief of severe, disabling anxiety or insomnia. Long-term use can be problematic due to the development of tolerance and dependency. They are believed to act on the GABA receptor GABAA, the activation of which dampens higher neuronal activity. They began to be widely prescribed for stress-related ailments in the 1960s and 1970s. Their chemical structure is based upon diazepine and benzyl groups.
The side effects are predictable as they are intrinsic effects of the drug class of benzodiazepines. Knowing the relative effects of benzodiazepine types will help clinicians prescribe the most appropriate type. For example, lorazepam may not be best choice for longer term treatment in the elderly due to its stronger amnesic effects potentially aggravating forgetfulness and confusion. But then lorazepam may be a better choice for short term treatment of a younger, non-drinking patient as it is relatively less sedating.
Benzodiazepines have replaced the barbiturates because they have a lower abuse potential and relatively lower adverse reactions (chiefly, death is a relatively common result in barbiturate overdoses) and interactions. Still, drowsiness, ataxia, confusion, vertigo, impaired judgement, and a number of other effects are common.
Benzodiazepines may impair the ability to drive vehicles and to operate machinery. The impairment is worsened by consumption of alcohol, because both act as central nervous system depressants. The effects of long-acting benzodiazepines can also linger over to the following day.