Benzodiazepines vs. Barbiturates

What is the difference between benzodiazepines and barbiturates? They both start with the letter B and they are both highly addictive drugs. Benzodiazepines and barbiturates are both in different classes of drugs that causes the same symptoms. Both drugs affect the GABA.

They both decrease brain activity resulting in a calm and/or drowsy feeling. Both prescription medications have a high potential for abuse. Do not mix benzodiazepines or barbiturates with other CNS depressants, which could lead to death. It is essential to avoid alcohol and over-the-counter medications.

Benzodiazepines and barbiturates are not given to block out the pain. They are given for:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Affects the central nervous system

What is GABA?

GABA is gamma-aminobutyric acid, which is a natural inhibitory neurotransmitter. This is found in the brain. The GABA receptors primarily affect thoughts.

NCLEX Facts for Benzodiazepines and Barbiturates

The antidote for benzodiazepine overdose is flumazenil, which is administered intravenously.

Benzodiazepines acts quickly with a fast half-life. It can be excreted from the body quickly. It is like a Mercedes Benz as everything is very fast.

Barbiturates is as slow as a grandma named Barbara. It lasts longer in the body, which can last up to five days.

When using benzodiazepines and barbiturates, initiate seizure precautions, monitor urinary output, and signs of medication toxicity.

Do not take benzodiazepines or barbiturates when pregnant. They are category D drugs.


Benzodiazepines works on the neurotransmitters to communicate with GABA. GABA slows down the nerve activities, which in turn decreases anxiety.

Examples of Benzodiazepines (-am)

To remember that benzodiazepines usually end in -am, you drive your benz in the early a.m.

Diazepam (Valium)
Clorazepate (Tranxene)
Estazolam (Prosom)
Oxazepam (Serax)
Lorazepam (Ativan)
Alprazolam (Xanax)
Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)

Side Effects of Benzodiazepines

Sleep disturbance

Concerns of Benzodiazepines

Physical dependence can occur when taking benzodiazepines. Abruptly stopping benzodiazepines can cause withdrawal symptoms (agitation and insomnia). Suddenly stopping benzodiazepine therapy after months of using, severe symptoms can occur. These symptoms include seizures, tremors, sweating, and gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting and nausea). Benzodiazepines should be tapered slowly before abruptly stopping.

By combining benzodiazepines with other addicting drugs, drug abusers can get the ideal effect they seek. Fatal overdoses can occur.


Barbiturates affects the GABA alpha receptors, which causes the same effect as a depressant.

Physical dependence can occur with barbiturates and it can also cause bradypnea and bradycardia.

Examples of Barbiturates (-barbital)

Amobarbital (Amytal)
Mephobarbital (Mebaral)
Pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal)

Side Effects of Barbiturates

Gastrointestinal side effects (nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain)