Benzodiazepines (pronounced ben-zoh-die-AZ-a-peens) are depressant drugs. This means that they slow down the activity of the central nervous system and the messages travelling between the brain and the body. They do not necessarily make a person feel depressed. Other depressants include alcohol, cannabis and heroin.
Benzodiazepines, also known as minor tranquillisers, are most commonly prescribed by doctors to relieve stress and anxiety and to help people sleep. However, there is increasing concern among medical professionals about the risks of using these drugs, particularly when they are used for a long time.
Types of benzodiazepines
There are three types of benzodiazepines: long, intermediate and short acting. Short-acting benzodiazepines have stronger withdrawal or 'come down' effects and can be more addictive than long-acting ones.1
Benzodiazepines are known by their chemical (generic) name or their brand name. In each case the drug is exactly the same – it's just made by a different company. Some common benzodiazepines are:
Adapted from: Brands B, Sproule B & Marshman J. (eds) (1998) Drugs & Drug Abuse (3rd ed.) Ontario: Addiction Research Foundation.
Benzos, tranx, sleepers, downers, pills, xannies, serras (Serepax®), moggies (Mogadon®), normies (Normison®)
How are they used?
Benzodiazepines are usually swallowed. Some people also inject them.
There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk. It's important to be careful when taking any type of drug.
Benzodiazepines affect everyone differently, but the effects may include:
If a large amount is taken, the following may also be experienced:
Injecting benzodiazepines may also cause:
Injecting drugs repeatedly and sharing injecting equipment with other people increases the risk of experiencing these effects.2
Regular use of benzodiazepines may cause:
Using benzodiazepines with other drugs
The effects of taking benzodiazepines with other drugs can be unpredictable and dangerous, and could cause:
The use of benzodiazepines to help with the 'come down' effects of stimulant drugs (such as amphetamines or ecstasy) may result in a cycle of dependence on both types of drug.
Giving up benzodiazepines after using them for a long time is challenging because the body has to get used to functioning without them. This is why it's important to seek advice from a health professional when planning to stop taking benzodiazepines.
Withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person and are different depending on the type of benzodiazepine being taken. Symptoms can last from a few weeks to a year and can include:
Reducing the risks
1. Brands B, Sproule B & Marshman J. (eds) (1998) Drugs & Drug Abuse (3rd ed.) Ontario: Addiction Research Foundation.
2. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). (2013). Benzodiazepines. Retrieved from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).
Last updated: 9 March 2016