Although benzodiazepines (benzos) are similar in their effects, they differ in how fast they begin working, how long they continue to work, and how long they remain in a person’s system.
For this reason, benzodiazepines are grouped into three categories: short-acting benzodiazepines, intermediate-acting benzodiazepines, and long-acting benzodiazepines.
Short-acting and intermediate-acting benzodiazepines include:
- alprazolam (Xanax)
- lorazepam (Ativan)
- triazolam (Halcion)
- estazolam (Prosom)
- midazolam (Versed)
- temazepam (Restoril)
- oxazepam (Serax)
What Does It Mean For A Benzodiazepine To Be Short-Acting?
Short-acting drugs have a fairly short half-life, meaning they pass through the body quickly.
In healthy adults, the half-life of short-acting benzodiazepines (“benzos”) ranges between six to 29 hours, depending on the type of benzodiazepine, the formulation, and the dose taken.
Onset Of Effects
Some short-acting benzos, and long-acting benzodiazepines, have a quick onset of effects, meaning the effects of the drug can be felt pretty quickly after use.
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How Long Effects Last
The duration of effects with short-acting drugs is shorter than that of long-acting drugs like diazepam (Valium) or clonazepam (Klonopin).
Frequency Of Use
Unlike long-acting drugs, which work in phases over the course of one or more days, short-acting drugs may need to be taken more often to feel the desired effect.
Not all short-acting drugs work the same, however. Short-acting drugs can vary in their duration of effects, the forms they come in, and the main uses for which they’re prescribed.
What Are Short-Acting Benzodiazepines Used For?
Short-acting benzodiazepines are prescribed for a variety of uses. Due to their quick onset of effects, they can be effective for treating panic attacks, seizures, and insomnia.
Other uses for short-acting benzodiazepines include:
- anesthesia (e.g. midazolam)
- anxiety disorders
- panic disorder
The main use of short-acting benzos like triazolam (Halcion) is insomnia. Intermediate- and long-acting benzodiazepines are preferred for treating anxiety and panic disorders.
How Short-Acting Benzodiazepines Can Be Misused
Short-acting benzodiazepine drugs, like any prescription drug, are potential drugs of abuse.
According to the American Family Physician, short-acting benzodiazepines are sometimes preferred for misuse due to their rapid effects.
Common methods of abuse include:
- crushing and snorting tablets
- taking higher doses than directed
- taking doses more often
- mixing benzos with other drugs to enhance or counteract effects
Benzodiazepine misuse can lead to the faster development of drug tolerance, physical dependence, and drug addiction.
Mixed with other drugs, such as alcohol or opioids, they can also cause overdose, a potentially fatal condition that can slow a person’s breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Finding Treatment For Benzodiazepine Addiction
Benzodiazepine abuse can very rapidly lead to physical dependence and addiction, if taken in ways other than directed by a doctor.
If you or a loved one are struggling with benzodiazepine abuse, call our helpline today to find treatment options for benzodiazepine addiction at a rehab center near you.
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- American Family Physician — Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines—Side Effects, Abuse Risk and Alternatives
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) — Drug Fact Sheet: Benzodiazepines
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) — XANAX (alprazolam tablets)
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: NCBI Bookshelf — Benzodiazepines in Older Adults: A Review of Clinical Effectiveness, Cost-Effectiveness, and Guidelines