Benzodiazepine Facts

Marie Law Alphabiolabs

By Marie Law, Head of Toxicology at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 02/01/2023

In this article, we take a closer look at benzodiazepines, what they are, how they are used, the side effects of benzodiazepine use and more.

What are benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines – also known by the street names ‘Benzos’ or ‘downers’ – are sedative medications (depressants) that slow down the functions of the brain and the body.

These types of drugs can be legally prescribed to alleviate symptoms of conditions like insomnia (difficulty getting to and/or staying asleep) and anxiety.

Illegally-manufactured benzodiazepines are sometimes sold in counterfeit packaging to make them look like branded medications. However, they are most often sold illegally in pill form.

Some examples of prescription benzodiazepines include triazolam (Halcion®), clonazepam (Klonopin®), lorazepam (Ativan®), diazepam (Valium®) and alprazolam (Xanax®).

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What do benzodiazepines look like?

Illegally-manufactured benzodiazepines are commonly sold in tablet, capsule, or syrup/injectable forms, and come in a wide variety of colors.

How are benzodiazepines used?

Benzodiazepines are usually ingested in tablet or capsule form, and are either crushed and snorted, or swallowed.

However, in rare instances, they can also be injected.

How do people behave when they take benzodiazepines?

How a person feels and behaves after using benzodiazepines can vary, depending on the person.

These types of drugs depress the nervous system, slowing down the brain and body. Some people use benzodiazepines to help them ‘come down’ after taking stimulant drugs (e.g. ecstasy).

What are the side effects of benzodiazepines?

The physical side effects experienced when taking benzodiazepines can depend on several factors including how the drugs are ingested, frequency of use, and the metabolism and weight of the person.

Some common side effects include:

  • Slower reflexes
  • Drowsiness
  • Clumsiness
  • Confusion

Frequent use of benzodiazepines can lead to withdrawal symptoms including nausea, vomiting, anxiety, panic attacks and depression.

What happens when you use benzodiazepines with other drugs

Below is an overview of the side effects of using benzodiazepines with other drugs.

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol while taking benzodiazepines can cause shallow breathing and sedation, significantly increasing the risk of overdose and even death.

Cocaine

Because cocaine is a ‘stimulant’ or ‘upper’ and benzodiazepines are ‘depressants’ or ‘downers’, combining these substances can have unpredictable adverse effects.

Heroin

Mixing heroin with benzodiazepines can cause respiratory depression, sedation, numbness, reduced heart rate, and other serious side effects.

What drugs are uppers and downers

What is the legal status of benzodiazepines in the US?

Benzodiazepines are Schedule IV drugs under the Controlled Substances Act.

This is because they are considered to have lower potential for abuse than those drugs controlled under Schedule I, II or III of the Act.

Are benzodiazepines used in medicine?

Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed in the US to treat a range of conditions including insomnia and anxiety.

Patients experiencing daytime anxiety and insomnia may be prescribed benzodiazepines including alprazolam (Xanax®), clorazepate (Tranxene®), diazepam (Valium®) or halazepam (Paxipam®), among others.

Anticonvulsant benzodiazepines including diazepam, clorazepate and clonazepam may also be prescribed to treat seizures.

How long does it take for benzodiazepines to show up in a drug test?

Even after the ‘high’ has worn off, and long after the drug was first consumed, benzodiazepine use can be detected by a drug test, depending on the type of test you take.

The drug testing detection windows for benzodiazepines are as follows:

  • Oral fluid (saliva) – up to 48 hours
  • Urine – up to 4 days
  • Hair – up to 12 months (depending on the length of hair available)
  • Nails – up to 12 months (up to 6 months for fingernails and up to 12 months for toenails)

Oral fluid and urine drug testing are known as ‘narrow-window’ forms of testing and can be used to detect drug use from 30 minutes after consumption, up to a few days.

This can vary depending on the type of substance and how much was used.

The rate at which hair and nails grow means that both hair drug testing and nail drug testing can provide a ‘wide-window’ of detection for drugs and their metabolites (up to 12 months).

Where can I buy a drug test?

AlphaBiolabs offers two types of home drug tests, designed to give you peace of mind or enable you to seek support for a loved one who is struggling with substance misuse.

  • Home Urine Drug Test Kit (pack of 3 – $34.95) – this easy-to-use home drug testing kit can detect drugs and their metabolites in a urine sample. The self-contained screening kit includes built-in test strips, allowing you to read the results in just 5 minutes
  • Drug and Alcohol Nail Test (from $99) – this test can detect drug use for a period of up to 12 months prior to samples being collected, with only a sample of fingernail clippings or toenail clippings required. Simply follow the instructions included in your test kit to collect your nail clipping samples and return them to our accredited laboratory for testing

Please be aware that our home drug test kits are for peace of mind only, and the results cannot be used in court or for legal reasons.

For confidential advice about which test might best suit your needs, you can email our Customer Services team at info@alphabiolabsusa.com.

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Marie Law AlphaBiolabs

Marie Law

Head of Toxicology at AlphaBiolabs
A highly-skilled and respected scientist with over 13 years’ experience in the field of forensics, Marie joined AlphaBiolabs in 2022 and oversees the company’s growing toxicology team. As Head of Toxicology, Marie’s day-to-day responsibilities include maintaining the highest quality testing standards for toxicology and further enhancing AlphaBiolabs’ drug and alcohol testing services for members of the public and the legal sector.

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