Testimonies

60) Gender unspecified, London

“I tried a k-pin when I was 15 and loved how it made me feel… and it got rid of my hangover. Later into my teens I started trying vals (and Xanax here and there) but benzos were the easiest to buy, regulate and self-medicate. They were cheap as chips and came in bulk. I got dependent on them in summer 2018 as my mum was dying and I was taking all sorts of drugs to get through it. They helped with agoraphobia and the nausea that I had always felt when I went out with friends (not yet diagnosed). To me it was like a miracle pill that you could take and all your worries would F off until three days later and you get the worst wave of depression and anxiety. I have done and said things when on benzos that I will forever regret but as much to much anguish I have let myself be taken advantage off when under the grasp of the blue pill. My mum died and I used them as a pal, really. Less fun though.

I have had blackouts and been told stories of me being carried between houses, doing things I’d never do and so on. It makes you feel physically green. It has been years since my dependency and now I only take them as a last resort. If I am verging on a panic attack and my SSRIs aren’t working, I will self medicate (1/2 10mg a month) to relax. The exhaustion from a panic attack is way more traumatic than a benzo comedown so - Ye haw!

There MUST be more education out there. I wish x100 I’d known the impacts of downers before taking them. They get treated like elf bars in todays society, literally ruining peoples lives a half at a time and that scares me. I’m lucky but not everyone is. Ciao”

59) Non-binary, Brighton

"I was eating loads of benzos and getting it up my arse from a very hung man and ended up shitting and ate more benzos, done a quick line and sniffed then died swear down worst thing i eva done so stay safe kids”

58) Gender unspecified, London

“My friends started taking them for fun at parties and around other people then very quickly they started to take them more frequently and alone."

57) Man, London

"I purchased a large amount of alprazolam to fill an order for a customer. I had never tried a benzodiazepine before but decided to try given the large amount left over. I have also been open to trying drugs in general provided I research harm reduction and side effects prior. I had used Ambien recreationally before so I was relatively familiar with the effects of benzos. My first time taking them I took .5 mg and the experience was very enjoyable. I took the alprazolam in a solitary setting. The second time I took 1 mg. I remember the beginning of the experience but after mixing the dose with alcohol, I can only assume I blacked out. I woke up the next day after about 14 hours of sleep. Luckily, the only thing I did while blacked out was knock over a lamp. I have not used benzos since and doubt I will use them in combination with alcohol again as I do not enjoy blacking out.

Ideally, all education systems should teach students accurate and neutral information of drugs and let the facts speak for themselves rather than push for total abstinence. I think there is a link between benzo use and certain subcultures, however I have observed an increase in benzo use in all parts of society. I think the urge to not feel is created by our current socio-political climate and benzo use is a societal coping mechanism. I expect increased use as well as benzos and analogues being mixed more frequently with heroin and other street opioids. I think benzo use is just one part of society’s drawn-out collective suicide.”

56) Man, Swansea

“While I had dabbled infrequently with diazepam in the past, it was very infrequent. However during my university degree from 2014 onwards I relied heavily on the then legal Etizolam bought as a research chemical to relax me and relieve stress and anxiety while writing assignments. After the NPS Bill came into law in the UK I was forced to use the dark web rather than risk post acute and prolonged withdrawal symptoms. After my course I used my own harm reduction research knowledge (The Ashton Manual being the prime information source) to devise and stick to a taper plan. I sought advice in online harm reduction groups such as Sesh Safety but I did not seek professional medical or drug treatment services as I felt they are extremely underfunded by the government and what little help is available would be better used for more serious cases than my own. I very much agree that benzo and all drug harm reduction should be taught in schools as the "just say no" tactic is an obvious failure. In my experience of club and festival culture there is not much of a link to benzos in comparison to other substances. I do not know about Soundcloud rappers as I do not listen to such music.”

55) Man, Brighton

"Xanax are the best thing ever. You don’t even remember anything but yet you just know life is good. Valium made me lose £50 a casino though, f*ck Valium.”

