Question: What are the side effects associated with benzodiazepine treatment for anxiety disorders, and are there any long-term risks associated with benzodiazepine treatment?
Answer: Benzodiazepines in general tend to be very well tolerated. The main side effect -- the most common side effect with benzodiazepines is sedation. And for this reason it's important to avoid driving or operating heavy machinery when first starting benzodiazepine treatment until you actually have an idea of what dosing is appropriate for you -- specifically a dose that's going to appropriately manage your anxiety symptoms but not cause over sedation.
As far as long term risks associated with benzodiazepine treatment, it's important to note a couple things. One is that people who take benzodiazepine medications chronically will develop a physical dependence to the drug, such that if the drug is stopped abruptly they can experience withdrawal symptoms, which actually can be quite serious.
So anyone who takes long term benzodiazepine treatment should only stop the medication in conjunction with their physician and should do so in a very gradual way -- tapering the medication over days to weeks. The other thing to note about benzodiazepines is that they do have some risk of abuse. If the medications are used and prescribed in an appropriate way and are followed by a physician, this risk is minimal. And is actually, the benefit of these drugs far outweighs that risk in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
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