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Benzodiazepines are medicines that help relieve nervousness, tension, and other symptoms by slowing the central nervous system.
Benzodiazepines are a type of antianxiety drugs. While anxiety is a normal response to stressful situations, some people have unusually high levels of anxiety that can interfere with everyday life. For these people, benzodiazepines can help bring their feelings under control. The medicine can also relieve troubling symptoms of anxiety, such as pounding heartbeat, breathing problems, irritability, nausea, and faintness.
Physicians may sometimes prescribe these drugs for other conditions, such as muscle spasms, epilepsy and other seizure disorders, phobias, panic disorder, withdrawal from alcohol, and sleeping problems. However, this medicine should not be used every day for sleep problems that last more than a few days. If used this way, the drug loses its effectiveness within a few weeks.
Benzodiazepines should not be used to relieve the nervousness and tension of normal everyday life.
The family of antianxiety drugs known as benzodiazepines includes alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan). These medicines take effect fairly quickly, starting to work within an hour after they are taken. Benzodiazepines are available only with a physician's prescription and are available in tablet, capsule, liquid, or injectable forms.
The recommended dosage depends on the type of benzodiazepine, its strength, and the condition for which it is being taken. Doses may be different for different people. Check with the physician who prescribed the drug or the pharmacist who filled the prescription for the correct dosage.
Always take benzodiazepines exactly as directed. Never take larger or more frequent doses, and do not take the drug for longer than directed. If the medicine does not seem to be working, check with the physician who prescribed it. Do not increase the dose or stop taking the medicine unless the physician says to do so. Stopping the drug suddenly may cause withdrawal symptoms, especially if it has been taken in large doses or over a long period. People who are taking the medicine for seizure disorders may have seizures if they stop taking it suddenly. If it is necessary to stop taking the medicine, check with a physician for directions on how to stop. The physician may recommend tapering down gradually to reduce the chance of withdrawal symptoms or other problems.
Author Info: Nancy Ross-Flanigan, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002
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