Ben - zo - dye - ay - ze - peens
Why have I been prescribed a benzodiazepine?
The usual reason is to relieve the symptoms of anxiety and insomnia.
Being tense or feeling worried is common to all of us. For example, going to the dentist or starting a new job can be
stressful, but sometimes you can feel anxious or worked up for no apparent reason at all, or it is out of proportion with the
stress. This is an illness called anxiety. It can come on suddenly or it may be there all the time. Anxiety has many
symptoms. You may find you cannot relax easily. The muscles in your face and neck may ache. You may even sweat
more than usual and look pale. Sometimes you may have attacks of severe anxiety or panic. Your heart may beat faster
and this can worry you even more. Anxiety can get so bad that it makes your life very unpleasant indeed. You may be
less able to cope with stress.
People with anxiety may also have problems with their sleep. You may find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. This is
called insomnia. There are many causes of insomnia. Some medicines, even those from your pharmacist, can cause it.
The benzodiazepines can help people with anxiety or insomnia. Benzodiazepines are also useful to help manage alcohol
withdrawal, agitation, epilepsy, hypomania, panic disorder and some other conditions.
What exactly are benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are also called anxiolytics (or, incorrectly, as minor tranquillisers) and hypnotics or sleeping tablets. This
means that they can calm people down and help them to relax or sleep. Some benzodiazepines have been around for
more than thirty years and millions of people have now taken them. Benzodiazepines are not a cure for your anxiety or
insomnia. They only help with the symptoms.
There are many benzodiazepines, some usually used for anxiety and others as hypnotics (or sleeping tablets). The first
group includes diazepam (‘Valium’), chlordiazepoxide (‘Librium’), lorazepam (‘Ativan’), alprazolam (‘Xanax’), bromazepam
(‘Lexotan’), chlorazepate dipotassium (‘Tranxene’) and oxazepam. The second group includes temazepam, flurazepam
(‘Dalmane’), loprazolam, lormetazepam, flunitrazepam (‘Rohypnol’) and nitrazepam (‘Mogadon’, ‘Remnos’).
Are the benzodiazepines safe to take?
It is usually safe to have benzodiazepines regularly for a short time as prescribed by your doctor, but they don’t suit
everyone. Let your doctor know if any of the following apply to you, as extra care may be needed:
a) if you have depression, breathing problems, myasthenia gravis, porphyria, or suffer from liver, or kidney trouble;
b) if you are taking any other medication. This includes medicine from your pharmacist, such as cimetidine (‘Tagamet’),
chlorpheniramine (‘Piriton’) or Phenergan;
c) if you are pregnant, breast feeding, or wish to become pregnant.
How should I take my benzodiazepine?
Look at your medicine bottle - it has your doctor's instructions on it. Follow these directions very carefully. Always take
your dose with a full glass of water. Never be tempted to change the dose yourself. If you forget a dose, take the next one
as soon as you remember, as long as it is only a few hours after the usual time.
What should I do if I miss a dose?
Never change your dose without checking with your doctor. If you forget a dose, take it as soon as you remember, as
long as it is within a few hours of the usual time.
What will happen to me when I start taking my benzodiazepine?
Some benzodiazepines can work after only half an hour or so. If taken at night, you should be able to get to sleep more
easily. Sometimes, you may feel a bit drowsy or groggy in the morning. When taken during the daytime, you should feel
more calm and relaxed.
Like all medicines, the benzodiazepines have some side effects. Most of these side effects are quite mild and should go
away after a week or so. Look at the table over the page. It tells you what to do if you get any side effects. Not everyone
will get the side effects shown. There are many other possible side effects. Ask your pharmacist, doctor or nurse if you
are worried about anything else that you think might be a side effect.