What is a benzodiazepine?
Benzodiazepines (ben-zoh-die-az-uh-peens) or “benzos” are a type of sedative. They are often used for sleep, or to treat anxiety or muscle spasms. They have other, less common uses too.
Are benzodiazepines safe?
Like all medications, benzos have risks. These risks include:
• Feeling sleepy, dizzy, clumsy, or confused; this can cause falls or accidents.
• A next-day effect (hangover feeling) if you take a benzo at bedtime; this can affect driving or other tasks in the morning.
• Tolerance. This means that over time, your benzo might not work as well as it once did.
• Abuse. Benzos should not be shared with other people. To keep your benzo from being stolen, keep it in a safe place. Tell only a few people you trust that you are taking it.
• Dependence. This means that some patients don’t feel well when they stop using benzos. This most often happens after using them at high doses or for a long time.
• Mood or behavior problems.
To use benzos safely, you should:
• Avoid alcohol. Also avoid narcotic pain meds like oxycodone or hydrocodone unless your prescriber approves. These mixtures can cause you to become too sedated, or even slow your breathing to a dangerous level.
• Take your benzo exactly as prescribed. Tell your prescriber if you feel like your benzo is not working. Do not increase the dose on your own.
• Call your prescriber if you have unusual changes in behavior or mood.
What are some benzodiazepine alternatives?
There may be options for treating your condition that are better for you than a benzo. These options may or may not be a medication. For example, there are things you can do to help sleep, anxiety, and low back pain that do not involve pills. Ask your prescriber about these.
What if I want to stop my benzodiazepine?
You must talk to your prescriber if you want to stop your benzo. If you are dependent on your benzo and stop it all of a sudden, you might have withdrawal symptoms. Examples include:
• More common: anxiety, irritability, trouble sleeping, shaking, muscle aches or cramps, stomach cramps or upset stomach
• Not common: seizures, seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
The condition your benzo is being used to treat might get worse. Your prescriber will want to make sure your condition is controlled before stopping the benzo. Depending on the dose, how often you take it, and for how long you have been taking it, you may need to slowly decrease (taper) the dose. This might take weeks or months. Your prescriber will give you specific advice for the taper. If you feel worse during this process, don’t be discouraged. Contact your prescriber and follow their advice.
Content taken from Pharmacist’s Letter.