54) Man, Hull

"I’ve only messed with xanax. Originally I bought them because I was planning to do acid. They’re used as “trip killers”: for when you’re having a bad trip or need to be more sober for whatever reason. I ended up getting extra because they were so cheap. I don’t think they can get you high in the traditional sense, or not very strongly at least, but I like to take a .5 dose when my anxiety is unbearably bad and it makes me feel normal. I’ve messed around with dosages before, with no tolerance .5mg makes me a bit more tired but a lot less anxious. 1mg eliminated all anxiety but made me very sleepy, needed a 9 hour nap after 20 minutes. I’ve never tried 2mg on its own but 2mg and some weed made me start stumbling loads and then black out and fall asleep for 11 hours. It wasn’t like blacking out on alcohol. I was on call to my girlfriend and she confirms I didn’t do anything out of character, benzos black out is kind of like going on autopilot.

Xanax is also an essential for me and my girlfriend when we do acid. It’s impossible for us to get to sleep after the trip and xanax and weed are the only things that levels us out and lets us get some sleep. The same principle would apply when you’re too wired from uppers like MDMA or coke. I don’t use xanax often as my anxiety is usually manageable and I don’t do acid more than once every few months. I feel like for a lot of people, xanax is used as an illegally obtained medicine. If you look online people without anxiety question why it’s popular as it just makes them sleepy or blackout and then pass out shortly after, they have no anxiety to be relived. Of course some people won’t use it as that but that’s what I use it as, a very occasional medicine for when my anxiety makes everyday tasks like going into work or even getting ready to go out impossible. I’d say I use xanax once a month if that. I’d never use it more due to it being addictive. It can be a slippery slope though if abused – a lot of people with anxiety can find themselves reliant on and addicted to them. One of my best friends who suffers from poor mental health tried xanax and soon became addicted because of its effects on his anxiety. Luckily he doesn’t take benzos anymore so he’s fine.”

53) Man, Cambridge

"A few years ago I took 4 xanax. I initially took 2 xanax at once, and it was the first time I had done them. I then took another 2 because they were given to me cheaply, and everyone else was doing them. Everyone had done different amounts so ended up in different situations - I took more than everyone else. No one remembers the night, but we have videos. We must have gone to a park, all the lads I was with were slurring and couldn’t speak. I fell asleep, and most people left too. A jogger found me at 5am, and called an ambulance when they couldn’t wake me up. I went to hospital and was put on a drip, but I can’t remember even being in the hospital. I was in a low level coma from the morning until the following evening. I don’t even remember leaving the hospital. My mum said the nurse said “they think they’re invincible at this age”. Another lad also got taken to the hospital, but he still had xanax on him so the police took him. The maddest part was not remembering the whole thing. Afterwards, a boy I know overdosed on valium. I would never do them again."

52) Non-binary, location unspecified

"I used benzos on prescription as well as for recreational use. I took different pills in really different doses 0-6x / week for ~3 months. In my life situation at the point of time where I used benzodiazepines recreationally, I think I would call the experiences I made good. I never needed support in any way, and yeah, I experienced blackouts. I think that education about drugs is useful in general. I think there is a link between club culture and benzo usage; I never went to clubs and I never listened to soundcloud rappers, but lots of people around me did and do, and I think there's a coincidence between that and their benzo consumption. I also think that face tattoo's randomly grow on you if you take benzos for too long. It begins with a black tear underneath the eye…"

51) Gender unspecified, Ireland

"I no longer take benzos – I used to take them to get through the day, in school, work etc. It started with only having to take one, then 2 and so on until I was taking so much that I was getting withdrawals. My withdrawals were so bad I knew I had to stop before it got worse. The first time I took pills was last summer, where I started with codeine. I really liked codeine and took it very often but then the buzz died and I needed something else. I started taking xans, ativan and valium. I t made me feel completely disconnected and it was the feeling I had been searching for. I suffer from depression, anxiety, and bpd, so as you can imagine it filled that void. I started stealing and doing whatever to get more pills. I started getting caught and in trouble and it wasn’t until then that I opened my eyes and took a look at myself. I hated the person I had became and it wasn’t me. I went cold turkey and haven’t touched any pills since, it’s been about 4 months and the urges are difficult but I’m doing good without them and I don’t think I could do that to myself again.”

