Question: How do benzodiazepines work, when are they used in the treatment of bipolar disorder, and how effective are they at treating various stages of bipolar disorder?
Answer: Benzodiazepines, are also known as anxiolytics, medications that reduce anxiety. They are often used in the acute stage of a mania, a manic episode, to try and calm a person down, and they can be quite helpful. They also are used quite frequently in depression, with comorbid anxiety to work on the anxiety piece of the clinical picture.
The trouble with benzodiazepines is that they can be abused. Typically, the shorter the half-life, and the quicker the 'buzz' as it were that they'd give a person, the more likely they are to be abused. Xanax, or alprazolam for example, has become a street drug because it actually does give people a high, and a quick onset, and quick offset.
Benzodiazepines are used actually to detoxify people from alcohol in the hospital. I guess, in sum I would say that if the bipolar person is actively abusing alcohol, they may need to be detoxified using benzodiazepines in a controlled environment. If they are manic, one part of the medications used to deal with the mania may be benzodiazepines. Chronically, if they don't have any substance abuse problems, they may be helpful for anxiety if it's a component in the bipolar, unipolar presentation.