The benzo (formal name benzodiazepines) family of depressants affects the central nervous system and is widely prescribed for the treatment of insomnia, anxiety, and prevention of seizures and muscle spasms. Most patients use benzos as prescribed, but adolescents and young people who abuse these drugs are seeking a “high.” Physical dependence can be caused by high-dose or long-term use. The drug is also doctor-shopped by adult users. Drug addiction treatment centers treat many cases of benzodiazepine abuse.
Drug abusers often use benzos to “come down” or ease withdrawal from a stimulant drug such as methamphetamine. High doses of these drugs with alcohol alone or other depressants can cause death. A benzo that is illegally marketed in the US, Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), is a dangerous, long-acting “club drug” that can be taken unknowingly when mixed in the victim’s drink. This has notoriously resulted in sexual assault.
Common prescription benzodiazepines include the trade names Valium, Xanax, Librium and Ativan.
How is it used?
These drugs are most commonly taken in pill form but can be used in powder form and mixed in water or drinks. They are sometimes taken in combination with other drugs or alcohol. They are also used by abusers with GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) and similar drugs that are marketed as nutritional supplements.
Signs of usage
Those who take Rohypnol are in a near trance-like state or appear drunk, even with hangover-like effects in withdrawal. Those who take high doses of other benzodiazepines may appear drunk or uninhibited.
Effects of usage
In prescription form, benzodiazepines are therapeutic, but long-term use can cause addiction. Used to get a high or induce a drunken-like state, these drugs decrease inhibitions and impair judgment. Rohypnol causes a stupor-like state.
How long do the effects last?
The effects of Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol) are fast-acting and can last four to eight hours. Short-acting benzodiazepines have a half-life of less than 12 hours. Intermediate-acting compounds have a half-life of 12-24 hours, and may cause inattention or sluggishness the morning after taking.
Effects of withdrawal
Withdrawal symptoms are mainly anxiety-related. These effects occasionally go on for months and may include insomnia and gastrointestinal problems, even when use is gradually reduced.
Abrupt discontinuation of prescription benzodiazepines can cause these symptoms as well as seizures and hyperactivity.
Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol) causes sedation and sluggishness. It can also cause amnesia, so the person doesn’t remember what happened during the drug-induced stupor. Users are at a high risk for sexual assault.
The effects of benzodiazepine may linger for hours, causing inattention to tasks like driving. The use of benzodiazepines in some people can actually cause high anxiety and irritability instead of the intended sedation. At high doses, and/or with other drugs, they can be deadly.
Effects of prolonged usage
There have been incidences of decreased attention span, even in therapeutic doses, with the regular use of benzodiazepines for over a year. Physical addiction can occur with abuse or even prolonged therapeutic use.
Usage by youth
The use of Rohypnol is most characteristically a “club” drug taken among youth. It is hard to determine the use of this drug as a date-rape or club-rape drug because often the victim has no memory of the assault.
When adolescents abuse prescription benzodiazepines, they take higher doses for a drunken high.