Diazepam - a benzodiazepine

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Taking diazepam will make you feel sleepy. It will also increase the time it takes for you to react and may impair your judgement. If this happens, do not drive or use tools or machines.

Do not drink alcohol while you are on diazepam. It will increase the risk of side-effects.

It is not normally prescribed for longer than 2-4 weeks.

Type of medicineBenzodiazepine
Used forAnxiety and insomnia (2-4 weeks only)
Convulsions caused by epilepsy or fever
To relax muscle spasms
As a pre-med before surgery
Alongside other treatments in alcohol withdrawal
Also calledDiazemuls® (injection), and Stesolid® (rectal tubes)
Available asTablets, oral liquid, rectal tubes, and injection

Benzodiazepines like diazepam are prescribed for short periods to ease symptoms of anxiety and difficulties sleeping. Diazepam works by affecting the way some chemicals in your brain (neurotransmitters) pass messages to certain brain cells. It has a calming effect on various functions of your brain.

Diazepam is sometimes used for other reasons too. It is given as a pre-med to reduce anxiety before an operation, particularly during procedures that may cause anxiety or discomfort. It is occasionally used to treat muscle spasm, and also to treat fits caused by epilepsy or fever. Rectal diazepam tubes may be prescribed for this, as they are useful if a quick effect is needed or if it is not possible to give the medicine by mouth.

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start taking diazepam it is important that your doctor or pharmacist knows:

  • If you are pregnant, trying for a baby or breast-feeding.
  • If you have any breathing problems or sleep apnoea (a problem where you stop breathing for short periods at night).
  • If you have liver or kidney problems.
  • If you have a mental health problem, such as a personality disorder.
  • If you have ever had a drug or alcohol addiction.
  • If you have severe muscle weakness such as in myasthenia gravis.
  • If you have porphyria (a rare inherited blood disorder).
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.
  • If you are taking or using any other medicines. This includes any medicines you are taking which are available to buy without a prescription, such as herbal and complementary medicines.
  • Before you start this treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside your pack. The leaflet will give you more information about diazepam and a full list of side-effects which you may experience from taking it.
  • Your doctor will tell you how much to take and when to take it. Your dose will also be on the label of the pack to remind you. Take it exactly as your doctor tells you to. As a guide, if you are taking it for anxiety, you will probably be prescribed three doses to take a day. If you are taking it because you are having difficulty sleeping, you will be prescribed a dose to take at bedtime only.
  • Swallow the tablets with a drink of water. You can take them before or after food.
  • If you forget to take a dose, take it when you remember. If it is almost time to take your next dose, skip the missed dose and take your next dose when it is due. Do not take two doses together to make up for a forgotten dose.
  • If you (or your child) have been prescribed diazepam rectal tubes, read the instructions on the label as soon as you collect your supply to make sure you know how to use them.
  • Try to keep your regular appointments with your doctor. This is so your doctor can check on your progress.
  • Taking diazepam will increase the time it takes for you to react and may impair your judgement. Because of this, it is likely that your ability to drive will be affected. You may also still feel sleepy the following day. Do not drive or use tools or machines if this happens to you.
  • Do not drink alcohol while you are on diazepam. It will increase the risk of side-effects.
  • Diazepam is only recommended for a maximum period of four weeks. This is because your body gets used to it quickly and after this time it is unlikely to have the same effect. Your body can also become dependent on it when it is taken for longer than this.
  • If you are having an operation or dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment that you are taking diazepam. This is because diazepam increases the effects of some anaesthetics.
  • Your doctor may recommend that you reduce your dose of diazepam gradually when it is time to stop taking it. This is to reduce the risk of you experiencing withdrawal effects. Follow carefully any instructions your doctor gives to you.
  • If you buy any medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are safe to take with diazepam.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. These usually improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following side-effects continue or become troublesome.

Common diazepam side-effects
What can I do if I experience this?
Feeling sleepy, weak, or light-headed (this may continue into the following day)Do not drive or use tools or machines. Do not drink alcohol
Forgetfulness, feeling confused or unsteadyIf these become troublesome, speak with your doctor
Feeling (or being) aggressiveThis can happen in some people - let your doctor know about it as soon as possible

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to this medicine, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.

Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital at once. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.

This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.

Do not keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.

If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Helen Huins
Document ID:
3525 (v23)
Last Checked:
Next Review:
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