Benzodiazepine facts

Marie Law Alphabiolabs

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

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.
Table of contents
  • What are benzodiazepines?
  • What do benzodiazepines look like?
  • How are benzodiazepines used?
  • How do people behave when they take benzodiazepines?
  • What are the side effects of benzodiazepines?
  • What happens when you use benzodiazepines with other drugs?
  • What legislation covers benzodiazepines?
  • Are benzodiazepines used in medicine?
  • How long does it take for benzodiazepines to show up in a drug test?
  • Where can I buy a drug test?

What are benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines 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.

Examples of prescribed benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium), temazepam, alprazolam (Xanax), flunitrazepam (Rohypnol) and nitrazepam.

Illegally-manufactured benzodiazepines, also known as ‘street benzos’, are sometimes sold in counterfeit packaging to make them look like branded medications. However, they are most often sold illegally in pill form.

What do benzodiazepines look like?

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

How are benzodiazepines used?

Benzodiazepines are usually ingested in tablet or capsule form. However, in rare instances, they can also be injected.

Prescribed benzodiazepines may also be administered rectally (in the form of a suppository).

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 stimulants (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 alongside 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 legislation covers benzodiazepines?

Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

Under UK law, benzodiazepines are classified as Class B drugs.

While it is lawful to possess benzodiazepines that have been legally prescribed, it is an offence to obtain, ‘give away’ or sell them without a valid prescription.

SENTENCING FOR OFFENCES
Possession Up to 2 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both
Supply Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both

Drug Driving Road Traffic Act 2015

SENTENCING FOR OFFENCES
Drug driving Up to 6 months in prison, an unlimited fine or both
Criminal record
Driving licence endorsement for 11 years
One-year driving ban
Causing death by dangerous driving Up to 14 years in prison

Are benzodiazepines used in medicine?

Benzodiazepines are prescribed in the UK to treat certain conditions including anxiety and sleep problems (e.g. insomnia).

They can also be used in the treatment of alcohol addiction.

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 friend or loved one who is struggling with substance misuse.

  • Home Urine Drug Test Kit (£18) – 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. If you require a drug test for official matters, you will need a legally-instructed drug test. 

For confidential advice about which test might best suit your needs, you can also call our Customer Services team on 0333 600 1300 or email info@alphabiolabs.com.

Home drug tests

Explore our range of at-home drug tests.

Marie Law

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, the legal sector, and the workplace sector.

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