What they are:

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs prescribed by doctors to treat many conditions, like anxiety and seizures. Common benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax®), clonazepam (Clonipin®), and diazepam (Valium®).

How they're taken:

Prescription benzodiazepines can be used appropriately when prescribed by a doctor. They are most often taken in pill form.

But like opioids, prescription benzodiazepines can also be misused if taken at higher dosages than prescribed, or without a prescription at all.

How they work:

Benzodiazepines strengthen the effect of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This neurotransmitter calms neurons that are associated with stress. Using benzodiazepines enhances GABA's effectiveness, which helps an overly excited brain to become more tranquil and calm.1

Like opioids, benzodiazepines are fast-acting and addictive. A user can develop a tolerance to, or dependence upon, benzodiazepines quickly—whether they are taking them as directed by their doctor, or misusing.2

Side effects include drowsiness, confusion, and depressed feelings.

Signs someone could be misusing:

General changes in mood and behavior can be an indicator of substance use. Someone misusing benzodiazepines may seem drowsy, lethargic, or disoriented. Speech may be slurred and coordination may be impaired.

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1. NIDA for Teens. Prescription Depressant Medications.
2. “Well-Known Mechanism Underlies Benzodiazepines' Addictive Properties.” NIDA Notes, 19 April 2012.