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What Is Diazepam? - Uses & Side Effects

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Learn the ins and outs of the regulated prescription drug diazepam. Examine what it is, how it works, and the side effects. Find out what happens when someone becomes addicted or dependent on diazepam.

Diazepam 101

Diazepam is a regulated prescription drug most commonly used to treat anxiety disorders, muscle spasms or seizures, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Diazepam is in the benzodiazepine pharmaceutical family and works by altering chemicals in the brain that may become unbalanced, resulting in feelings of anxiety. Diazepam is a powerful drug that has lessened anxiety and improved the quality of life for a number of people, but it can have serious side effects when misused and may even cause death. Keep reading to learn more!

What is Diazepam Used For?

Diazepam is prescribed for a number of medical treatments, including anxiety, muscle spasms, seizures, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, panic attacks, and irritable bowel syndrome, though there are a variety of other uses for the drug as well. Over 500 brands of diazepam are sold worldwide, but some well-known names for this drug include Valium, Diastat, and Diazepam Intensol. In the family of psychoactive drugs called benzodiazepines, the drug works by binding to the benzodiazepine site on gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, resulting in a relaxed or sedated feeling. This is caused by depressing the activity of the central nervous system. Over-simplified, when a person is feeling jumpy or on edge and their neurons are over-firing, diazepam comes in and gives the excited receptors a hug, ultimately calming them down and producing an overall feeling of relaxation.

The Structural Build of Diazepam. The Systematic Name is 7-Chloro-1-Methyl-5-Phenyl-3H-1,4-Benzodiazepin-2-one.
Diazepam structure

Adverse Side Effects of Diazepam

All drugs in the benzodiazepine family should only be taken under the guidance of a medical professional. The most commonly reported side effects of diazepam are short-term amnesia, confusion, and sedation (drowsiness), and side effects are more often reported in elderly patients. Long-term use of the drug results in the user building a tolerance to the drug's effects and can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms once the drug's use is discontinued.

Additional side effects include impaired motor function (dizziness, imbalance, lack of coordination), suppression of REM sleep, depression, and reflex tachycardia (an increase in heart rate in response to a change to the central nervous system). In some cases, the opposite of intended effects are felt by the user; rather than feeling sedated, they will feel nervous, irritable, unsettled, and may experience insomnia. Working with a doctor while finding an optimal dosage helps prevent these negative side effects from occurring.

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