Benzo, an abbreviation for benzodiazepine, falls into a class of drugs known for a variety of properties. The properties include anxiolytic, amnestic, anticonvulsant, hypnotic and muscle relaxant. Classified as psychoactive drugs, benzos have a core chemical structure based on the fusion of diazepine ring and abenzene ring. Benzo is most often referred to as a tranquilizer.
Benzo is in the same class as clonazepam, lorazepam, diazepam and alprazolam, which may be more commonly referred to as valium, Xanax, klonopin and Ativan. In the mid-1970s, benzos were the most globally prescribed medications. The drugs are effective in treating a variety of medical problems, including muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal, insomnia, agitation and anxiety. They are often used as the pre-medication before dental procedures.
In general, benzos are viewed as safe for short-term use, but paradoxical effects and cognitive impairment do result on occasion. Long-term use is controversial, as it is known to cause side effects, decrease effectiveness and result in physical dependence. Users often experience withdrawals when they stop taking benzos after a period of time.
Most benzos are well tolerated and safe for the short-term basis, but after prolonged use, tolerance can develop and result independence. Long-term use can worsen depression, anxiety and cognitive deficits. Benzos are usually taken orally, but they can be given intravenously for panic attacks.
Some of the most effective use of benzos are as anxiety treatment prior to surgical procedures and as a sedative for patients who are in intensive care on mechanical ventilation.
Benzos do have some negative side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, lack of coordination and decreased alertness and concentration. There is a small risk for paradoxical effects, such as increased seizures, irritability, violent actions or suicidal behavior. The risk of paradoxical effects is generally below 1%, but that rate increases in recreational users and those who are on higher dosages of the drug.
Short-term benzo use is known to adversely affect several areas of cognition. Long-term effects can cause cognitive impairment and behavior issues, including increased anxiety and depression, agoraphobia and social phobia and the inability to express feelings.
Those who have used large amounts of benzo, or who have used the drug for long periods of time, are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures, psychosis, depression, sweats, irritability, depersonalization and derealization. With a reputation in causing long, dramatic withdrawals, a slow and gradual withdrawal can actually reduce the impact and effect of the weaning off the drug.
While overdose is dangerous, the benzo overdose is not near as dangerous as a barbiturate overdose. But combining benzos with other drugs or alcohol can greatly increase the risk of toxicity.