Benzodiazepines

What are they?
Effects
First Aid
Prevention
 

What are benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are a group of drugs that may be prescribed to treat anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia (trouble sleeping) and seizures. Some examples are alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan) and clonazepam (Klonopin).

Benzodiazepines are safe when taken in the right way. They can be dangerous if:

  • You take them with alcohol, opioids or another drug that makes you drowsy.
  • You take more than the dose you are prescribed.
  • You take them to get high.
  • You take someone else’s medication.

What are the side effects of benzodiazepines?

Even when you take a benzodiazepine in the right way, as instructed by your doctor, you may have some side effects. You may:

  • Feel drowsy
  • Feel dizzy, weak or clumsy
  • Feel confused
  • Have slurred speech
  • Have blurred vision

Long-term use of benzodiazepines can lead to tolerance and dependence, or even addiction. If you stop taking a benzodiazepine you may have withdrawal symptoms.

In addition, long-term use can lead to memory problems, depression and anxiety.

What are the symptoms of benzodiazepine poisoning?

If you use a benzodiazepine in the wrong way, you may:

  • Become very drowsy
  • Vomit, and possibly choke
  • Have trouble breathing or stop breathing
  • Go into a coma, or even die

Someone who has taken a benzodiazepine with a sedative like alcohol or an opioid may be snoring and look like they are sleeping soundly. But this may be a sign that they are having trouble breathing. Get them help right away.

What can you do about benzodiazepine poisoning?

If someone has taken a benzodiazepine in a way that could be harmful, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511.

We can also answer other questions you have about benzodiazepines.

If someone has passed out, is not breathing or is having trouble breathing, call 911 right away.

How can you prevent benzodiazepine poisoning?   

Use benzodiazepines safely:

  • Only take medication as prescribed by your doctor. Do not share your medications or take someone else’s medication.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or taking opioids and other drugs that make you drowsy when taking a benzodiazepine.
  • Always read the label on your medication bottles. It will tell you what the medication is and how much to take. Check the label each time you take the medication.
  • If you have any questions about your medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist or contact the poison center—call 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511.
  • If you are taking more than one medication, keep track of them with a written schedule. Also keep a medication list to share with your doctors and pharmacist.

Store benzodiazepines safely:

  • Always keep medication in its original container, or in a child-resistant pill reminder box. Never store medication in a household container like a sandwich bag or a film canister.
  • Keep medications up high, out of the reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet.

Get rid of benzodiazepines safely:

See our medication page for more medication safety tips, including information on keeping young children and teens safe.

Last Updated: Friday July 8th 2016