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There are many fake benzos that are sold from outside of New Zealand on the illegal market. Some of these have dangerous ingredients or do not contain the same dose as prescription benzos.
Key things to know
Get support if going through withdrawal. It can be dangerous to stop taking them suddenly. Your doctor can help you with this.▼ Cutting down
Know which type of benzo you are taking – they all have different strengths.▼ Different benzos
Use drug checking services to know what you have and see if it is mixed with anything else.▼ Drug checking info
They are usually taken orally (swallowed) because some pills have fillers that are dangerous to snort or inject.▼ Safer using
What to expect
What do benzodiazepines feel like?
Benzodiazepines can make you feel relaxed, sleepy, dizzy, groggy and confused. Remember, a low dose for one person can be a high dose for another as people’s bodies process these medications differently.
Keep in mind that, when mixed with alcohol or other drugs, benzos can have different effects to those listed below.
A Reddit user talks about what taking a lower dose of benzodiazepine feels like for them:
“[Xanax] removes anxiety, makes you sleepy, makes you stumble like a drunk. A little like alcohol but without some of alcohol’s ‘fun’ aspects. Can make you a bit mean because you are not worried about social consequences.”
|Pleasant effects||Unpleasant effects|
Feeling less anxious
Calm and relaxed
Groggy or drowsy
|Pleasant effects||Unpleasant effects|
Sense of peace or serenity
Intensely groggy or drowsy
Difficulty concentrating or thinking
Aggressive or angry
Increased memory loss
Very high dose
|Pleasant effects||Unpleasant effects|
Feeling ‘out of body’ or numb
Unable to stay awake
Blurred vision or trouble seeing
Intensely aggressive or angry
Unable to control your body movements
Severe memory loss
Feeling ‘trapped’ in your body
How can you be safer when using benzodiazepines?
There are many types of benzos that come in different doses and affect people differently. It is a good idea to think about the ways you can be safer when using these drugs.
Benzos are safer when swallowed. The pills have fillers that can be dangerous when snorted or injected. If you do plan on snorting or injecting, use new, sterile utensils and equipment every time.
Know which type of benzo you are taking- they all have different doses. Visit tripsit and search the type you are using for more information on benzo doses, or use the benzo calculator to see how doses of different benzos compare.
Be aware of benzodiazepines bought illegally as they are sometimes fake. This means that they might contain different ingredients, adulterants or doses than the actual brand of benzodiazepines. Keep up to date with High Alert to see alerts and notifications about drugs like fake benzodiazepines in New Zealand. It is good to do your research on what different brands of benzodiazepines look like and what fake drugs are going around that you may want to avoid.
Test your benzos at a drug checking clinic. If you are not sure what benzo you have, a drug checking clinic can try to test it for you. It is important to know that because they have lots of filler in them and only a small amount of the active ingredient (the part of the medicine that causes the effects), the machine may not be able to give an accurate reading. It can still be helpful to have these drugs checked, especially if you think it might be a fake pill.
For more information on how to be safer when using drugs and alcohol, see Safer using.
To order self-help workbooks and other free resources for safer use, see Resources.
If you've had too much
What happens if you take too much of a benzodiazepine?
You might feel disorientated, dizzy, depressed, anxious and paranoid. Your speech may be slurred and you may experience memory loss.
- Focus on breathing – try taking slow, deep breaths.
- If you are able, call and talk to somebody you trust and ask them to help keep you calm.
- Do not take more benzos, caffeine, alcohol or other drugs, as these can make you feel worse.
- Move to somewhere quiet – try to sit or lie down and do something relaxing.
- Drink water to stay hydrated.
If you have more severe symptoms, like seeing double, inability to swallow or control your movements, have an irregular heartbeat, call a doctor or Healthline (0800 611 116). You won't get in trouble if you tell them you've used drugs. They can talk you through the next steps.
Chest pains, severe tremors, breathing problems, seizures and loss of consciousness are signs of an overdose. Call 111.
If you experience unexpected or concerning effects from a benzo you can notify High Alert to help keep others safe.
A Reddit user talks about their experience taking a large dose of benzos:
“It’s like my brain body connection was totally unconnected and I could barely walk or talk.”
What do comedowns from benzodiazepines feel like, and how can you feel better?
If you have only used benzodiazepines once or for a short time, the comedown from low doses is usually not very noticeable. At higher doses, you may have more unpleasant effects.
- Experience sore muscles or muscle cramps
- Have headaches or nausea
- Feel fatigued, tired, paranoid, agitated, anxious or paranoid
- Get plenty of rest and sleep
- Remember to eat and drink plenty of water
- Get moving to release feel-good brain chemicals
- Reach out and talk with friends and whānau for support.Relax and do things that you enjoy to take your mind off not feeling well
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and other drugs
- Practise mindfulness and deep breathing, and try writing down your thoughts and feeling
If any of these symptoms intensify or don't go away then call a doctor or Healthline 0800 611 116. They can talk you through the next steps.
If your symptoms worsen or you are with somebody who:
- Experiences severe memory loss (such as not knowing where you are or who you are)
- Has sudden personality changes
- Has intense paranoia and or hallucinate
- Experiences emotional distress
- Experiences psychosis
- Has delusions
- Loses consciousness
- Has suicidal thoughts
Call 111. These are signs that something more serious is going on. You or the people around you should act quickly.
