If you are struggling with an alcohol use disorder and you enroll for addiction treatment, you might receive some medications to help with your withdrawal symptoms. Benzodiazepines are some of these medications. Read on to find out more about how they work.

Understanding Benzodiazepines

Also known as benzos, benzodiazepines are a class of synthetic - or man-made - medications. There are many drugs within this class, and all of them are different in how they work.

Generally speaking, however, all benzodiazepines are effective at depressing the CNS - the central nervous system - which includes nerves contained in the human brain. When this happens, the drugs can cause sleepiness and drowsiness.

The exact working mechanism of each benzodiazepines is currently not understood fully. However, most of them would enhance the effects of the GABA - gamma-aminobutyric acid - neurotransmitter in your brain.

By so doing, the drugs can slow down all nerve impulses in the body, thereby drastically reducing the brain's production of other neurotransmitters like dopamine, acetyl choline, serotonin, and norepinephrine.

These neurotransmitters, on the other hand, serve to regulate various bodily functions, including blood pressure, heart rate, endocrine gland secretions, emotional responses, muscle coordination and tone, memory, and alertness. When you take benzodiazepines, they will impair all of these bodily functions. As a result, you will experience deep relaxation.

Abusing alcohol in the long term will have an impact in the functioning of your brain. The substance can also rewire the brain, a process that will become more severe when you continue drinking heavily and severely.

At some point, your brain would develop dependence on the substance. This means that you would need to drink before you can function normally. If you suddenly stop drinking, your brain would be thrown into a state of disarray.

As a result, you will experience AWS or alcohol withdrawal syndrome. This syndrome tends to be extremely uncomfortable and painful. It can cause a wide variety of unpleasant withdrawal effects, including but not limited to heart palpitations, nightmares, vomiting, hallucinations, restlessness, and seizures. In some situations, your alcohol withdrawal syndrome might even lead to the development of life-threatening or fatal symptoms, such as delirium tremens.

When you take benzodiazepines during your alcohol withdrawal, it can treat some of these symptoms - including:

  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Pain
  • Panic
  • Restlessness
  • Seizures
  • Sweats
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

Precautions with Benzodiazepines

However, benzodiazepines are psychoactive drugs that are also useful in the treatment of many other conditions over and above alcohol withdrawal. It is for this reason that doctors sometimes prescribe them for the management of conditions like insomnia and anxiety.

Today, benzodiazepines are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the country - especially among alcohol addicts and older patients. This is not entirely surprising especially when you consider that this class of drugs comes with various qualities that are useful in the reduction of seizures and anxiety, the induction of sleep, and the relaxation of the muscles.

When you use benzodiazepines in the short term, they will generally be effective and safe. However, if you take them for a long period of time, there is a high risk that you could become tolerant and dependent on them, as well as end up developing a substance use disorder.

There is also a risk that you might experience a drug overdose when you take benzodiazepines. Further, mixing this class of drugs with any other substances - including alcohol - could prove to be fatal.

How Benzodiazepines Work

As we mentioned earlier, benzodiazepines are used in the medical field to treat insomnia, seizures, and anxiety. The drugs can also be effective in the treatment of various neurological and psychological disorders. This is because of how they work on the neurons of the brain that trigger anxiety and stress reactions.

Some of the disorders that benzodiazepines are effective at treating include but are not always limited to:

  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (or GAD)
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Seizures

The ways in which benzodiazepines work is also interesting. Essentially, the human brain has different neurotransmitters that it uses to communicate messages between the different brain cells. These neurotransmitters can have either excitatory or tranquilizing effects.

If you are overly anxious, your brain will become over-active and excited. After that, tranquilizing transmitters will send various messages to your brain cells to slow down your brain's activity and reduce your anxiety symptoms.

GABA is the primary tranquilizing neurotransmitter that your brain produces. It is particularly effective because billions of the cells in the brain will respond to its various effects and signals.

When you take benzodiazepines, they will enhance the effects of this neurotransmitter. This is because this class of drugs contains chemicals that will add to all the calming effects that is already being produced by your body. As a result, they can be effective at leading to a state of tranquility. It is this mode of action that makes benzodiazepines so attractive and effective for use among patients who are suffering alcohol withdrawal.

Types of Benzodiazepines

When you are enrolled in an addiction treatment and medically managed detox program, you might receive a prescription for benzodiazepines to help with your alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Some of the drugs that you may get include:

  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Oxazepam (Serax)

Although benzodiazepines are effective in managing alcohol withdrawal, this class of drugs also comes with various side effects - including but not limited to addiction. These drugs might also cause you to suffer some reactions especially if you combine them with any other medication for treating alcoholism.

It is for this reason that you should only use them under the direct supervision of a medical professional - particularly after you have already enrolled in an inpatient drug detox and rehabilitation program.

The type of benzo that you will receive as a prescription as well as the way in which you should use it will vary based on several factors. These factors include the severity of your alcohol use disorder, your alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and the setting of drug use.

Getting Help

If you are addicted to alcohol and you have checked into an addiction rehabilitation program, you may get a prescription for benzodiazepines. It is advised that you take these medications exactly as your addiction treatment professionals prescribed to ensure that you do not suffer any adverse side effects.


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