Stressful situations are usually associated with feelings of anxiety. Up to the 1960s anxiety was treated with drugs from the barbiturate family. Although these could be effective, barbiturates are lethal in overdose and also produce high levels of physical dependency. In the 1960s a class of drugs called the benzodiazepines (also known as BZs) was introduced, and these rapidly took over from the barbiturates in the treatment of stress and anxiety.
Benzodiazepines have become the most prescribed of the drugs used to treat clinical disorders. The best-known examples of these drugs are Librium, Valium and Mogadon. One reason for the popularity of this group is that some benzodiazepines such as Librium and Valium can be effective anti-anxiety drugs (or anxiolytics), while others such as Mogadon are effective sleeping pills.
Benzodiazepines act in the brain. They increase the action of the neurotransmitter GABA; GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter meaning that its role is to reduce the activity of other neurotransmitter pathways throughout the brain. By increasing the inhibitory action of GABA, benzodiazepines therefore produces greater inhibition of neurotransmitter activity in the brain, and there is some evidence that the inhibition of noradrenaline and serotonin is particularly important…