Just the name alone could put anyone off investigating this class of drug, but benzodiazepines aren’t as complicated as they sound. Benzodiazepines are a type of antidepressant. They are typically used to reduce symptoms of stress caused by generalized anxiety disorder.
However, benzodiazepines also have a number of other uses – they are used to help treat both sleep and pain-related disorders, and are often used as a type of fibromyalgia pain medication.
What are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines have been in use as an antidepressant since the 1970s, and currently 15 different types are available on the American market. There is some controversy about the use of benzodiazepines for treatment purposes, though.
Benzodiazepines are highly addictive and often cause symptoms of withdrawal if used for a lengthy period of time. However, benzodiazepines do have their merits, especially when taken as directed by your health care provider.
How do Benzodiazepines Work?
Benzodiazepines and the brain work together to produce fibromyalgia symptom relief. Your brain is made up of hundreds of chemical neurotransmitters, which relay messages about pain, emotions and other sensations.
Benzodiazepines help to ease pain by acting on these neurotransmitters, enhancing the amount of gamma amino butyric acid (GABA), a type of neurotransmitter, in your brain. GABA works to calm down the brain, thereby minimizing pain and inducing a sleep-like state.
Effectiveness in Fibromyalgia
Benzodiazepine drugs have proven to be effective in minimizing sleep disorders in fibromyalgia sufferers. In particular, Clonazepam is effective at reducing restless leg syndrome, a common symptom of Fibromyalgia. However, benzodiazepines are only recommended for short-term use.
When taken for longer than two weeks, benzodiazepines used as fibromyalgia medication actually make sleep patterns worse, limiting the length of restorative deep sleep, and increasing the number of times you wake up each night.
Classes and Commonly Used Benzodiazepines
There are three classes of benzodiazepines, determined by the length of time that they act on your brain:
- short acting benzodiazepines: last for 2 to 10 hours
- medium acting benzodiazepines: last for 10 to 18 hours
- long acting benzodiazepines: last up to 32 hours
Long acting benzodiazepines provide longer relief, but are also more likely to produce addictive side effects.
There are a number of different types of benzodiazepines in each class used to relieve sleep disorders and other related symptoms of fibromyalgia. These include:
Temazepam is a popular short acting benzodiazepine that is often used to promote sleep and help fight anxiety. Temazepam is highly effective in treating insomnia in fibromyalgia patients as well as fighting feelings of depression. Sold under the brand name Restoril, Temazepam has been proven to decrease the number of times fibromyalgia patients wake up during the night. It also helps patients to fall asleep faster. Temazepam is only prescribed for short-term use and should not be taken if you are suffering from sleep apnea or if you are pregnant.
Lorazepam is a medium acting benzodiazepine primarily used to reduce anxiety, and depression in fibromyalgia patients. Sold under the name Ativan, lorazepam is also very effective at combating insomnia and irritable bowel syndrome. Lorazepam is only indicated for short term use in fibromyalgia sufferers, due to the fact that it can cause habit formation. Generally, lorazepam is prescribed only for about 1 week. Do not take lorazepam if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Clonazepam is a long acting benzodiazepine that helps to relieve chronic pain symptoms in fibromyalgia patients. Clonazepam can also be helpful in reducing anxiety and depression in people with the syndrome. Clonazepam does tend to cause more side effects than other benzodiazepines. Clonazepam, sold under the brand name Clonopin, should not be taken for more than 2 to 4 weeks, unless specified by your health care provider.
Benzodiazepine Side Effects
Every benzodiazepine is associated with some type of side effect. When combined with other antidepressants, sedatives, or alcohol, benzodiazepines can become toxic. Sometimes, benzodiazepines can cause severe side effects, including memory loss, confusion, and motor impairment.
There is also a high risk of habit formation with benzodiazepines. Be aware of the symptoms of benzodiazepine addiction, including the need to take extra doses or increased doses of your medication. Habit formation can result in severe benzodiazepine withdrawal.