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Benzodiazepines for Panic Disorder

An Overview of Benzodiazepines


Updated August 03, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Benzodiazepines are a commonly prescribed type of medication for panic disorder. These medications are often used to help manage anxiety and panic attacks. Benzodiazepines have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat panic disorder and other conditions.

General Information

Benzodiazepines are a type of anti-anxiety medication that can assist in reducing anxiety and eliciting feelings of relaxation. These medications are also known as sedatives or tranquilizers due to their sedating and calming effects. Due to their relative safety, effectiveness, and minimal side effects, benzodiazepines are often preferred over some older medications that had similar effects.

Benzodiazepines have been approved to treat a variety of mental health and medical conditions. Some of the most common disorders that benzodiazepines are prescribed to treat include:

Types of Benzodiazepines

Common types of benzodiazepines used to treat panic disorder and other anxiety disorders include:

How Benzodiazepines Treat Panic Disorder

The brain contains many neurotransmitters that impact different functions of the body. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is one type of neurotransmitter that influences several functions in the brain, including sleep regulation and feelings of anxiety and relaxation. Benzodiazepines work to affect GABA receptors and depress the central nervous system (CNS). Through slowing down the CNS, these medications have the ability to reduce excess agitation and excitement. Additionally, this action allows benzodiazepines to lessen the intensity of anxiety and panic attacks, producing a sense of calm.

Benzodiazepines work quickly in reducing and managing symptoms. However, they also are broken down and leave your body relatively rapidly as well. Different benzodiazepines are metabolized at different rates, and may need to be dosed at different frequencies during the day for continued and consistent relief of anxiety symptoms.

Common Side Effects of Benzodiazepines

Typical side effects of benzodiazepines include drowsiness, dizziness, lightheadedness, dry mouth, unsteadiness, and fatigue. These side effects should become more manageable or cease over time. Consult your prescribing doctor if you experience side effects from benzodiazepines that are persistent or worsen.

Issues with Abuse and Dependence

Benzodiazepines are classified as controlled substances and have the potential to be abused. When taken for extended periods of time, a person may become physically and psychologically dependent on these medications. It is also possible to develop tolerance to benzodiazepines, meaning that a person needs to take higher doses of the medication in order to achieve the same result.

Your doctor may discuss various strategies to prevent addiction and withdrawal issues. Typical withdrawal symptoms include headaches, excessive sweating, increased nervousness and agitation, seizures, tremors, muscle cramps, and sleep disturbances. Do not ever attempt to change or discontinue your dosage on your own. Your doctor can assist you in gradually coming off your medication.

Other Precautions To Benzodiazepines

Drug Interactions: Benzodiazepines slow down the central nervous system (CNS). Alcohol and certain medications that have a similar effect on the CNS should be avoided. Keep your doctor informed about all of the prescribed and over-the-counter medications you are taking.

Medical History: People with a history of certain mental health and medical conditions may not be suited for taking benzodiazepines. Inform your doctor if you have any of the following diagnoses or other conditions:

  • Glaucoma
  • Liver disease
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Lung disease
  • Alcohol or drug addiction
  • Depression

Pregnancy and Nursing: Benzodiazepines can be passed to children during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Discuss the risks of using these medications while pregnant or nursing with your doctor.


Batelaan, N. M., Van BalkomStein, A. J., and Stein, D. (2012). Evidence-based Pharmacotherapy of Panic Disorder: An Update. The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 15, 403-415.

Hoffman, E. J. & Mathew, S. J. (2008). Anxiety Disorders: A Comprehensive Review of Pharmacotherapies. Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, 75, 248–262.

Silverman, Harold M. (2010). The Pill Book. 14th ed. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

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