50) Man, Hampshire

"I was addicted to Xanax from the age of 16-20 and my only reason for stopping was having a seizure after not being able to get any for a few days. Xanax is a drug everyone has a love-hate relationship with: it’s great at times, but there’s a fine line and if you cross that, you’re probably gonna black out. I have done many times by accident. You can sometimes seem sober, almost as if you’re not using them, even when you have actual anxiety. I don’t think it shouldn’t be taught about at schools, I just think there should be more research done and more ways of finding out what the drug is because a lot of people search it up even before trying. I wouldn’t say it’s linked to any music culture as it’s been used for years by emo, punk, and rock bands, as well as SoundCloud rappers, and mainstream artists. It’s not a bad drug, it’s just got a bad reputation. I took them for my anxiety as I had a connection to get real ones and had seen a lot of people I had grown up with use them. I thought “why not”, and started myself.”

49) Gender unspecified, Bournemouth

“I started taking benzos in 2017 when I was nineteen years old, and continued to use them for four years. I no longer take benzos unless it is to sleep after using cocaine. I was introduced to them by a guy that I was interested in, I remember that I had no idea what they were when I first took them. I slowly met more of his friends who all used benzos very heavily, with some of them suffering from drug induced epilepsy from it. When I was using benzos all my insecurities and anxieties went away, similar to how alcohol made me feel. I loved feeling confident and having no boundaries in what I said or did. I started partaking in more risk taking behaviour like casual sex (I didn’t do that prior), shoplifting, mixing drugs etc. I feel like my personality and behaviour spiralled out of control but I also felt very numb to what was happening. I became someone new, and ditched my old friends because we were going on different paths.

When I used to use benzos I would be doing normal activities like partying, going to the beach, working, going to the pub. A benzo party for me included alcohol, codeine linctus (to portray lean), music (usually rap/mumble soundcloud rap), smoking cigarettes. Sometimes I would mix cocaine and benzos. I started taking them when I was working since my friend had been doing that and he was quite successful in his career, and I ended up getting fired from two jobs for being visibly high on shift and forgetting things. I never looked for support for my benzo usage but instead they phased themselves out of my life. I did/said things I regretted terribly and felt so much embarrassment for how my life was. I couldn’t stand doing them anymore and I started using ketamine more heavily instead.

I have experienced many blackouts on benzos, I would even say that the first two years of using them is one big blur to this day. I am unsure of when certain events happened or what months/years I was fired from my jobs. I would also wake up in random locations with no idea how I got there. I have photos and videos of me doing things that I don’t remember. I think learning about benzos in schools would be very helpful in reducing harm and addiction. Like I said before, I had no idea what benzos were when I first tried them. I had no idea about the negative affects, I am not saying this would have stopped me from trying them but maybe I would have made a few better decisions (like not going to work high, not mixing with alcohol or cocaine, trying to have breaks).

I do think there is a huge link between SoundCloud rappers and benzo usage. I would listen to ‘mumble rap’ all the time at those parties, I liked how the lyrics felt relatable. Me and my friends ended up getting codeine linctus from chemists and put it in double Starbucks cups to imitate the things we were seeing. Listening to this music makes you feel like you’re in a secret gang, that most people don’t understand or engage with; because I loved benzos and SoundCloud rappers loved benzos, I loved listening to it. I don’t even like rap music (as a whole genre) anymore, so I think it was really driven by the benzos/fitting into the group. I do not think that there is a link between benzos and club culture, I think that people like to do more chilled things whilst on it. Maybe it’s because the clubs in Bournemouth are not very good. I think it slightly links to club culture if cocaine users use them to to go bed afterwards. I don’t miss benzos at all and think that stage of my life is very embarrassing in retrospect.”

48) Man, Belfast

"Over a decade ago I discovered benzos as a handy safety net for psychedelic experiences that got too intense, or post-party comedown aids. During this time I used etizolam and various other recreational benzos and soon became dependent on them throughout my years at university. My GP was very helpful when I asked for a supervised taper using diazepam. I tapered at my own pace, checked in with them every two weeks and despite the trauma of daily chemist visits I was able to safely come off and stay off benzos for many years, using this method of a medically supervised diazepam taper which is based on the 'Ashton Manual’.

