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.

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What side effects can benzodiazepines cause?

The side effects listed below may be caused by any benzodiazepines. Everyone reacts to medication differently, so you may or may not experience them.

Most common:
  • drowsiness
  • light-headedness
  • confusion
  • unsteadiness (especially in older people, who may have falls and injure themselves as a result)
  • dizziness
  • slurred speech
  • muscle weakness
  • memory problems
  • constipation
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • dry mouth
  • blurred vision
Less common:
  • headaches
  • low blood pressure
  • increased saliva production
  • digestive disturbances
  • rashes
  • sight problems (such as double vision)
  • tremors (shaking)
  • changes in sexual desire
  • incontinence (loss of bladder control)
  • difficulty urinating
Also reported:
  • blood disorders
  • jaundice (yellow skin)
  • breast development in men

Memory problems

Benzodiazepines are associated with an inability to form new memories. Due to this, it is usually recommended that they should not be used for sleep unless you are sure of not being disturbed before you have had a full night's sleep (seven to eight hours).

Paradoxical effects

In some people, these drugs may cause effects which are the opposite of tranquillising and are therefore called 'paradoxical'. These may include:

  • increased anxiety
  • aggressive behaviour
  • agitation
  • delusions
  • depersonalisation (feeling detached from your surroundings)
  • depression
  • derealisation (feeling that your surroundings are not real)
  • hallucinations
  • inappropriate behaviour, with loss of normal inhibitions
  • irritability
  • nightmares
  • personality changes
  • psychoses
  • rages
  • restlessness
  • suicidal thoughts or behaviour.

These effects may occur with any benzodiazepine. They are more common in children and older people, and with short-acting drugs.

Effects of using them for a long time

If you take these drugs for more than two to four weeks, you may experience the following:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • feeling dulled and slow
  • feeling isolated and unreal
  • feeling cut off from your emotions
  • irritability and impatience
  • loss of confidence
  • weight problems
  • memory problems.

You may also experience withdrawal symptoms while you are still taking the drugs, or you may need to take a higher dose to achieve the same level of effectiveness as before.

Recently I had a tough time and would love to go back on diazepam to help me through it, but personally wouldn’t trust myself on it as I have a three-year-old son and I’m a single parent. I’m not sure I’d wake in the night or be able to function in the day.

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

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