Benzodiazepines (pronounced ben-zoh-die-az-a-pins) are depressant drugs.
This means that they slow down the activity of the central nervous system and the messages going 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.
Some people use benzodiazepines illegally to become intoxicated or to 'come down' from the effects of stimulants such as amphetamines or cocaine.
Some common chemical and brand names
Benzodiazepines are known by their chemical (generic) names or their brand names. In each case, these are exactly the same drug, usually made by different companies. Some common benzodiazepines include:
Benzos, tranx, sleepers, downers, pills, serras (Serepax®), moggies (Mogadon®), normies (Normison®)
What do benzodiazepines look like?
Benzodiazepines usually come in the form of tablets and capsules, in a range of colours and designs. They are generally stamped with their name and milligram quantity.
How are they used?
Benzodiazepines are usually swallowed. Some people also inject them; however this method carries significant risk of harms such as collapsed veins, damage to organs, stroke and even death.
The effects of any drug (including benzodiazepines) vary from person to person. How benzodiazepines affect a person depends on many things including their size, weight and health, also whether the person is used to taking it. The effects of benzodiazepines, as with any drug, also depend on the amount taken.
There is no safe level of benzodiazepine use. Use of any drug always carries some risk—even medications can produce unwanted side effects. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug.
The effects of benzodiazepines may start to be felt within an hour and, depending if they are short, intermediate or long acting, they can last from 2½ to 160 hours.
Low to moderate doses
Some of the effects that may be experienced after taking benzodiazepines include:
A high dose of benzodiazepines can cause a person to overdose. This means that a person has taken more benzodiazepines than their body can cope with.
Higher doses of benzodiazepines can result in drowsiness, over-sedation and sleep. They may produce an effect similar to drinking a large amount of alcohol. Other effects can include:
As the effects of benzodiazepines begin to wear off, a person may experience a range of effects the next day such as:
Some of the long-term effects of benzodiazepines are:
Other effects of benzodiazepine use
Taking benzodiazepines with other drugs
The chances of an overdose are increased if benzodiazepines are taken with other depressant drugs such as alcohol or opiates such as heroin. Taking benzodiazepines with other depressant drugs increases the risk of breathing difficulties and/or overdose.
Using benzodiazepines to help with the symptoms of the 'comedown' after using stimulants can lead to a cycle of dependence on both drugs.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
There is evidence that after prolonged use, benzodiazepines are highly addictive.
People who use benzodiazepines regularly can develop dependence and tolerance to them, which means they need to take larger amounts of benzodiazepines to get the same effect.
People who are psychologically dependent on benzodiazepines may find they feel an urge to use them when they are in specific surroundings or socialising with friends.
In Australia, there are many different types of treatments for drug problems. Some aim to help a person to stop using a drug, while others aim to reduce the risks and harm related to their drug use.
What to do if you are concerned about someone’s benzodiazepine use
If you are concerned about someone’s drug use, there is help available. Contact the alcohol and drug information service in your state or territory.
What to do in a crisis
Always call triple zero (000) if a drug overdose is known or suspected—and remember that paramedics are not obliged to involve the police.
If someone overdoses or has an adverse reaction while using benzodiazepines, it is very important that they receive professional help as soon as possible. A quick response can save their life.
According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, in 2010, 3.2% of the Australian population had used tranquillisers/sleeping pills (including benzodiazepines) for non-medical purposes at some stage in their lifetime.
Benzodiazepines and the law
Benzodiazepines are restricted drugs in Australia and only a doctor may prescribe them.
For information specific to your situation, contact a legal aid service in your state or territory.
National drug policy
Australia’s national drug policy is based on harm minimisation. Strategies to minimise harm include encouraging people to avoid using a drug through to helping people to reduce the risk of harm if they do use a drug. It aims to reduce all types of drug-related harm to both the individual and the community.
This information has been adapted from the pamphlet How Drugs Affect You: Benzodiazepines, produced by the Australian Drug Foundation. For single copies of this pamphlet contact DrugInfo. Multiple copies are available from the ADF Bookshop.
Last updated: 24 January 2013
The following content is from DrugInfo dot ADF dot org dot au
Information you heard is intended as a general guide only. This audio is copyrighted by the Australian Drug Foundation. Visit www.DrugInfo.ADF.org.au for more