Types of Benzodiazepines

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, we'll be going over different types of benzodiazepines. We'll learn about the specific uses for each type as well as potential side effects.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Imagine treating a patient with frequent panic attacks. He has flashbacks to traumatic events of his past. When the sensation comes on, his whole body reacts. He breathes faster, his chest tightens and those feelings of fear and anxiety come flooding back. As a medical professional, you recommend a prescription drug to stop the panic attacks, in addition to therapy with a social worker.

A commonly prescribed medication for this type of anxiety is a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. These medications slow down your central nervous system, altering a chemical in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Benzodiazepines enhance GABA signaling, which decreases neurological activity in the brain. This calms the nervous system, acting like a sedative. In fact, a common side effect of benzodiazepines is sleepiness. Due to their effect on the brain, benzodiazepines can be addicting. Patients taking them should be monitored closely. Benzodiazepines should not be taken long term, as dependence and tolerance occurs with increased use.

Types of Benzodiazepines

All benzodiazepines work in the same way, but there are different types that have slightly different effects, and some are used for different purposes. Let's look at some common types of benzodiazepines and their uses.


Popularized on television as a little blue pill to ease life's stress, diazepam, the brand name medication Valium, is an important medical treatment for several conditions. Diazepam is used for anxiety, muscle spasms, some types of seizures and sometimes as a treatment for alcohol withdrawal. Diazepam is also a frequent choice for treating anxiety. The medication acts quickly and has a long elimination time, meaning it gets removed from the blood slowly. This allows for a steady concentration in the blood over a long period of time, providing consistent relief.

Valium tablets are used to treat anxiety

Diazepam is also a first choice for patients experiencing convulsions from drug or alcohol withdrawal. Benzodiazepines and alcohol have similar effects on the central nervous system, but during alcohol withdrawal, diazepam can be helpful to prevent seizures and other unpleasant symptoms. However, care needs to be taken so the patient does not relapse with either alcohol addiction or a newly acquired addiction to benzodiazepines.


Unlike diazepam, lorazepam (brand name Ativan) has a short half life, meaning it is eliminated quickly from the body. However, this benzodiazepine is highly potent and has a high risk of dependency. Although lorazepam is used to treat insomnia, it has a higher risk of rebound insomnia compared to other longer-acting benzodiazepines. This means that when patients stop taking this medication, their insomnia returns since they're not taking the drug anymore.

Although lorazepam is prescribed for anxiety, it works better to treat phobias and panic disorders. Like diazepam, lorazepam can be used to treat convulsions due to drug poisoning, and to treat some cases of seizures.


Alprazolam (brand name Xanax) is another potent benzodiazepine with a short half life. It is used mostly to treat anxiety disorders and panic disorders. Alprazolam can also be prescribed to treat depression, although because it is a potent benzodiazepine, it carries a strong risk of dependency.

Alprazolam has also been used off-label to treat premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Some patients saw that dosages of alprazolam decreased their PMS symptoms, particularly anxiety and agitation. However, like diazepam, alprazolam should be used with caution since it carries a risk for addiction.

Varying dosages of Xanax


Imagine a storm with thunder and lightning. As a lightning bolt hits the Earth nearby, electricity surges through your house, short circuiting your electronics. Now, imagine your brain as the house. During a seizure, electrical activity in the brain surges out of control, causing dysfunction in the nervous system ranging from dissociation to full on convulsions. One of the main treatments for seizures is benzodiazepines, specifically clonazepam (brand name Klonopin). Clonazepam works by decreasing electrical activity in the brain, making it less likely for certain types of seizures to occur. It can also be used to treat panic disorders and phobias.

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