The Use and Abuse of Anxiolytics and Hypnotics

Anxiolytics and hypnotics are drugs that are often prescribed for cases of anxiety and insomnia in adults. But do you know the different side effects caused by the use and abuse of these drugs? We'll tell you everything you need to know in this article.
The Use and Abuse of Anxiolytics and Hypnotics

Last update: 19 August, 2020

Nowadays, anxiolytics and hypnotics are very commonly prescribed to patients. In fact, since 2000, there has been a significant increase in the use of these drugs around the world. Benzodiazepines (or “benzos”) are the most common psychotropic drugs used by adults.

The controlled use of drugs is an important issue, especially when it comes to psychotropics. Many of these drugs can cause serious adverse reactions that simply can’t be overlooked. In addition, patients are sometimes unaware of the potential side effects before they start taking them.

The prolonged use of these types of drugs can lead patients to develop an addiction or dependence. What starts out as a low-dosage prescription for a specific, one-off situation often ends up having a long-term impact on the patient’s quality of life, both physically and psychologically.


What are anxiolytics and hypnotics?

Anxiolytics and hypnotics are a group of central nervous system depressant psychotropic drugs. They’re primarily used to treat symptoms of anxiety, but can also be used to manage symptoms of insomnia.

These drugs depress the functions of the nervous system, slowing it down, and helping to reduce or eliminate symptoms of anxiety. However, they can also affect other brain functions, such as coordination and reaction time.

Benzodiazepines are the best-known group of anxiolytics. They can be classified into different types, according to whether they’re long-acting or short-acting:

The most commonly used drugs in this group are alprazolam, lorazepam, and lormetazepam. Today, we often use them as a quick-fix solution to allow us to deal with the stresses of our busy lives. However, if misused, the side effects can be extremely serious. As such, it’s important to know what they are before you start using them.

The abuse of anxiolytics and hypnotics

As we’ve already mentioned, these drugs are regularly prescribed for cases of anxiety and insomnia in adults. Short-term, they’re a safe and effective form of treatment. However, when used for a prolonged period of time, they can cause unwanted side effects. These include:

  • Increased risk of falls and fractures.
  • Risk of cognitive impairment and dementia.
  • Drug tolerance and dependence.
  • Increased anxiety (paradoxically). 

These side effects can even appear in patients who are on therapeutic doses. As such, experts advise against exceeding the recommended course of treatment. This means that they should never be used for more than four weeks in the case of insomnia or 12 weeks in the case of anxiety.

The treatment plan must also include a drug tapering period, where the dosages are gradually reduced. This is particularly important for longer courses of medication. If symptoms persist, the attending doctor will need to look for alternative or complementary treatment options.

These adverse effects can arise from both the misuse of the prescribed drugs by the patient or as a result of an inappropriate prescription from the doctor. In some cases, the patients themselves insist that their doctor continue to prescribe them these drugs. In others, the doctors prescribe them too easily.

The reality is, in routine practice, the recommended course for these types of psychotropic drugs is often exceeded. Many adults consume benzodiazepines on a daily basis. Unfortunately, these patients are most at risk of experiencing the side effects we mentioned above.

At the same time, there has also been an increase in non-prescription meds amongst younger generations, who use benzos as recreational drugs. This is due, in part, to how easy is for us to access these drugs today, and to their excessive, and sometimes unnecessary, prescription.


The controlled use of drugs

In short, the abuse or misuse of any drug can have very negative side effects, especially for the patient, but also for society as a whole. However, if each of us does our bit, we can help to promote the controlled use of these medications.

In particular, anxiolytics and hypnotics are drugs that can cause serious side effects if not used correctly. It’s essential to always follow the instructions given to you by your doctor. Under no circumstances should you try to self-medicate.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Artagaveytia, P., Goyret, A., & Tamosiunas, G. (2018). Desafío terapéutico: desprescripción de benzodiazepinas. Boletín Farmacológico, 2018, vol. 9, nro. 1.
  • Correa Alfaro, F. A., & García Hernández, M. N. (2019). Uso recreativo de benzodiacepinas en la población joven. Ene13(1).

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.