Benzodiazepine (often colloquially referred to as benzos) is a pharmaceutical class of drugs used for its sedative effect. Benzodiazepines induces sleep, reduces anxiety, reduces convulsions and relaxes muscles. They are used for the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, agitation, seizures and muscle spasms. They can also be used to alleviate the effect of alcohol withdrawal and are often used to prepare a patient for either surgical or dental anesthesia. It was first synthesized in 1955 and was first marketed in 1960.
Benzodiazepines are very safe for short term use, but long term use can cause problems. Patients often become tolerant to the drug, and often become dependent on it. Withdrawal can become an issue if a patient suddenly stops taking the drug. However, even in the short term, they can cause extreme drowsiness and inability to concentrate. They are also responsible for a high percentage of deaths from overdose and interact with a number of other drugs such as alcohol, opiates and certain types of anti-depressants.
Benzodiazepines should not be used where there is a risk of respiratory depression, myasthenia gravis, sleep apnea, bronchitis and COPD. They are also contraindicated in patients with personality disorders or mental retardation as the drug often has the opposite of its usual effect, for example, causing extreme aggression. The elderly usually do not benefit from benzodiazepines as the beneficial effects are usually minor and the side effects are usually worse and are often mistaken for other conditions such as dementia or clinical depression.
Although most people who are prescribed benzodiazepines do not abuse it, benzodiazepines are frequently used as a recreational drug, although users generally use it along with other drugs.