What are Benzodiazepines?

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines belong to a group of drugs known as depressants. Other drugs that are also depressants include alcohol, cannabis and heroin. The term “depressant” does not necessarily mean that these types of drugs make a person feel depressed. Rather, the term refers to how they affect the central nervous system by slowing down its activity.

These minor tranquillisers are often prescribed by doctors as an aid to stress and anxiety relief and to help people sleep. Medical professionals have been concerned for a while about the long-term risks of dependency for those that take these drugs.

Abuse of benzodiazepines is also a problem. Many drug users take them to help with the “come down” after taking cocaine or speed.

Types of Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are classified into three types – short, intermediate and long-acting. It is the shorter acting type that are hardest to “come down” from. They also tend to be more addictive than the longer acting Benzodiazepines.

Pharmaceutical Names of Benzodiazepines

Generally, these types of drugs will have a generic, or chemical name and a brand name. In each instance, the drugs will be identical, although they may often be produced by different manufacturers. Some of the more popular benzodiazepines include:

How Are They Used?

Benzodiazepines are normally swallowed.In some cases, they can also be injected.

The danger of benzodiazepine use lies in the abuse and addiction potential. It is common for individuals to increase their dosage and frequency of use without consulting a healthcare professional. This can lead to physical dependence and tolerance. Over time, people may find it difficult to function without taking the drug, and they may experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop.

Furthermore, benzodiazepines are often abused in combination with other substances, such as opioids or alcohol, which can lead to deadly consequences. The sedative properties of benzodiazepines amplify the effects of other drugs, leading to respiratory depression, coma, and death.

Abusing benzodiazepines can also have long-term effects on a person’s mental health. Chronic benzodiazepine use has been linked to memory and cognitive problems, depression, and anxiety. In some cases, individuals may experience paradoxical effects, where the drug causes the opposite of the intended effect, such as increased anxiety or agitation

Effects of Benzodiazepines

These drugs affect people in different ways. Some common effects include:

  • Feelings of euphoria or isolation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Slurred speech
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Headache
  • Fatigue and drowsiness.
  • Constipation or diarrhoea

In large quantities, other experiences may include

  • Sleep
  • Excitability
  • Aggression and changes of mood
  • Slow breathing
  • Coma
  • Death (normally when taken with alcohol)

Long-term effects

Use of benzodiazepines on a regular basis may result in:

  • Memory loss or muddled thinking
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Aggression, irritability and paranoia
  • Changes in personality
  • Lethargy
  • Poor sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Weight gain
  • Addiction

Using Benzodiazepines With Other Drugs

Taking benzodiazepines with other drugs is highly dangerous and may result in breathing difficulties and an increased risk of overdose and death.

Most commonly, benzodiazepines are mixed with alcohol or opioids, such as heroin or prescription painkillers. This combination depresses the central nervous system and can lead to respiratory depression, coma, and death. It is important to always disclose all medications and substances being taken to healthcare providers to avoid these deadly interactions. If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, call emergency services immediately.


It is not easy to give up benzodiazepines. Once your body gets used to them, the withdrawal can be painful as your body must come to terms with functioning without them. It is always important to seek proper medical advice if you are considering giving up benzodiazepine use.

The symptoms of withdrawal can vary from person to person but can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Achy muscles
  • Stomach pains and nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue and problems with sleep
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety, hallucinations and paranoia

A Hidden UK Crisis in Tranquilliser Abuse

The UK is now seeing an unprecedented rise in prescription drug addictions, according to feedback from drug counsellors, charity workers and doctors.

Data released in the summer of 2018 showed a spike in fatalities in Scotland linked to Alprazolam, the benzodiazepine tranquilliser used to medicate panic disorders and anxiety, and marketed under the trade name Xanax.

Between 2007 and 2015, deaths rose from just a few to two in 2015. In 2016, 24 deaths were recorded, then 99 fatalities in 2017. Benzodiazepine-related deaths rose from 192 in 2015 to 431 in 2016 and 555 last year.

Benzodiazepines & The Law

Tranquillisers are controlled under Class C of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Unauthorised possession (i.e. without a prescription) could result in a prison sentence of up to 2 years and an unlimited fine.

Supplying, which includes giving some to your friends, could mean up to 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine.

Photo Credit: “To Sleep Forevermore.” (CC BY 2.0) by Dean812

Zoom Testing is a leading UK drug testing company and a supplier of Drug Test Kits.

This post was originally published in 2014. It was last updated in June 2023.

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