Benzodiazepines must only be prescribed for the short-term relief (2-4 weeks only) of severe anxiety that is stopping or causing the person unacceptable distress, or in association with acute insomnia, or short term psychosomatic, organic, or psychotic illness. The use of benzodiazepines to treat mild anxiety is not recommended.
Benzodiazepines, also known as tranquillisers, are the most prescribed sedative drugs. They may be short or long acting. Short acting forms such as temazepam and Rohypnol are used as sleeping tablets (hypnotics) while longer acting forms, such as lorazepam and diazepam, are used in the management of anxiety (anxiolytics). These drugs begin to work within 30-90 minutes so they are useful for the quick relief of severe anxiety symptoms.
Other medical uses for benzodiazepines include as a muscle relaxant, as a pre-operative relaxant, for epilepsy, mental health disorders, and in treating alcohol and opiate withdrawal.
Diazepam is the most widely used benzodiazepine in the UK. In addition to prescribed medical use, benzodiazepines are also used recreationally in the UK.