A benzodiazepine (pronounced /ˌbɛnzɵdaɪˈæzɨpiːn/, sometimes colloquially referred to as a "benzo", and often abbreviated in the literature as a "BZD") is a psychoactive drug whose core chemical structure is the fusion of a benzene ring and a diazepine ring. The first benzodiazepine, chlordiazepoxide (Librium), was discovered accidentally by Leo Sternbach in 1955, and made available in 1960 by Hoffmann–La Roche, which has also marketed diazepam (Valium) since 1963.
Benzodiazepines enhance the effect of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, which results in sedative, hypnotic (sleep-inducing), anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), anticonvulsant, muscle relaxant and amnesic action. These properties make benzodiazepines useful in treating anxiety, insomnia, agitation, seizures, muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal and as a premedication for medical or dental procedures. Benzodiazepines are categorized as either short-, intermediate- or long-acting. Short- and intermediate-acting benzodiazepines are preferred for the treatment of insomnia; longer-acting benzodiazepines are recommended for the treatment of anxiety.
In general, benzodiazepines are safe and effective in the short term, although cognitive impairments and paradoxical effects such as aggression or behavioral disinhibition occasionally occur. Long-term use is controversial due to concerns about adverse psychological and physical effects, increased questioning of effectiveness and because benzodiazepines are prone to cause tolerance, physical dependence and upon cessation of use, a withdrawal syndrome. In general, withdrawal from benzodiazepines leads to improved physical and mental health. The elderly are at an increased risk of suffering from both short- and long-term adverse effects.
There is controversy concerning the safety of benzodiazepines in pregnancy. While they are not major teratogens, uncertainty remains as to whether they cause cleft palate in a small number of babies and whether neurobehavioural effects occur as a result of prenatal exposure; they are known to cause withdrawal symptoms in the newborn. Benzodiazepines can be taken in overdosesdeep unconsciousness. However, they are much less toxic than their predecessors, the barbiturates, and death rarely results when a benzodiazepine is the only drug taken. When combined with other central nervous system depressantsalcohol and opiates, the potential for toxicity increases......
Cognitive effectsThe short-term use of benzodiazepines adversely affects multiple areas of cognition; most notably, it interferes with the formation and consolidation of memories of new material and may induce complete anterograde amnesia. However, researchers hold contrary opinions regarding the effects of long-term administration. One view is that many of the short-term effects continue into the long-term and may even worsen, and are not resolved after quitting benzodiazepines. Another view maintains that cognitive deficits in chronic benzodiazepine users occur only for a short period after the dose, or that the anxiety disorders is the cause of these deficits. While the definitive studies are lacking, the former view recently received support from a meta-analysis of 13 small studies. This meta-analysis found that long-term use of benzodiazepines was associated with moderate to large adverse effects on all areas of cognition, with visuospatial memory being the most commonly detected impairment. Some of the other impairments reported were decreased IQ, visiomotor coordination, information processing, verbal learning and concentration. The authors of the meta-analysis and a later reviewer noted that the applicability of this meta-analysis is limited because the subjects were taken mostly from withdrawal clinics, the coexisting drug, alcohol use, and psychiatric disorders were not defined, and several of the included studies conducted the cognitive measurements during the withdrawal period.
Drug misuseBenzodiazepine abuse is mostly limited to individuals who abuse other drugs, i.e. poly-drug abusers. The majority of prescribed users do not abuse their medication.
Internationally, benzodiazepines are categorized as Schedule IV controlled drugs by the INCB, apart from flunitrazepam, which is a Schedule III drug under the Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Some variation in drug scheduling exists in individual countries; for example in the United Kingdom midazolam and temazepam are Schedule III controlled drugs. Benzodiazepine abuse ranges from occasional binges on large doses, to chronic and compulsive drug abuse of high doses.
Benzodiazepines are used recreationally and by problematic drug misusers. Mortality is higher among poly-drug misusers that also use benzodiazepines. Heavy alcohol use also increases mortality among poly-drug users. Dependence and tolerance, often coupled with dosage escalation, to benzodiazepines can develop rapidly among drug misusers; withdrawal syndrome may appear after as little as three weeks of continuous use. Long-term use has the potential to cause both physical and psychological dependence and severe withdrawal symptoms such as depression, anxiety and panic attacks, and agoraphobia. Benzodiazepines and in particular temazepam, are sometimes used intravenously, which if done incorrectly or in an unsterile manner, can lead to medical complications including abscesses, cellulitis, thrombophlebitis, arterial puncture, deep vein thrombosis and gangrene. Sharing syringes and needles for this purpose also brings up the possibility of transmission of hepatitis, HIV and other diseases. Benzodiazepines are also misused intranasally, which may have additional health consequences. Once benzodiazepine dependence has been established, a clinician usually converts the patient to an equivalent dose of diazepam before beginning a gradual reduction program.
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