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Substance Showdown: Benzodiazipines vs. Barbiturates

Today’s showdown is between two “downers”: benzodiazepines and barbiturates. Benzodiazepines and barbiturates are the most commonly abused prescriptions in the tranquilizer and sedative drug class. These medications, often referred to as Central Nervous System or CNS depressants, are generally used to treat disorders related to sleep and anxiety. Barbiturates and benzodiazepines decrease brain activity causing the person to feel more calm, drowsy, and/or peaceful.

Just like our other substance showdowns, benzodiazepines and barbiturates will go head to head in three rounds based on: health effects, insidiousness and legality as well as withdrawal. The worst of each round will be the winner. The substance with the most rounds won will be the overall winner and declared the more dangerous of the two. LET THE SUBSTANC SHOWDOWN BEGIN!

ROUND 1 Health Effects


•Diazepam (Valium)

•Chlordizapoxide HCI (Librium)

•Alprazolam (Xanax)

•Triazolam (Halcion)

•Estazolam (ProSom)

Side effects of benzodiazepine may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Trembling
  • Impaired coordination
  • Vision problems
  • Grogginess
  • Feelings of depression
  • Headache
  • Risks

Benzodiazepines are also physically addictive. The withdrawal symptoms of benzodiazepines include trouble sleeping, feelings of depression and sweating.  If someone has become dependent on a benzodiazepine it is crucial that they do not suddenly stop therapy cold turkey. Stopping cold turkey can result in life threatening seizures, tremors, and muscle cramps. Therefore, it is important to taper off benzodiazepines very slowly with professional help.


  • Bleeding sores on lips
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Red, thickened, or scaly skin
  • Skin rash or hives
  • Sores, ulcers, or white spots in mouth (painful)
  • Sore throat and/or fever
  • Swelling of eyelids, face, or lips
  • Wheezing or tightness in chest
  • Confusion
  • Mental depression
  • Unusual excitement
  • Rare
  • Hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there)
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness

With long-term or chronic use

  • Bone pain, tenderness, or aching
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Yellow eyes or skin




Benzodiazepines are controlled in schedule IV of the Controlled Substance Act.  Benzodiazepines are only legally available through prescription. Many abusers maintain their drug supply by getting prescriptions from several doctors, forging prescriptions, or buying them illicitly. Alprazolam and diazepam are the two most frequently encountered benzodiazepines on the illicit market. Benzodiazepines are very insidious due to the fact that are simply a prescription drugs and in the present day as well as in the past have been frequently prescribed to anyone with even slight anxiety. Most people who get prescriptions to benzodiazepines have no idea that the addictive potential of these drugs and just like with prescription painkillers; after a period of time will not be able to stop taking the drugs without getting very sick. In fact, benzodiazepines are so dangerously addictive that trying to suddenly stop taking the drugs after becoming physically addicted, could be fatal. This makes benzodiazepines very insidious and their legality and prescription from a doctor just make them doubly so.


Barbiturates are Schedule II, III, and IV under the Controlled Substances Act. Barbiturates are a prescription-only medicine and a class B controlled drug (Schedules 2 and 3). This indicates that it is illegal to possess the drug without a prescription or to supply it to others. Injectable barbiturates are class A drugs. For possession of barbiturates injections the maximum penalty is seven years imprisonment and/or unlimited fine. For dealing in these injectable barbiturates there may be life sentence and/or unlimited fine. For possession of barbiturates capsules the maximum penalty is five years imprisonment and/or unlimited fine. For dealing in these capsule barbiturates there may be 14 years imprisonment and/or unlimited fine. Barbiturates are rarely prescribed these days and are used more for general anesthesia before surgery etc. Benzodiazepines have replaced barbiturates as the more commonly prescribed sedative. Barbiturates are just as highly addictive as benzodiazepines but are not as commonly prescribed which only makes them slightly insidious. Most people will be prescribed a benzodiazepine before a barbiturate if they are prescribed a barbiturate at all. Barbiturates are still insidious for those who do get prescribed to them for the same reasons benzodiazepines are.



Benzodiazepine withdrawal emerges when a person who has taken benzodiazepines has developed a physical dependence lowers their dose or stop taking the medication all together. It is characterized by often severe sleep disturbance, irritability, increased tension and anxiety, panic attacks, hand tremor, sweating, difficulty in concentration, confusion and cognitive difficulty, memory problems, dry retching and nausea, weight loss, palpitations, headache, muscular pain and stiffness, a host of perceptual changes, hallucinations, seizures, psychosis, and suicide.

Someone who is addicted to barbiturates will begin to feel acute withdrawal symptoms within 8-16 hours after the last dose. Symptoms can be present for as long as 15 days and are most severe at the beginning of withdrawal. Barbiturates withdrawal symptoms can include restlessness, insomnia, weakness, dizziness, nausea, sweating and anxiety. There may be tremors, seizures, hallucinations and psychosis. Users may become hostile and violent. Without proper treatment, hyperthermia, circulatory failure, and death can result.

ROUND 3 IS A DRAW Both benzodiazepines and barbiturates have a dangerous and painful withdrawal.

AND THE WINNER OF THE SUBSTANCE SHOWDOWN: benzodiazepines vs. barbiturates is. . . BENZODIAZEPINES. Due to benzodiazepines insidiousness it is our winner. Not only our benzodiazepines insidious because of their legality but also because they can be found in many American’s medicines cabinets and are used frequently by teens as well as adults. Benzodiazepines are highly dangerous and highly addictive. This makes benzodiazepines the winner of this fight.


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