This page will tell you about benzodiazepines, their side effects and risks, and how to stay safe while taking them.
Benzodiazepines are a group of sedative drugs. They can make you feel calm, relaxed and sleepy, but they can also make you confused and drowsy. They are sometimes known as ‘benzos’.
You can be prescribed benzodiazepines by a doctor to treat things like anxiety and insomnia. Sometimes they’re prescribed to help with seizures.
There are lots of different types of benzodiazepines and they’re sometimes known by different names. The most used benzodiazepine in the UK is diazepam (also known as Valium). Other types include midazolam, lorazepam, temazepam, flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), and alprazolam (Xanax).
Alprazolam (Xanax) isn’t available on an NHS prescription in the UK, but it is available privately.
Side effects and risks of benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines can have unpleasant or harmful side effects. You can even get these side effects if a doctor has prescribed them to you. Some of the main side effects and risks include:
They react badly with alcohol. Benzos and alcohol both affect your body in similar ways, so combining them can make their effects too strong and affect your breathing. Drinking and using benzos at the same time is very dangerous and can cause you to overdose.
They might not be what you think they are. ‘Street benzos’ are illegal or fake versions that people buy on the dark web or through social media. They can look exactly like real benzos, but they can be much stronger or mixed with other harmful substances.
They are sometimes used in sexual assaults. Because they can make you sleepy, drowsy and confused, benzos are sometimes used by people to commit sexual assaults. Rohypnol is used as a ‘date rape’ drug, but other benzos are sometimes used as well.
You can become dependent on them. Doctors will usually only prescribe benzodiazepines for short periods of time because it is easy to become dependent on them.
If you become dependent on them, stopping using them can be unpleasant. You can get withdrawal symptoms including anxiety, feeling sick, dizziness and headaches.
If you notice withdrawal symptoms when you are not taking benzodiazepines, please do not stop taking them suddenly. Get in touch with your local treatment service and speak to a doctor about safely reducing your use and stopping.
Keeping yourself safe
There are ways you can reduce the side effects and risks of benzodiazepines:
- If you’ve been prescribed benzodiazepines, take them exactly how you’ve been advised to by your doctor.
- Try not to take benzodiazepines for more than 4 weeks unless you have been advised to by a doctor.
- Be careful about the drowsiness and sleepiness they can cause. Avoid driving or doing any dangerous activities while you are using them.
- Avoid drinking alcohol while taking benzodiazepines. This can cause bad reactions and can be dangerous.
- Don’t stop taking them suddenly. This can cause unpleasant benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms and can even be dangerous. Always reduce how much you’re taking gradually with the help of a medical professional.
The best way to stay safe from ‘street benzos’ is to avoid them completely, but you might not always know that the benzodiazepines you are taking are fake. If you got your benzodiazepines from the dark web, through social media, or from a friend, be extremely careful when taking them.
- Start with a small dose and wait to see how they affect you before taking any more. Fake benzos can be much stronger or contain other substances.
- Avoid injecting benzos. Crushing them down into a solution to inject can badly damage your veins.
- Take them when someone else is around. If you react badly to them or experience an overdose, they can call for help. Naloxone, the drug for reversing opioid overdoses, does not work on benzodiazepines.
You should always call 999 if you think someone is having an overdose.
Don’t be scared that you’ll get in trouble. The ambulance will not bring the police with them except in very particular cases.
Getting support with benzodiazepines
If you want to take steps to address your drug use, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. You’re not alone and there's nothing to be ashamed of. There is lots of help and support available. Speak to you doctor about how you’re feeling and speak to supportive family and friends if you can
Advice and support is always available from your local Change Grow Live Service. If you’re struggling with drugs or alcohol, we’re here to help.