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What Is the Antidote for Benzodiazepines?

By S. Berger
Updated: Feb 12, 2024

Benzodiazepines are a class of medication used for treating anxiety, insomnia, and other medical conditions. Dangerous side effects, such as coma or death, can result from taking too high of a dose of these drugs, or from interactions with other depressants, including alcohol. Sometimes, the drug flumazenil is used as an antidote for benzodiazepines. This compound is used as a means of reversing many of the effects of benzodiazepines.

Overdoses of these depressant medications may require that people be supplied with artificial respiration and other medical measures until their effects subside. Studies at the York Hospital of Pennsylvania in the US have shown that providing this antidote for benzodiazepines can sometimes negate the need for these medical procedures. Often, flumazenil is administered as an intravenous (IV) injection when it is provided as an antidote for benzodiazepines. After an IV dose of this drug is given, it usually starts to take effect after one to two minutes. Full responses to this medication can generally be seen after ten minutes, although the total length of its effects depends on its dose, as well as the amount of depressants that were taken.

Flumazenil can be used as an antidote for benzodiazepines based on the way that it operates in the body. Benzodiazepines bind to cellular sites, called receptors, that are involved in the transmission of inhibitory messages in the brain. When administered, flumazenil can compete with the depressants for receptors, and bind to them, preventing benzodiazepines from binding and taking effect. In a sufficient dose, this antidote can reverse the effects of a large amount of benzodiazepines.

Like most drugs, this antidote for benzodiazepines can have a number of side effects. Seizures can sometimes occur with flumazenil administration, and there is a greater danger of this effect among individuals that have taken a certain type of antidepressants, known as tricyclics. Researchers in Israel have indicated that dangerous side effects can often be avoided when this antidote is provided at a slow rate.

Many times, a doctor or medical professional is consulted before this antidote is used; individuals with certain medical conditions, like tachycardia, may be more likely to experience unpleasant, even harmful, side effects. A professional may also monitor the individual's response to flumazenil and determine whether more of this antidote may be needed. Flumazenil often wears off within an hour, and a professional can also monitor vital signs to decide if, or when, to provide another dose.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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