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Therapeutic Actions of Benzodiazepines

Regardless of whether benzodiazepines are marketed as anxiolytics, hypnotics or anticonvulsants, the actions in the body are virtually the same for all benzodiazepines. This is true regardless of their potency, speed of elimination or duration of effects.

All benzodiazepines exert five major effects which are used therapeutically: anxiolytic, hypnotic, muscle relaxant, anticonvulsant and amnestic (impairment of memory):

ANXIOLYTIC: Relief of anxiety
HYPNOTIC: Promotion of sleep
MYORELAXANT: Muscle relaxation
ANTICONVULSANT: Treats seizures, fits, convulsions
AMNESTIC: Impairs short-term memory
 

These actions, exerted by different benzodiazepines in slightly varying degrees, are why benzodiazepines are useful in medicine today. Due to their efficacy, rapid onset of action and low acute toxicity, there are not many drugs which can compete with them. Because of this, benzodiazepines can be valuable in medicine, sometimes life-saving, and are useful for treating a wide range of clinical conditions when used short-term. It is important to note that almost all of the disadvantages to benzodiazepine use are a result of long-term administration (using the medications regularly for more than 2-4 weeks). For this reason, the UK Committee on Safety of Medicines recommended that benzodiazepines should be generally be reserved for the short-term use of 2-4 weeks only. Once already physically dependent on a benzodiazepine, abrupt cessation may induce a potentially dangerous withdrawal syndrome and possibly a protracted withdrawal syndrome. It is dangerous to abruptly stop a benzodiazepine after physical dependency has occurred.