Fast forward to 2020: COVID, stressful shared living conditions, increasing use of stimulants, stress at work, the terminal diagnosis of a close family member and complications that came with all of this lead me to self medicate with benzos again, despite swearing it would never happen again. They permitted me to sleep when I needed to, be calm in the eye of the storm and function day-to-day, without crippling anxiety and insomnia. I sought help with my GP again, expecting to be able to get yet another supervised taper plan along with a diazepam script to make this possible, as my supply of diazepam became unreliable and costly. I was told this wasn't possible; I was referred to my local addiction clinic where I waited months to be seen, and was told the only option available was to continue buying on the black market or detox in hospital for two weeks. Anyone who understands the pharmacology and seriousness of benzo addiction knows that a heavy, long term benzo user cannot safely 'detox' in two weeks without experiencing potentially life threatening seizures and other horrific and long lasting symptoms... My GP was equally horrified at their suggestions yet had no power over the way the clinic handled my case.

I have since discharged myself from the clinic as they would gaslight me, telling me: 'the less you know the better' and that 'intellectualising things is just making it harder for you to access our services'. The long waits between appointments, 'inconclusive' urine samples leading to them having to watch me urinate, examining every angle of my life over and over and still refusing to provide reasonable support, left me somewhat traumatised and deflated. It appears that new legislation has removed the option of a safely supervised medical benzo taper since the first time I accessed this model of treatment, over a decade ago. I am currently tapering off diazepam from the black market, at my own pace, with no professional support but luckily I am educated and experienced enough to understand how to do this safely."

47) Gender unspecified, Bristol

“I’m 22 and recently began to address my benzo problem. I first tried Xanax when I was 15 and experimenting with drugs. I didn’t really think much of it because I took it in the wrong setting (big night out) but I kept the pills I’d bought because I thought: ‘maybe they might come in handy’. When i was in 6th form I started using MDMA a lot and discovered that Xanax was great for curbing the high of uppers. In my first year of university (aged 18) I used MD every week and then mixed 2-3mg of Xanax with alcohol after. MD began to stop working for me and brought out my anxiety, something I've suffered with all my life. As I struggled more with my mental health when i was 18 and 19 i began to use Xanax heavily, taking 5-10mg per day and often mixing with alcohol. I needed it to be able to attend lectures where I didn’t know anyone. I needed it to sleep. I needed it to stop thinking.

It got to a point where i had no memory of days and was becoming very unreliable and MIA a lot. I sat university exams I don’t even remember because I was so out of it. I became a bit of a zombie. I tried to quit (age 19) by using Valium to help reduce the Xanax which helped. However I ended up just using the valium in the day (30mg) and Xanax at night (1 or 2mg). I was proud I’d reduced to this level but when my mental health declined, my benzo use would increase. Ive recently been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and generalised anxiety.

It’s terrible because I know how bad addiction can get having been there bad, but I also don’t wish to stop the levels that I'm currently taking. Benzos enable me to function and socialise. It’s because of Valium that I could do job interviews and secure a well-paying job. It’s because of Xanax that I am able to sleep rather than stay up at night worrying and harming myself. It’s thanks to benzos that I don’t experience so many debilitating panic attacks. I recognise my mental illness may play a role in my dependency on benzos. I also never wish to be as addicted as I was when I was 18. I've stopped taking uppers because I know it results in me needing high doses of downers. But I cant quite seem to kick the need for them in my every day life.”

46) Man, Anglesey

"When I was 18 I took benzos which I bought as 'diazepam' I later found out it wasn't what it said it was - it was etizolam. The box and packing looked incredibly legit: it had Braille on the box and it came with an instruction leaflet. I took them to relax and escape the stress of life for a while, I started off with 1/2 a night. Then I got to 3/4 a night then I quit for a day or two; I was at work the day after taking 4. I had tremors, I couldn't stop shaking and I felt incredibly depressed and sad. That's what made me quit taking them. They were good when I first started taking them, made me chilled out, a heavy body and sometimes euphoric like nothing else has. The effects it had on my body and mind outweighed the positives.”

45) Non-binary, Oxford

"I used diazepam regularly to dull my anxiety because I couldn't function. I became dependent on them to the point that I couldn't sleep without them. They were extremely helpful initially and allowed me to function, but I started needing much higher doses to have the same effect - and ultimately the benzos caused even more anxiety because I knew I needed to get off them but couldn’t.”

