Benzodiazepine drugs can be effective at reducing anxiety but they can also prove addictive.
A popular form of anxiety drugs use the same potentially addictive ‘reward pathways’ in the brain as heroin and cannabis, scientists have warned. Researchers from Switzerland and the U.S found benzodiazepine drugs such as Valium and Xanax exert a calming effect by boosting the action of a neurotransmitter.
This in turn activates the gratification hormone, dopamine, in the brain, and is the same ‘reward pathway’ activated by some illegal drugs.
The findings may help in developing a next generation of non-addictive benzodiazepines, they wrote in the journal Nature.
Roche’s drug Valium, known generically as diazepam, is the best known of the benzodiazepine class of drugs, and is prescribed on the NHS.
It and Ativan were among a host of other prescription drugs found in the blood of American pop star Michael Jackson when he died in June last year.
The study found that benzodiazepines seemed to work by binding to a particular part of the neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid.
The findings show that developing similar benzodiazepines that bind to a different part may offer the same drug benefits without the addictive side effects, they said.
A study published earlier this month found that people with higher levels of dopamine in the brain tend to be more prone to addictive behavior.
Drug companies have been trying for some time to develop next-generation benzodiazepines by tweaking their chemical make-up to deliver a more selective effect that avoids unwanted side effects, but it has so far proved an uphill struggle.
German scientists conducting early research into a new compound said last year they thought they may have found a better anxiety drug which could counteract panic attacks without the side effects of existing drugs.
Via Daily Mail