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Benzo Basics 

Basic Facts about Benzodiazepines  

Click Benzo Basics for a download printable file 

This is a collection of what this author believes are the basic facts about benzodiazepines. It is presented as a quick reference to enable people to familiarise themselves with some of the basic issues concerning benzodiazepines and also as something that can be printed out to educate other people. You are encourage to follow the links presented to make up your own mind as to whether this is a fair summary of the issues. 

  1. The most common benzodiazepines prescribed today are Valium, Xanax, Ativan and Klonopin.

     See Benzodiazepine Drug Index for a fuller list. 

  1. Benzodiazepines are most commonly prescribed for anxiety conditions, especially panic disorder (PD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) condition corresponding most closely to the APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual [DSM-IV-TR]. They are also sometimes prescribed for seizure disorders. Klonopin, for example, is often prescribed for epilepsy. Benzodiazepines are also prescribed for insomnia and other sleep problems, such as restless leg syndrome (RLS). Benzodiazepines are also occasionally prescribed as muscle relaxants.

          See Rational Use of Benzodiazepine for more details 

  1. Anxiety or tension associated with the stress of everyday life does not require treatment with an anxiolytic.

          See Xanax Drug Insert   

          See Valium Drug Insert

4.  Benzodiazepines should only be prescribed for a 2-3 week period.

     See Benzo Rules           

     See Rational Use of Benzodiazepine

5.  When Benzodiazepines are used for more than 2Ė3 weeks tolerance and dependency may occur; these are the dangers of long term benzodiazepine use.  

     See COMMITTEE ON SAFETY OF MEDICINES U.K. Government Bulletin to Prescribing Doctors, January 1988, CURRENT PROBLEMS 1988; Number 21: 1-2   BENZODIAZEPINES, DEPENDENCE AND WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS":


  1. Tolerance may mean : 

a)     the body has grown used to the action of a drug.

b)     a person may start to suffer withdrawal symptoms while taking the drug as prescribed.

c)     a personís original symptoms may become worse than before they started taking the drug.

d)     tolerance may develop to the other modes of action of the drug other than the one for which a person is taking the drug. So, as tolerance builds, a person taking a benzodiazepine for anxiety may start to suffer muscle spasms since benzodiazepines also have muscle relaxant properties.

e)      a doctor might prescribe more of a drug, thinking that building tolerance is a worsening of the original condition, resulting in a person being caught in escalating use of the drug.

f)      dependency may be starting.

g)      it may be time to consider tapering off the drug  

     See Notes on Tolerance  

  1. Dependence means that someone encounters withdrawal symptoms if they reduce the amount of drug they are taking.

     See Ashton Manual  

     See Article on Addiction  

  1. Dependency and addiction are not the same thing. People who have become dependent on doctor prescribed therapeutic doses of benzodiazepines rarely have an addiction.

     See Article on Addiction  

  1. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines should be done slowly over time if the drug has been taken long term or if a person has become tolerant to the effects of the drug or has developed a dependency on the drug. People in this situation should never cold turkey.

         See Ashton Manual  

         See Xanax Drug Insert    

         See Valium Drug Insert 

  1. There are many withdrawal symptoms.

         See Withdrawal Symptoms  

  1. The appearance of withdrawal symptoms during a taper doesnít usually mean that a personís original condition has returned.


  1.  A taper can takes months. The important thing is not the amount of time it takes but that the patient does it at a speed that suits them. The taper should be patient driven.

See Ashton Manual  

  1. The only medically researched method of tapering off benzodiazepines that this author is aware of was done by Dr. Heather Ashton. Her work in the field of benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome resulted in what has become known as the Ashton Manual. Dr. Ashton recommends changing faster-acting benzos like Xanax, Ativan and Klonopin for an equivalent dose of Valium, using the Valium to get a smoother, more controlled taper. This is all explained in her manual.

See Getting a Doctor to help you taper

14. Others have tapered off benzodiazepines using other methods, including Water Titration.

See Water Titration

See Which Taper Method is best

15. Getting off benzodiazepines isnít always easy and people need support while they are doing it.

a)     Support of a doctor keeping an eye on physical problems that may arise

b)     Support of a pastor, counsellor, or other person to help with spiritual or psycho-social   issues.

c)     A doctor that is a supporting coach in the process

d)     The support of families members and friends who are educated about the demands of withdrawal

       See How to Support Someone in Benzo Withdrawal

       See Educating Family and Friends

16. Once withdrawal has been achieved it may take 6 Ė 18 months for full healing to occur and both support and patience are needed during this time as well.

         See Recovery Tips

      17.  People get better after benzodiazepine use and withdrawal.


Disclaimer:  The information contained in this website was not compiled by a doctor or anyone with medical training. The advice contained herein should not be substituted for the advice of a physician who is well-informed in the subject matter discussed. Before making any decisions about your health or treatment you should always confer with your physician and it is always assumed that you will do so.

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Last updated 20 May 2013