One Reddit user says his comedown from a one-off high dose of benzos was bizarre:
“Waking up the next day was the weirdest experience I’ve ever felt. I did not care about shit and honestly didn’t feel like I belonged in my body. Nothing got through to me, no emotions, no feelings. It was such an apathy and disregard for anything and such a depersonalisation.”
What are the long-term effects of using benzodiazepines?
Taking benzodiazepines regularly can result in dependence, even in smaller doses. Regular use can cause problems with memory, speaking, motor skills and concentration. These can last for a long time after stopping use and are sometimes permanent.
If you stop using benzos after long term use, you may experience severe withdrawal symptoms. Some people develop benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome and experience dangerous symptoms such as seizures. The physical and mental effects of benzo withdrawal usually last for a few months, but some people may experience symptoms for longer.
Long-term use of benzos can affect your mental health. It can contribute to depression, anxiety and psychosis and cause issues with sleep and sexual function. The more benzos you take, the more likely you are to experience these effects.
How do you manage withdrawal from benzodiazepines?
See the 'Making changes' page for more information on how to Manage withdrawal from drugs and alcohol.
Regardless of the dose, if you are using benzodiazepines for a long period of time, it can be dangerous to stop taking them suddenly. Make sure you speak with your doctor before stopping or cutting down. Even if you have been taking them illegally (without a prescription), you won’t be in trouble with the law for seeing a doctor for help.
Withdrawing from benzos can be difficult and is different for everyone. Some people experience symptoms for several months.
- Have aches and pains, headaches, nausea
- Feel sweaty or very hot or cold
- Have mild memory loss
- Feel agitated, irritable, confused, anxious or low
- Have mood swings
You can try:
- Follow a tapering plan from a health professional to reduce your dose slowly.
- Consider counselling or support groups if feelings of anxiety and depression are getting worse.
- Lean on a support network of friends, family and professionals.
- Stick to a routine – waking up, eating well, keeping active and rewarding yourself with things that bring you joy.
- Practise mindfulness by writing down your feelings, doing breathing exercises or meditating.
If your symptoms worsen, or you experience panic attacks, tremors, intense agitations, paranoia, hallucinations or heart palpitations, call a doctor or Healthline (0800 611 116).
You can talk to your doctor about:
- other prescription medications to help you get through withdrawal
- rehab or withdrawal clinics in your area – visit Health Point to see what services are available.
Chest pain, very high heartrate, feeling extremely emotional, acting violently, psychosis, trouble breathing, suicidality, seizures and losing consciousness need urgent medical care. Call 111. These are signs you could be experiencing severe benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. You or the people around you should act quickly.
For more information on getting support for drug and alcohol use, see Finding support.
One Reddit user talks about his experience coming off benzos after taking them for a long time:
“You don’t know when it is going to stop so your irrational anxiety starts making you think it’s never going to stop, so you get depressed, palpitations, sweaty, shaky, numb hands and feet.”
Working and driving
How can benzodiazepines affect your daily activities?
Even at low doses, benzodiazepines may affect your everyday activities. At a single low dose, these effects usually last 4–12 hours depending on the type of benzo. If you take a large dose, use regularly or mix it with alcohol or other drugs, impairment can last anywhere from several weeks to several months.
Benzos can cause loss of muscle control, falling and stumbling, drowsiness, poor reaction time, vision problems and speech problems, so it can be unsafe to drive or operate heavy machinery. It can also make it harder to do tasks that need fine movements. These drugs can cause anterograde amnesia (not being able to remember new information), which means that interacting with others can become difficult.
Will benzodiazepines show up on a drug test?
Benzodiazepines are usually tested for using hair, urine, saliva (spit) or blood.
How long benzos can be picked up in your system by a drug test will vary depending on:
- whether the benzo is extended release (released into your body slowly over time) or immediate release (released into your body quickly)
- which benzo it is (for example, Xanax or Ativan)
- the size of dose you have taken
- how long you have been using benzos
It is important to remember that every person’s body is different and will process drugs differently. It’s thought that benzos can be detected for 2–10 days in urine, 2.5–9 days in saliva, 1–2 days in blood and up to 90 days in hair.
If you are using benzodiazepines as prescribed by your doctor, talk with them if you are expecting to be drug tested.
Can you test positive for benzos if you have not used them?
The short answer is yes. Drug testing is not an 100% accurate science and will sometimes give a ‘false positive’ result. This is when a drug test says that a person has a drug in their system, when they actually do not. In these situations, the positive result has been caused by something else like medication or food. You can get a false positive result for benzos if you have used the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug oxaprozin or the anti-depressant sertraline. These may not be the only medications that can show a false positive.
Not everyone who takes the medications above will have a false positive for benzos. If you are expecting a drug test for benzos and are using the medications above or other medications you are concerned about, speak with your doctor or the test provider beforehand to discuss your next steps.
Are benzodiazepines legal?
Benzodiazepines are only legal to use with a prescription from a medical professional. Using these drugs without a prescription, buying them, selling them or giving them to others is against the law.
Even if you are taking benzodiazepines that have been prescribed by your doctor, you can still get in trouble with the law if you are found to be impaired by these while driving if you haven’t taken them as directed by your GP or health professional.
To find out more about the law around legal and controlled drugs, including benzodiazepines, see Drugs and the law.