Drugs – Minor Tranquilisers

Benzodiazepines (sometimes called benzos) are also referred to as minor tranquillisers. They work by slowing the central nervous system’s activity.

Benzodiazepines are produced by chemical synthesis. The benzodiazepine group contains more than 24 specific drugs. Each has a chemical or generic name, and each is sold under one or more brand-names. They are most often prescribed as tablets or capsules. They come in a variety of colours and shapes. Whether taken orally or intravenously the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream and circulates through the body.

Medically, benzodiazepines are classified as sedatives/hypnotics (to induce sleep) or anxiolytics (to relieve anxiety). In practice they perform all of these functions, although different ones are prescribed based on how quickly they work and how long they last.

Some doctors prescribe some benzodiazepines to relieve stress and anxiety and to help people sleep. They are also sometimes used to treat epilepsy, to relax muscles, to help people withdraw from alcohol, or as an anaesthetic before surgery.

Some people use benzodiazepines to become intoxicated. People who use heroin sometimes use benzodiazepines when they can’t get heroin, when they are trying to get off heroin or to increase the effects of heroin. People who use Speed or Ecstasy might use benzodiazepines to help when they are coming down from a high, and to help them sleep.

The use of benzodiazepines over a long time (more than two to three weeks) is not recommended. Benzodiazepines can help to relieve anxiety in the short term. But they do not solve the problem that caused the anxiety in the first place – they treat the symptoms but not the cause.

Benzodiazepines taken during pregnancy cross the placental barrier and can affect the baby’s growth and development. Anyone taking a prescription of benzodiazepines should see a doctor before altering their dosage.

Benzodiazepines can produce withdrawal symptoms in newborn babies, which can last for a week or longer. Withdrawal symptoms can include breathing problems, poor body temperature control, poor muscle tone and sucking difficulties.