The benzodiazepines are still extensively used in psychiatry, neurology and medicine in general. Anxiety disorder and severe insomnia are important syndromal indications, but these drugs are widely prescribed at the symptomatic level, resulting in potential overuse. The official data sheets recommend short durations of usage and conservative dosage. Although short-term efficacy is established, long-term efficacy remains controversial, as relevant data are scanty and relapse, rebound and dependence on withdrawal not clearly distinguished. The risks of the benzodiazepines are well-documented and comprise psychological and physical effects. Among the former are subjective sedation, paradoxical release of anxiety and/or hostility, psychomotor impairment, memory disruption, and risks of accidents. Physical effects include vertigo, dysarthria, ataxia with falls, especially in the elderly. Dependence can supervene on long-term use, occasionally with dose escalation. The benzodiazepines are now recognised as major drugs of abuse and addiction. Other drug and non-drug therapies are available and have a superior risk benefit ratio in long-term use. It is concluded that benzodiazepines should be reserved for short-term use--up to 4 weeks--and in conservative dosage.