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Review article: Biomedical intelligence

Vol. 141 No. 4142 (2011)

Is there a way to curb benzodiazepine addiction?

  • AL Lalive
  • U Rudolph
  • C Lüscher
  • KR Tan
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2011;141:w13277


Benzodiazepines are widely prescribed drugs used to treat anxiety and insomnia, induce muscle relaxation, control epileptic seizures, promote anaesthesia or produce amnesia. Benzodiazepines are also abused for recreational purposes and the number of benzodiazepine abusers is unfortunately increasing. Within weeks of chronic use, tolerance to the pharmacological effects can develop and withdrawal becomes apparent once the drug is no longer available, which are both conditions indicative of benzodiazepine dependence. Diagnosis of addiction (i.e. compulsive use despite negative consequences) may follow in vulnerable individuals. Here, we review the historical and current use of benzodiazepines from their original synthesis, discovery and commercialisation to the recent identification of the molecular mechanism by which benzodiazepines induce addiction. These results have identified the mechanisms underlying the activation of midbrain dopamine neurons by benzodiazepines, and how these drugs can hijack the mesocorticolimbic reward system. Such knowledge calls for future developments of new receptor subtype specific benzodiazepines with a reduced addiction liability.


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