The Long-Term Use of Benzodiazepines versus Plant-based Alternatives: Advantages, Drawbacks, and Health Consequences

The Long-Term Use of Benzodiazepines versus Plant-based Alternatives: Advantages, Drawbacks, and Health Consequences


Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax (alprazolam), are a class of medications commonly prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, and other related conditions. While these medications can provide significant short-term relief, their long-term use presents various advantages and drawbacks, particularly concerning brain health. This blog post will delve into the long-term effects of benzodiazepine use and explore safer, plant-based alternatives like Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, and Valerian root.

Advantages of Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are highly effective for the short-term management of anxiety, panic disorders, and insomnia. They work by enhancing the effect of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which produces a calming effect. This makes them useful for:

  1. Rapid Relief: Benzodiazepines can quickly alleviate acute anxiety and panic attacks.
  2. Insomnia Treatment: These medications can help individuals who struggle with severe insomnia by inducing sleep.
  3. Seizure Control: Some benzodiazepines are used to control seizures in epilepsy.
  4. Muscle Relaxation: They can help relax muscle tension and spasms.

Drawbacks of Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use

Despite their advantages, benzodiazepines have significant drawbacks when used long-term:

  1. Tolerance and Dependence: Over time, the body can develop a tolerance to benzodiazepines, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effect. This can lead to physical dependence and addiction.
  2. Cognitive Impairment: Long-term use is associated with cognitive decline, including memory problems, reduced attention, and impaired learning ability.
  3. Withdrawal Symptoms: Discontinuing benzodiazepines after long-term use can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, insomnia, tremors, and, in extreme cases, seizures.
  4. Risk of Falls and Accidents: Benzodiazepines can impair coordination and balance, increasing the risk of falls and accidents, particularly in older adults.
  5. Emotional Blunting: Chronic use can lead to emotional blunting or apathy, where individuals may feel emotionally numb or less responsive to positive experiences.

Long-Term Health Consequences on the Brain

The long-term use of benzodiazepines can have several adverse effects on brain health:

  1. Structural Changes: Studies have shown that chronic use can lead to structural changes in the brain, particularly in areas associated with cognition and memory, such as the hippocampus.
  2. Increased Risk of Dementia: Long-term use of benzodiazepines has been linked to an increased risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older adults.
  3. Neurotransmitter Imbalance: Prolonged use can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, potentially leading to long-lasting changes in mood and behavior.

Safer Alternatives: Plant-Based Adaptogens

Given the potential risks associated with long-term benzodiazepine use, exploring safer alternatives is crucial. Plant-based adaptogens like Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, and Valerian Root offer promising benefits for managing anxiety and stress without the severe side effects associated with benzodiazepines.


Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an ancient medicinal herb known for its adaptogenic properties, which help the body cope with stress.


  1. Anxiety Reduction: Research has shown that ashwagandha can significantly reduce anxiety levels. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that it effectively reduced stress and anxiety symptoms in adults.
  2. Cognitive Enhancement: Ashwagandha has been shown to improve cognitive function, memory, and attention in various studies, making it a potential alternative for those seeking mental clarity without the cognitive decline associated with benzodiazepines.
  3. Neuroprotection: Some studies suggest that ashwagandha may have neuroprotective properties, potentially protecting against neurodegenerative diseases.


  1. Mild Side Effects: Some individuals may experience mild side effects like stomach upset, diarrhea, or drowsiness.
  1. Interactions with Medications: Ashwagandha can interact with certain medications. (We always recommend checking with your Primary Care Physician)


Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is another Adaptogenic herb known for its ability to enhance resilience to stress.


  1. Stress Reduction: Rhodiola has been shown to reduce symptoms of stress and fatigue. A study in Phytomedicine found that it significantly decreased stress symptoms in individuals experiencing burnout.
  2. Cognitive Improvement: It may enhance cognitive function, particularly during stressful periods. Research indicates that Rhodiola can improve concentration and reduce mental fatigue.
  3. Mood Stabilization: Rhodiola has antidepressant properties and can help stabilize mood by influencing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.


  1. Mild Side Effects: Some users may experience dry mouth or headaches.
  2. Limited Long-Term Data: While short-term use appears safe, more research is needed on the long-term effects of Rhodiola.

Valerian Root

Valerian Root (Valeriana officinalis) is commonly used for its sedative and anxiolytic effects.


  1. Anxiety and Insomnia Relief: Valerian root is widely used to reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality. A study in the American Journal of Medicine found it to be effective in treating insomnia without the side effects of prescription sleep aids.
  2. Natural Sedative: It acts as a natural sedative, helping to calm the nervous system and promote relaxation.


  1. Potential Interactions: Valerian root can interact with other sedative medications and should be used cautiously. (We always recommend checking with your Primary Care Physician)


While benzodiazepines like Xanax offer immediate relief for anxiety and insomnia, their long-term use poses significant risks, particularly to brain health. Tolerance, dependence, cognitive impairment, and increased risk of dementia are serious concerns that necessitate the exploration of safer alternatives.

Plant-based adaptogens such as Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, and Valerian Root present promising options. When considering a transition from benzodiazepines to adaptogens, these natural remedies offer benefits in managing anxiety and stress without the severe side effects associated with benzodiazepines. Embracing these natural alternatives can pave the way for better long-term health outcomes and a more balanced, holistic approach to well-being. 

Created by: Joseph Caruso


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