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Benzodiazepine Abuse

Medical Treatment

  • Acute toxicity: The treatment required usually depends on what drugs were taken and how much. Often, you need only a period of evaluation in a hospital emergency department.
     
    • If the drugs were taken within the previous 1-2 hours, the doctor may consider gastric lavage. With this procedure, a large tube is placed directly into your stomach through the mouth. Large volumes of water can then be pushed into the stomach in an attempt to wash out the pill fragments. This is not used often and only if you are known to have swallowed other potentially more lethal medications.
    • A single dose of activated charcoal is recommended for people who come to the emergency department within 4 hours of taking drugs. This acts to prevent absorption of the medication. It is a black powder that is mixed with water and given to you to drink. Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.
    • There is an antidote to counteract the toxic effects of benzodiazepines called flumazenil (or Romazicon). This reverses the sedative effect of benzodiazepines. It is, however, usually reserved for severe poisoning because it can cause withdrawal and seizures in people who are chronic benzodiazepine abusers.
  • Chronic abuse: The treatment of chronic abuse can usually be done at home with the help of your doctor or in specific drug rehabilitation centers. The first step consists of gradual reduction of benzodiazepines to prevent withdrawal and seizures. This is often much easier than the prolonged recovery phase in which the person attempts to stay drug-free. In addition to the medical care, someone abusing these drugs often requires social support and help in finding housing and employment. The involvement of family and friends can be very helpful in this difficult stage.

Next Steps Outlook

Although benzodiazepines are commonly abused, they rarely cause serious illness or death unless combined with other drugs. Consultation with poison specialists is usually unnecessary. A psychiatrist, however, is often asked to interview anyone seen in the emergency department before sending the person home. This is done if there is any concern that the overdose was swallowed intentionally and that the person may be at risk of harming himself or herself or others.

Synonyms and Keywords

Valium, Xanax, Ativan, Librium, roofies, tranks, downers, benzos, goofballs, Mexican, roach, heavenly blues, valo, stupefi, date rape, anxiety, benzodiazepine abuse, drug abuse, drug overdose, medication overdose, club drugs

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WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on April 22, 2014

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