for better mental health

Sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers

Explains what sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers are used for, how the medication works, possible side effects and information about withdrawal.

What are the different types of benzodiazepines?

Here's an overview of all the benzodiazephines currently licensed in the UK.

Some of these drugs have more than one name. You might know a drug by its generic name or its trade name (see our page about drug names for more information on this).

For detailed information about a particular drug, you can look it up in our Sleeping Pills and Minor Tranquillisers A–Z.

What's the difference between them?

The main difference between the different benzodiazepines is the length of time they are active in the body. This is measured by the half-life of each drug.

Short-acting benzodiazepines have a short half-life. This means that the drugs are processed more quickly and leave your body more quickly. Short-acting drugs have a greater risk of withdrawal symptoms because your body has less time to adapt to working without the drug.

Long-acting benzodiazepines have a long half-life. This means that the drugs are processed by your body more slowly and take longer to leave the body. You are more likely to experience a hangover effect but less likely to have withdrawal problems.

Generally speaking, short-acting benzodiazepines are used as sleeping pills and long-acting benzodiazepines are used for anxiety. However, this difference is not clear-cut – drugs for anxiety will help you sleep if you take them at night, and sleeping pills will calm you if you take them during the day.

The different benzodiazepines used for anxiety and sleeping problems are listed in the tables below. All drugs are listed under the generic names, with the trade names in brackets afterwards. All the tablet versions contain lactose.

"Everyone is different and different medications work differently for different people. Lorazepam suited me at the time I was in crisis, and diazepam suits me better in the longer term."

Overview of benzodiazepines mainly used for anxiety

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Long-acting drugs

Generic name

Trade names

Form

Half-life

Dietary considerations

chlordiazepoxide

Librium

Tropium

  • capsules
  • tablets

5–30 hours

(36–200 hours*)

  • contains lactose

diazepam

Dialar

Diazemuls

Diazepam RecTubes

Rimapam

Stesolid

Tensium

Valclair

  • tablets
  • oral liquid
  • injectable liquid
  • rectal tubes
  • suppositories

20–100 hours

(36–200 hours*)

  • tablets contain lactose

Short-acting drugs

alprazolam

Xanax

  • tablets

6–12 hours

  • contains lactose

lorazepam

Ativan

  • tablets
  • injectable liquid

10–20 hours

  • tablets contain lactose

oxazepam

none

  • tablets

4–15 hours

  • contains lactose

* This refers to the half-life of the active metabolite (the substance the drug turns into) in the body, which has the therapeutic effect.

Overview of benzodiazepines mainly used as sleeping pills

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Long-acting drugs

Generic name

Trade names

Form

Half-life

Dietary considerations

flurazepam

Dalmane

  • capsules

(40–250 hours*)

  • contains lactose

nitrazepam

Mogadon

  • tablets

15–38 hours

  • contains lactose

Short-acting drugs

loprazolam

 

  • tablets

6–12 hours

  • contains lactose

lormetazepam

Dormagen

  • tablets

10–12 hours

  • contains lactose

temazepam

 

  • tablets
  • oral liquid

8–22 hours

  • tablets contain lactose

* This refers to the half-life of the active metabolite (the substance the drug turns into) in the body, which has the therapeutic effect.

Note: flunitrazepam (Rohypnol) and chlorazepate (Tranxene) have been taken off the market in the UK but may still be available through unregulated sources.

This information was published in August 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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