Abuse of Benzodiazepines/Sedative-Hypnotics

A Review for Law Enforcement, First Responders and Health Care Personnel
Benzodiazepines are a type of medication known as tranquilizers or minor tranquilizers, as opposed to the major tranquilizers used to treat psychosis. Familiar names of these drugs include diazepam (Valium®), lorazepam (Ativan®), clonazepam (Klonopin®), and alprazolam (Xanax®). They are some of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States. When people without prescriptions take these drugs for their sedating or intoxicating effects, then use turns into abuse.
Prescribers may prescribe a benzodiazepine for the following legitimate medical conditions:
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Seizure control
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Inducing amnesia for uncomfortable procedures
  • Given before an anesthetic (such as before surgery)
Benzodiazepines act on the central nervous system, produce sedation and muscle relaxation, and lower anxiety levels.


Benzodiazepines are often prescribed as a tablet or capsule; some benzodiazepines are available in oral solution or injectable form. Abusers will take the medications orally; however, they may also be crushed/opened and snorted.

Most prescription benzodiazepines are Schedule 4 controlled substances.


Benzodiazepines can produce drowsiness and euphoria and are:

  • used in conjunction with other drugs like cocaine to lessen side effects like agitation, or
  • to increase the euphoric effects of drugs like methadone.

Benzodiazepines also cause:

  • nystagmus
  • slurred speech 
  • respiratory depression

Benzodiazepines are frequently mixed with alcohol or used in the commission of a rape because of the possibility of memory loss and their sedative properties.

Carisoprodol (Soma®) - Skeletal muscle relaxant with sedative-hypnotic effects. Also, marketed in combination with aspirin and codeine.

Commonly abused in conjunction with opioids resulting in toxic effect.

Prescription Medication Sources

  • Medicine Cabinets
    • Adolescents, Adults
  • Neighbors, Schools, Dealers
  • Doctor Shopping
  • Forgeries
    • Prescribers leaving prescription blanks accessible
  • Thefts from pharmacies
    • Internal
    • Robberies

Commonly Abused Medication