Recent Blog Articles

Mind & Mood

Benzodiazepines (and the alternatives)

September 27, 2020

m1205a16207250321081

With the introduction of benzodiazepines such as chlordiazepoxide (Librium) and diazepam (Valium) in the early 1960s, a new era in the treatment of insomnia and anxiety began. The benzodiazepines were more effective and far safer than the older drugs — barbiturates, meprobamate, and glutethimide — that had been prescribed for these purposes. For many years, benzodiazepines continued to be the most popular prescription tranquilizers and sedatives. Since the mid-1980s, new alternatives have been assuming some of these roles, but benzodiazepines are not about to leave the stage.

More than a dozen benzodiazepines are available by prescription. Benzodiazepines have a common basic chemical structure, and they all increase activity at receptors for the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This transmitter inhibits the activity of neurons, slowing down the brain and nervous system. Benzodiazepines differ mainly in how quickly they are absorbed, how long their effects last, and how long they take to leave the body.

To continue reading this article, you must log in.

Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.

  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »

I'd like to receive access to Harvard Health Online for only $4.99 a month.

Sign Me Up

Already a member? Login ».

Disclaimer:

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.