Overview

Benzodiazepines (benzos) are depressant drugs, meaning they slow down your central nervous system. Benzodiazepines, also known as “minor tranquillisers”, are prescribed by doctors to relieve stress and anxiety, tension and for some injuries. Benzodiazepines are also prescribed to help people sleep and during the withdrawal of other substances however some people use benzodiazepines illegally to become intoxicated. Even though they are called minor tranquilisers they are by no means mild or harmless.

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Factsheet

Provided by Youth Projects

We have partnered with Youth Projects to bring you the best factsheet information we can on this topic. Youth Projects is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that provides health, outreach, community and employment, education and training services to individuals experiencing disadvantage, unemployment, homelessness and alcohol and other drug issues.

Benzos and your Mental Health

How do benzos affect you?

Benzodiazepines affect the central nervous system by slowing it down. In small doses they can have a calming effect. In high doses they can help people to sleep. Common effects are blurred vision, dizziness, drowsiness, mood swings, impaired thought process, coordination, concentration and judgement.

Potential harms

  • Overdose – unconscious, coma (there is an increased risk of overdose when benzos are mixed with other central nervous system depressants such as, heroin, alcohol and methadone)
  • Binge using of benzos can increase the risk of heroin overdose up to 24 hours after use
  • Nausea and vomiting while unconscious can lead to choking and death

Injecting

Benzos or other drugs administered through injecting enter the blood stream directly and have an immediate effect. It is difficult to vary the dose once it has been administered and potential for overdose increases. Injecting also requires equipment that when shared increases the risk of blood borne viruses (BBVs) such as Hep B or C and HIV. Always use new fits.

Benzos are not designed to be injected directly into the blood stream, many have a coating which does not breakdown when put through a fit, this can lead to long-term damage of veins and injecting sights.

If benzos are injected, the safest way to do this is to use a wheel filter to remove any impurities.

More serious harms include depression, lack of initiative and withdrawal from activities.

Types of Benzodiazapines commonly used

  • Temazepam (e.g. Normison and Temaze)
  • Diazepam (e.g. Valium and Ducene)
  • Oxazepam (e.g. Serepax and Murelax)
  • Alprazolam (e.g. Xanax and Kalma)
  • Nitrazepam (e.g. Mogadon)

Benzodiazepines and your mental health

Although benzodiazepines are often prescribed to provide short-term relief for anxiety, they can increase anxiety in the long term. Depression may also become worse in the long term. People using high doses are at greater risk of impulsive behaviour that they may later regret. If you have a history of mental health concerns, your symptoms may become worse during withdrawal following longer term use of benzodiazepines.

Continual use of benzodiazepines may also reduce your ability to remember important information, making it harder to achieve goals. Long-term use may cause lack of motivation, anxiety, panic attacks, blackouts, mood swings, headaches and difficulty sleeping. Also joint and chest pain, skin rash, itching and nausea.

Benzodiazepines and other drugs

Using benzodiazepines with any other prescribed, over-the-counter or illicit drug may be dangerous. Combining benzodiazepines with other depressants such as alcohol or opiates such as heroin, methadone or morphine can lead to overdose and death.
Always tell your doctor what drugs you use to make sure you use benzodiazepines safely.

Benzodiazepines and pregnancy

Benzodiazepines may cause problems during pregnancy, but should never be stopped suddenly. Seek medical advice immediately if you become pregnant while using benzodiazepines.

Benzodiazapines are addictive to both mother and foetus, but the foetus is less able to cope with tranquilisers than the mother. It is recommended that the use of benzos be avoided during pregnancy and close to the time of birth, as they can cause withdrawal symptoms in the baby after birth.

Withdrawal symptoms in new borns include breathing problems, poor body temperature control, poor muscle tone, difficulty sucking, they can appear floppy or limp and this may last for a couple of months.

When benzos reach the baby through breast milk, the baby’s body cannot process them quickly and build up high doses, causing the baby to appear sedated and unable to feed very well.

What happens when you stop taking benzodiazepines?

Clock showing 5:26 amFits and/or seizures can occur if benzos are stopped suddenly (especially for those who have taken them for 2-3 weeks at high doses).

It is best to reduce the use of benzos over time rather than just stop.

Withdrawal can begin in 2 days for a short-acting benzo, those with a short life tend to be more severe and can last 2-4 weeks on a reduction, 2-7 days for a long acting benzo, withdrawal can last a few months on a reduction.
Common symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness, agitation and irritability
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Depression
  • Increased muscle tension and aches and twitching

Reducing the harms

  • Only ever take benzodiazepines as prescribed by your doctor, and do not take more than prescribed
  • Benzodiazepines are best used as short-term medication
  • Try not to use benzodiazepines for more than two weeks of daily use at a time, to reduce your risk of experiencing withdrawal when you stop.
  • If you have been on benzodiazepines for a long time, or are on a high dose it is recommended that you cut down gradually, rather than suddenly.
  • Seek advice from a doctor or drug and alcohol service before cutting down
  • Do not mix benzodiazepines with other drugs, especially other depressant drugs such as alcohol and opiates, as your risk of overdose and death increases
  • If you are injecting benzos seek advice about how to use a wheel filter from an experienced NSP or AOD worker

Benzodiazepines use and the law

It is illegal to give your medication to another person, or use someone else’s medication.

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