There are some over-the-counter alternatives to benzodiazepine medications that may have variable side effects and different methods of action.
Benzodiazepines are dispensed to treat a range of symptoms, and different ones work for different concerns. For example, Valium is often prescribed to help people relax and to reduce muscle tension, while Xanax is dispensed to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Restoril (temazepam) is more of a sleep aid prescribed for anxiety.
Detailed below are some of the over-the-counter products that have similar effects to some benzodiazepines and what they may be helpful in treating.
Marketed in the United States in several forms, synthetic versions of the naturally occurring brain chemical with sedative-like properties can help to manage stress, reduce anxiety, and enhance sleep functions.
Most of these over-the-counter benzodiazepine substitutes and supplements are considered to be safe, but they may not be overly effective. Some can have difficult side effects that may even be dangerous as well.
Benadryl, for example, can cause daytime sleepiness, blurred vision, and sluggishness. The National Capital Poison Center warns that while kava kava may have calming effects, using the supplement may cause liver damage. GABA is a particularly large molecule when manufactured as a synthetic product in a lab, and it can be difficult for the body to absorb enough of it to be effective.
According to Harvard Health, both kava kava and valerian have been shown through research studies to be no more effective than placebos for the management of anxiety and as alternatives to a benzodiazepine drug. That being said, every person is different, and what works for one person may not be as effective for another. Any of these over-the-counter, herbal, or natural supplements can be worth trying as a method for managing stress and anxiety and helping to obtain restful sleep, but the guidance of a medical professional should be sought first.
Anxiety, high stress, and sleep difficulties can often be helped by natural non-drug techniques as well. For instance, eating healthy, balanced, and nutritious meals, sticking to a set sleeping and waking schedule, physical exercise and exertion, yoga, mindfulness meditation, massage therapy, and creative expression can all help to manage stress and anxiety naturally. The body can easily become deficient in vitamins and minerals, which can contribute to stress and sleep issues, and taking supplements to balance things out can help.
Benzodiazepines are considered to be safe when taken under the direction of a medical professional and for medicinal purposes; however, they are also habit-forming. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that in 2016, more than 2.5 million Americans misused a prescription tranquilizer or sedative medication.
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Benzodiazepines, often called benzos, are a class of medications that are prescribed to treat anxiety, panic disorders, muscle tension, insomnia, and seizure disorders. Common benzodiazepines include Valium (diazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), and Klonopin (clonazepam). They are sedative-hypnotic medications that work by suppressing some of the body’s stress response.
Benzos act on neurotransmitters in the brain that send signals to the body. Gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is one of these chemical messengers that the brain uses to send signals throughout the central nervous system. It acts as a kind of natural tranquilizer in the body, lowering anxiety and calming the fight-or-flight response.
Benzos increase the presence of GABA in the brain and act as central nervous system depressants. Body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration are all lowered by the action of benzodiazepine medications in the body. As a prescription, benzodiazepines are classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as Schedule IV controlled substances.
They have the potential for abuse, drug dependence, and addiction. Most benzos are designed for short-term relief of symptoms and are not meant to be taken long term, as indicated by the prescribing information for Xanax.
Benzos are generally used as part of a comprehensive treatment program, which should also include therapeutic and supportive measures to manage anxiety, stress, insomnia, and tension. Natural and over-the-counter supplements and medications can be helpful tools, but they should also be used as part of a complete treatment program that addresses underlying causes of stress and works to alleviate them.
Drug Scheduling. Drug Enforcement Administration. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.dea.gov/drug-scheduling
(September 2016). Xanax. Pfizer. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2016/018276s052lbl.pdf
(September 2017). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.htm
Kava Kava. National Capital Poison Center. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.poison.org/articles/2016-jun/kava
(March 2014). Benzodiazepines (and the Alternatives). Harvard Health. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Benzodiazepines_and_the_alternatives