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What are benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines (benzos) are a type of sedative medicine that can be helpful for the short-term management of symptoms of anxiety and insomnia.

Examples of benzos include diazepam (Valium®), alprazolam (Xanax®), chlordiazepoxide (Librium®) and lorazepam (Ativan®).

Benzodiazepines can be legally obtained by a prescription, but if illegally sourced, then unregulated supplies mean that people may not always know exactly what they are taking when it is bought on the street or on the internet.

Side effects and risks

Usually, the side effects of benzos include feeling drowsy or disinhibited, which can also lead some people to take more risks.

If benzos are mixed with other substances or medicines which also cause drowsiness – such as alcohol, gabapentinoids (pregabalin and gabapentin) or opioids – they can cause slow and ineffective breathing (respiratory depression) which can be fatal. The number of deaths related to benzos has increased significantly in recent years.

Long term use of these medicines can cause the slowing of connections made between mental and muscle functions (cognitive and psychomotor impairment).

If used regularly, they may not work as well because people become tolerant to them: they may need a higher dose to get the same effect.

Dependence and addiction can also occur, and people may find it difficult to stop taking them. Withdrawal symptoms may be dangerous if someone who is dependent suddenly stops taking them so if this is thought to be an issue then medical advice should be sought.

The safest option is not to use drugs, but if you do choose to take benzodiazepines, here is some advice on how to stay safer:

  • Start low and go slow. Begin with a small amount, such as half a tablet, and wait at least an hour before taking more.
  • If things go wrong, get help straight away. If you are honest about what you think has been taken, it will be easier to get the right medical help fast.
  • Avoid mixing with other drugs, especially depressants like alcohol and opioids, as this can be fatal.
  • Avoid using alone. Try to be with people that you know well and trust in a safe environment, especially if it’s your first time.
  • Look after your friends. If they’re sleeping or unconscious, put them in the recovery position to prevent the risk of choking on vomit.

Our free, confidential and non-judgemental service in Bradford can support you if you want to stop taking benzodiazepines. Contact us today.