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Page medically reviewed by Dee Johnson (Mbacp, MNCS), Addiction Therapist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford.

Anxiety disorders are common mental health conditions that can cause you to experience excessive worry and unease. Anxiety can significantly disrupt your life, as well as the lives of those who are closest to you.

Tackling anxiety disorders effectively often needs a variety of approaches. A class of medications known as benzodiazepines, or ‘benzos’, can be one element when it comes to managing your anxiety symptoms.  

In this article, we’ll explore how benzodiazepines help to combat anxiety, and how they’re used in combination with other treatment methods.

What are benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a class of medications primarily used to manage different types of anxiety, insomnia and certain physical conditions, such as epilepsy. They can also be used to help ease alcohol withdrawal symptoms as part of addiction treatment. These drugs work by enhancing the effects of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which has a calming and relaxing effect.

Some well-known benzos include diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan) and alprazolam (Xanax), among others. Benzodiazepines can be taken in various forms, including tablets, capsules and liquids, and they’re usually prescribed for short-term use. This is because taking benzos over an extended period of time can result in people becoming addicted to it.

How can benzodiazepines help anxiety?

Benzodiazepines are effective in alleviating anxiety because of their ability to enhance the efficiency of the neurotransmitter, GABA, in the brain. This enhanced GABA activity results in a calming and sedating effect, which can help to relax your central nervous system and reduce the intensity of your anxiety symptoms.

Benzos act relatively quickly once you’ve taken them, and can provide rapid relief from acute episodes of anxiety. They can help you to regain a sense of control over your emotions, easing restlessness, tension and excessive worry.

However, it’s important to remember that benzodiazepines are usually only recommended for short-term use because of their potential for tolerance and dependence. In addition, they’re often used alongside other therapeutic approaches, so you’re also able to address the underlying causes of your anxiety and develop coping mechanisms for the future.

Consulting a healthcare professional is crucial to determine the most appropriate anxiety treatment plan for you and your specific needs.

What benzodiazepines are prescribed in the UK?

Benzodiazepines are prescribed in the UK for a range of medical conditions. These include anxiety disorders, insomnia, and other conditions where relaxation and sedation are necessary. Below is a list of some of the most common benzodiazepines prescribed in the UK, along with their medical uses:

Medicine name

Trade name

Used to treat

Diazepam

Valium

Anxiety, muscle spasms, seizures

Lorazepam

Ativan

Anxiety, panic disorders

Alprazolam

Xanax

Anxiety, panic disorders

Temazepam

Restoril

Insomnia

Nitrazepam

Mogadon

Insomnia

Clonazepam

Rivotril

Epilepsy, panic disorders

Chlordiazepoxide

Librium

Alcohol withdrawal, anxiety

Oxazepam

Serax

Alcohol withdrawal, anxiety

These medications will be prescribed by a healthcare professional, such as a GP or clinical mental health specialist, after a thorough evaluation of your condition and symptoms. The choice of benzodiazepine, and how it should be used, will depend on your individual needs, your and medical and psychological history.

It’s crucial that you only use these medications as directed by a qualified professional, and make sure you’re aware of potential side effects that you might experience. Common side effects of benzodiazepines can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Memory problems
  • Tolerance, dependence and benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms, if you take benzos over an extended period

Whoever prescribes the medication will be able to answer any questions that you have, helping you to be fully informed before you start taking it.

What is the best benzo for anxiety?

Benzos that are the most effective when it comes to treating anxiety are diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan) and alprazolam (Xanax). These medications are known for their effectiveness in providing relief from the symptoms of anxiety. The choice of which benzodiazepine is best for you should be made in consultation with your GP or a psychiatrist, who will be able to take into account your individual needs and weigh up potential risks.

Other treatment methods for anxiety

Managing anxiety often involves a variety of approaches. While benzodiazepines can offer short-term treatment and relief for acute anxiety symptoms, it’s important to consider other treatment methods for more long-term treatment, in order to create lasting results.

Other anxiety medication

In addition to benzos, your doctor or psychiatrist may prescribe certain types of antidepressants that are effective when it comes to alleviating anxiety. Examples include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

These are often prescribed for long-term anxiety management. SSRIs and SNRIs can be taken alongside benzodiazepines, but this should only be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Combining these medications might be appropriate when you need immediate relief for your anxiety symptoms (achieved by benzodiazepines), while waiting for the longer-term effects of SSRIs or SNRIs to take hold. Find out more about the different types of anxiety medication.

Talking therapy for anxiety

Alongside medication, talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), exposure therapy and mindfulness-based counselling approaches, are often essential components of anxiety treatment. These therapies aim to address the underlying causes of your anxiety, help you to develop coping strategies and promote emotional wellbeing. They can therefore help to prevent or minimise future re-occurrences and enable you to identify the warning signs of anxiety before it reaches the stage where medication may need to be considered. 

Get help for anxiety

If you think you’re struggling with anxiety, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to go through it alone. Anxiety is a common condition, and effective treatments, such as benzodiazepines, therapy and other medications are available to help you regain control of your life.

Don’t suffer in silence; speak to your GP or contact a private provider, like Priory, for support. We can guide you towards the most suitable treatment plan, tailored to your needs. Getting help is a brave step towards a healthier, more balanced life, and it’s a step worth taking.

Get in Touch Today

For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0330 056 6020  or submit an online enquiry form here. 

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