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What Are the Side Effects of Taking Halcion?

Halcion doesn’t generally cause serious side effects when used only as prescribed and for a short time, although in rare cases, it can. When used long term or abused, the chance of a serious issue occurring increases substantially.

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Why Is Halcion Used?

Triazolam, sold under the brand name Halcion, is a benzodiazepine used as a short-term treatment for insomnia. Benzodiazepines slow down activity in the brain, and when used as intended, they can serve a variety of useful medical purposes due to this property. 

However, benzodiazepines are also sedative. When used in doses that are higher than prescribed, they can cause a euphoric high. Benzodiazepines have at least moderate potential for abuse and addiction, and they will generally cause physical dependence if used for too long, even if used only as prescribed. 

Halcion’s Side Effects

In a study of more than 1,000 people taking Halcion, the most troublesome side effects included drowsiness, dizziness, and lightheadedness. This table demonstrates all of the recorded side effects and the percentage of participants who experienced them:

Side Effect% of People Experiencing It
Drowsiness14%
Headache9.7%
Dizziness7.8%
Nervousness5.2%
Lightheadedness4.9%
Coordination problems4.6%
Nausea or vomiting4.6%
EuphoriaLess than 1%
TachycardiaLess than 1%
TirednessLess than 1%
ConfusionLess than 1%
PainLess than 1%
DepressionLess than 1%
Visual disturbancesLess than 1%
ConstipationLess than 0.5%
Taste alterationsLess than 0.5%
DiarrheaLess than 0.5%
Dry mouthLess than 0.5%
DermatitisLess than 0.5%
NightmaresLess than 0.5%
InsomniaLess than 0.5%
ParesthesiaLess than 0.5%
TinnitusLess than 0.5%
DysesthesiaLess than 0.5%
WeaknessLess than 0.5%
CongestionLess than 0.5%

Halcion can also cause people to do things like driving a car, talking on the phone, or making food while they’re asleep. People may not remember doing these things the next day.

How to Manage Halcion Side Effects

The FDA says people should call their doctors immediately if they engage in activities (like driving) while they’re asleep. You may need a different medication to treat your insomnia.

While it’s rare, some people develop severe allergic reactions to Halcion. Go to the emergency room immediately if your tongue swells, you feel queasy, and you have trouble breathing.

If other side effects are so bothersome that they interfere with your everyday life, talk with your doctor. Quitting Halcion suddenly can lead to withdrawal symptoms, so don’t quit the drug without asking your doctor first.

Halcion Drug Interactions

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration lists four different classifications of substances that can interact with Halcion. Before you start taking this medication, your doctor should ensure that you’re not using any of these other substances.

Central Nervous System Depressants

Halcion can slow breathing rates, even when it’s used alone. Combining it with other substances that also slow breathing can lead to life-threatening complications or death. Common central nervous system depressants to avoid include the following:

  • Opioid painkillers (like Vicodin and OxyContin)
  • Alcohol
  • Antihistamines
  • Anticonvulsants

Known Cytochrome P450 3A Inhibitors

Your body needs cytochrome P450 3A to properly metabolize the Halcion doses you take. Some drugs suppress your body’s ability to produce this cytochrome, allowing toxic amounts of Halcion to build up inside your body. Drugs in this class include the following:

  • Ketoconazole
  • Itraconazole
  • Nefazodone
  • Some HIV protease inhibitors
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Diltiazem
  • Verapamil
  • Sertraline
  • Paroxetine
  • Ergotamine
  • Cyclosporine
  • Amiodarone
  • Nicardipine
  • Nifedipine

Suspected Known Cytochrome P450 3A Inhibitors

Some substances may reduce your ability to produce cytochrome P450 3A, but they’re not explicitly banned. Instead, doctors are encouraged to use them with caution in people taking Halcion. Substances in this class include the following:

  • Isoniazid
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Grapefruit juice

Histamine Blockers

The drug ranitidine can increase Halcion concentrations in the bloodstream and increase how long it stays inside the body. Doctors are encouraged to use this drug with caution in people taking Halcion.

Halcion & Addiction

While the rate of benzodiazepine use in the United States is fairly high, the rate of benzodiazepine use disorder, often just called benzodiazepine addiction, is comparatively low, with fewer than 2 percent of people who use benzodiazepines (including those who misuse benzodiazepines) having a benzodiazepine use disorder according to 2015–2016 surveys.

The exact nature of benzodiazepine addiction isn’t fully understood, with some factors (such as sex and various other potential items that may contribute to one’s risk of addiction) still warranting more research. 

What is known is that people tend to develop some level of physical dependence on benzodiazepines if they use them for longer than around 10 days, and dependence can often significantly increase a person’s risk of drug abuse and addiction. Prescribers usually use benzodiazepines only as a short-term solution for this reason unless no valid medical alternatives exist to meet a patient’s needs.

Signs & Symptoms of Halcion Abuse

Halcion abuse, which is distinct from addiction (although people addicted to a drug also generally abuse it), is intentionally taking Halcion for a nonmedical purpose. This will generally be to experience a sedative, euphoric high. 

