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What Are Benzodiazepines?

Created On Monday, 21, October 2019
Modified On Wednesday, 30, September 2020

Benzodiazepines are a type of tranquilizer.  Some of the familiar brand names include Valium and Xanax.  Tranquilizers or sedatives are prescribed for any number of reasons.  The substance is used to induce sedation.  There are minor tranquilizers and major ones, benzodiazepines fall under the category of minor sedatives.  There are no less than 15 benzodiazepines approved for use in the United States.  Unfortunately, it is quite easy to become dependent on tranquilizers.  Benzodiazepines act as a central nervous system depressant.  It essentially blocks the excessive activity of nerves in the brain and other areas in the central nervous system.        

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This drug class has a long history in the United States.  The first FDA approvals started in the 1960s with Librium and Valium.  Most benzodiazepines prescribed are generic brands, making them affordable for everybody.  The Drug Enforcement Agency lists them as a schedule IV controlled substance.  The mentality of the past was benzodiazepines were safer to use than older barbiturates. Despite benzodiazepines being used for medical reasons, overdose deaths occur frequently.  Most overdose deaths occur when benzos are mixed with alcohol or other drugs. 

Benzodiazepines work in the central nervous system.  The drug selectively occupies certain protein areas in the brain called GABA-A receptors.  Out of the three types of GABA receptors in the brain, this is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter.  GABA regulates movement control, anxiety, sight, and other brain functions.  Benzodiazepines enhance responses to the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA.  GABA active chloride channels open allowing chloride ions to enter the neurons.  Essentially the neurons become negatively charged.  This means it is a sedative effect creating anti-anxiety and anti-seizure activity.

CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ARTICLE

Nickolaus Hayes - Author

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