Benzodiazepines are depressants prescribed to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.

Common types of benzodiazepines include Valium®, Ativan® and Xanax®. Users might call them downers, downs, benzos, or xanies.


Any non-medical use of benzos is misuse. Examples include the following:

  • Using someone else’s prescription
  • Taking more or differently than prescribed
  • Taking for a purpose other than prescribed

Benzodiazepines can be swallowed in the form of pills or crushed and snorted. Users may feel euphoric, dizzy, forgetful or calm.

Risks Associated with Benzodiazepine Misuse

Benzodiazepines slow down brain activity and can cause sleepiness and loss of coordination. Other effects may include slurred speech, loss of motor coordination, weakness, headache, lightheadedness, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, and slowed breathing. Heavy use of benzodiazepines and using with alcohol or other drugs can change the heart rate and slow breathing enough to cause death.

Prescription Drug Use in NYC

  • In 2010, benzodiazepines were involved in 44% of unintentional drug poisoning deaths in NYC.
  • New Yorkers aged 18 to 25 reported the highest rate of benzodiazepine misuse of all age groups in the past year (4.8%) .
  • The rate of benzodiazepine-related emergency department (ED) visits increased by 111% between 2004 and 2010 .

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