The abuse of benzodiazepines generally occurs as part of polysubstance abuse, meaning a person abuses the drugs in combination with other drugs, most commonly opioids and/or alcohol. People may do this to enhance the euphoric high they achieve, or they may want to reduce unwanted effects of their drug use, such as using benzodiazepines to reduce the insomnia that using a stimulant drug like cocaine might cause. 

Polysubstance abuse has the potential to be very dangerous. The mixture of various drugs can cause certain effects to stack and become stronger, such as increasing the amount of respiratory depression a person experiences. Overdose is much more likely with polysubstance abuse.

Some short-term symptoms likely to occur as a result of Halcion abuse include the following:

  • Euphoric high
  • Potentially severe drowsiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Poor coordination
  • Nausea and potentially vomiting

These symptoms will also stack or potentially be masked by the effects of other drugs if a person is engaging in polydrug use. 

Signs & Symptoms of Halcion Addiction

A person is considered to be addicted to benzodiazepines if they are evaluated by a qualified professional to have experienced at least two of the following over a 12-month period:

  • Took more benzodiazepines or took them over a longer period than intended
  • Had a persistent desire or made unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control their drug use
  • Felt cravings or a strong desire to use benzodiazepines
  • Engaged in recurrent drug use that caused a failure to fulfill a major role in meeting important obligations, like those at school, work, or home
  • Gave up or reduced engagement in social, occupational, or recreational activities due to drug use
  • Engaged in recurrent drug use in physically hazardous situations
  • Continued drug use despite knowing the physical and psychological problems likely to occur or worsen due to that use
  • Developed a tolerance to benzodiazepines
  • Experienced withdrawal as a result of trying to stop or reduce benzodiazepine use

More generally, a person likely has an issue worth discussing with a medical professional if they engage in any drug use that is likely or currently impacting their health or quality of life but cannot stop that use on their own. Even if you’re unsure if you have experienced at least two of the above, it’s still worth talking to an addiction treatment professional if you think you may have a problem.

Side Effect, Abuse, or Addiction?

Halcion is capable of causing three very different types of symptoms. They’re not exclusive (meaning you can have all of them at the same time), but understanding their differences could help to keep you safe.

This comparison chart can make the three issues easier to understand:

 Typical SymptomsWhen Does it Develop?How Is It Treated?
Side effectDrowsiness, dizziness, headache, and loss of coordinationImmediatelyDose reductions or switch to a different medication
AbuseTaking more than your doctor recommends; taking the drug without a prescriptionVaries, but is most common in people with a history of drug abuseDose tapers and counseling
AddictionSpending the majority of your time getting or taking drugs, feeling consumed with thoughts of drugs, and continued use despite the consequencesRepeated doses of drugsDrug detox followed by rehabilitation programs

Effects of Taking Halcion Long Term

Abusing Halcion or other benzodiazepines can have a number of long-term health effects, including these:

Physical Effects

The regular use of Halcion or any other benzodiazepine is likely to cause physical dependence, where the brain adapts to the regular presence of a drug. This will cause a person to experience benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome if they stop taking benzodiazepines or reduce their benzodiazepine use. 

Withdrawal is characterized by symptoms like these:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Heart palpitations 
  • Panic attacks
  • Hand tremors
  • Increased anxiety
  • Muscle pain and stiffness
  • Nausea 
  • Perceptual changes
  • Sleep problems, such as insomnia
  • Excessive sweating
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss

As someone continues to abuse benzodiazepines, their risk of eventually experiencing a potentially life-threatening overdose rises. This is especially true if they regularly engage in polydrug use. The most common effect of benzodiazepines that can cause problems is their ability to cause respiratory depression, the weakening of a person’s breathing. This is much more likely if people take benzodiazepines with alcohol or opioids.

Long-term benzodiazepine use has been linked to an increased risk of hip fractures in older adults, especially in those over age 65.

Mental Effects

One symptom associated with continued benzodiazepine use is cognitive impairment. A person using benzodiazepines can experience drowsiness, longer reaction times, ataxia, poor motor coordination, and issues related to their memory. 

This also significantly increases one’s risk of a motor vehicle crash and similar incidents. The increased risk is roughly equivalent to the risks involved with a BAC between 0.05 percent and 0.079 percent. 

Emotional Effects

Although rare, the use of benzodiazepines can sometimes cause serious side effects, including feelings of aggression, strange changes to behavior, hallucinations, new or worsening depression, and even thoughts of self-harm and suicide. Talk to a doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms, even if you are only using these drugs as prescribed.

Updated February 14, 2024
Resources
  1. Benzodiazepine Overdose. (August 2019). BMJ Best Practice.
  2. Benzodiazepine Use, Misuse, and Abuse: A Review. (June 2016). The Mental Health Clinician.
  3. National Health Statistics Reports. (January 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  4. Research Suggests Benzodiazepine Use Is High While Use Disorder Rates Are Low. (October 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  5. Risks Associated with Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use. (2013). American Family Physician.
  6. The Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome. (1994). Addiction.
  7. Triazolam. (May 2021). National Library of Medicine.
  8. Benzodiazepines: Uses, Dangers, and Clinical Considerations. (November 2021). Neurology International.
  9. Challenges of the Pharmacological Management of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal, Dependence, and Discontinuation. (May 2018). Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology.
  10. Halcion. (September 2016). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
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