Let’s settle this confusion once and for all – benzodiazepines versus barbiturates. How are these two anti-anxiety medications the same and how are they different?
Benzodiazepines and barbiturates are given for the same things:
- Reduction of client’s anxiety
- Decreases blood pressure
- Decreases heart rate
- Decreases respiratory rate
- Acts on the central nervous system (CNS)
Take note: benzodiazepines and barbiturates are not opioid receptor pain blockers. Therefore, they do not necessarily block pain.
Benzodiazepines and barbiturates mechanism of actions are entirely different. How?
- Benzodiazepines – acts fast, has a quick half-life, and is excreted from the body quickly
- Barbiturates – longer duration, has high concentration, stays in the body for two to three days; sometimes, it extends up to five days
Take note: Regarding addiction, clients have a higher propensity to get addicted to barbiturates than benzodiazepines.
How does one identify benzodiazepines from barbiturates?
Think of benzodiazepines as a Mercedes Benz – flashy, high-end, fast car. When you have a Benz, you’re typically living a high-profile life with two women riding the fast life – Pam and Lam. This is how you remember the basics of benzodiazepines.
“-Pam” and “-Lam” are usually the two suffixes of benzodiazepines with medications like:
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Diazepam (Valium)
Benzodiazepines = Mercedes Benz = fast life with two women (Pam and Lam)
Benzodiazepines are usually given to clients with high anxiety or those who come in having a seizure. Lorazepam (Ativan) will act on the neurotransmitters and sedates the brain.
Barbiturates act on the central nervous system (CNS), specifically on the GABA alpha receptors.
Barbie behind bars = Barbie is for your “-barbital” while bars or jail is for your time span since barbiturates have a longer duration (three to five days) before it gets expelled from the system. Overdosing and addiction are primary concerns for this kind of medication.
“-Barbital” is the known suffix of barbiturates with medications like:
Barbiturates (-barbital) = Barbie behind bars = long duration
GABA the Controller
A little bit about GABA and how it is primarily involved in your benzodiazepines and barbiturates. Basically, you just have to remember this:
GABA receptor = controls conscious thoughts (rational thinking)
Barbiturates act on the GABA alpha receptors the same way alcohol does. Alcohol affects GABA because it is considered as a depressant; affecting the neurotransmitters that excites and inhibits. On the other hand, benzodiazepines acts on the same GABA receptors but at a different receptor site.
What We’ve Learned So Far
- Benzodiazepines and barbiturates act as CNS depressants, so you have to be mindful of your blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate.
- Benzodiazepines (Mercedes Benz) live a fast life with Pam and Lam (suffixes).
- Barbiturates (Barbie behind bars) has “-barbital” as a suffix and last three to five days.
- Clients taking barbiturates have a higher propensity to addiction and toxicity.
Hopefully, this helped straighten out your confusion between these two medications.
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