Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that act on the central nervous system as a depressant that most people will recognize by their brand names; Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin and Valium. These drugs can be prescribed in their generic form and are used for treating anxiety, seizures and insomnia. What’s even scarier is that they are being prescribed at alarming rates.

Doctors prescriptions for benzodiazepines have more than tripled in the past several years and fatal overdoses have quadrupled between 1996 and 2013. Benzodiazepines have been so overly prescribed that they are not only the most commonly prescribed psychiatric medication, but also the most often prescribed medication in the United States. Nearly 50 million individuals have prescriptions for the more common types of benzodiazepines are written every year.

The benefits of benzodiazepines have been over exaggerated.  For decades, these drugs have been prescribed for sleep and anxiety. However, there is evidence to indicate they don’t always work as well and aren’t intended for long-term use. There have been studies that show over the long-term, benzodiazepines can increase the symptoms of anxiety. In many situations, it’s possible to both treat anxiety and sleep disorders without any medication, or at least not through prescribing benzodiazepines.

In addition to the dangers of overprescribing benzodiazepines, a person can develop a tolerance and dependence quickly. When someone has taken benzodiazepines for a long period of time and wishes to stop, it’s not unusual for them to experience withdrawal symptoms and sometimes they can be severe.

While it is important to treat anxiety, insomnia and seizures, it should be done after a physician has reviewed all the types of medication available. There are safer ways of treating people with these issues and this could include cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational therapy, group support and interpersonal counseling.

Even if you are not a person with a history of drug abuse, you would be well-advised to ask your doctor some questions before being prescribed benzodiazepines. With diligence, educating yourself and knowing your treatment options, you can avoid becoming addicted and being a statistic of benzodiazepine dependence.