44) Man, Hull

"I took 3 xans once. Had one: felt mellow but super tired. Had the other two a couple hours later and all my anxiety was gone; I was very chatty and confident before passing out for the night. It was around 6pm when I fell asleep – that’s how tired I was.”

43) Gender unspecified, Leigh

"I tried Xanax once. A friend told me one bar would not be enough, so I took 2 without considering that these were street pills rather than medical grade ones. I only really remember feeling as if maybe I feel something and that is it for 12 hours. From talking to those around me, I gather that at some point I dropped them on to the floor, and then took more. I also don’t remember meeting the people i apparently did that night. One second it was day time and the next I was in hospital being asked questions. It was my mum that checked my bag to see if i was drunk and she found the remaining Xanax in my bag and took me straight to hospital because i seemed so out of touch. I still have no memory of what happened to my money, a large quantity of Xanax went, who I saw or how I managed to get home night.”

42) Gender unspecified, Brighton

"I started taking benzos at 17 when a doctor prescribed diazepam for what I can only describe as sudden and severe anxiety and unmanageable feelings. From the first time taking it, I'd never experienced relief quite like it anywhere else, I knew I needed more. For the next 7 years I was either looking for dealers that sold benzos, buying benzos from the dealers I'd eventually found and then panicking when I was running low (these dealers were never reliable or consistent). It was a constant, inescapable loop, I couldn't be without them, because every time I was it felt like the world was caving in around me. In the interim between running out and finding more I would drink heavily. The binge drinking worsened and I would black out severely. Finally, I was prescribed diazepam long-term (2+ years) by a psychiatrist. There was no mention of how this would effect me long-term, or even that I shouldn't be taking them long-term. Eventually, the psychiatrist refused to prescribe any more without any concern about the deadly withdrawals, or a taper plan.

I once again had to find another consistent source. I turned to the dark net and ended up supplying myself with boxes of pharmaceutical grade diazepam and lorazepam. This turned into abuse as I was no longer concerned about running out, and I was still heavily drinking. This period of my life was horrifying, I don't remember anything but snapshots. I had no capacity for rational or critical thought. I was burning through all my money without a care. I was putting myself in increasingly dangerous situations and I was blacking out severely most days. Not to mention, my once shy, thoughtful and polite personality was no more. I was rude, extremely arrogant and outwardly very narcissistic under the influence of these terrible drugs. It's mortifying to think back on. I was in complete denial that I had to stop taking benzos daily for a long time. I'd stopped drinking and was clinging onto a daily dose of valium, convincing myself it was holding my sanity together. But after some sort of miracle (actually after taking psilocybin mushrooms) I knew I had stop. I went to my GP to ask to come off them, the GP gave me a 6-week taper plan. They were completely uninformed of the risks of coming off of benzos long-term in such a short amount of time. The withdrawals were potentially the most traumatic and terrifying experience I've possibly ever lived through. They were severe; they induced psychosis and acute panic attacks/ dissociative seizures. I had no long or short term memory, every day I was stuck in that moment - which was hell. I became a complete agoraphobic recluse. I lost the ability to speak or think and the acute withdrawal period lasted around four months. It felt like my brain was on fire, I wondered if I was getting dementia. I ended up in rehab after it became too much to bear, and couldn't get down from the last 2mg. The lasting effects of the withdrawal lasted around a year and a half after, I wondered if I was going to be stuck like that forever. I still couldn't think, was scared to venture outside much, scared to socialise, my memory was fragmented and I was still heavily dissociated for a long time.

It's been three years since I quit benzos, I'm completely sober and doing better than ever. Things aren't perfect, but I am no longer experiencing any of the withdrawal effects and my mental health is all-around more stable than it's been in a long time. I'm so grateful to have been able to come out the other side. Yet I have to live with the repercussions of this long period of my life; benzos took away what were supposed to have been the best years of my youth. I don't remember almost anything for 7 whole years, and that is terrifying. I still can't believe the dark path these seemingly innocuous drugs took me down. There absolutely needs to be more talk and knowledge around benzos. It seems that professionals: GP's and psychiatrists alike, don't really understand the potential harm these drugs can cause (especially to already vulnerable people). There needs to be more understanding around trauma/addiction too, as for many people who have underlying trauma these drugs seem like a miracle cure. They make you forget, but at a huge cost. Thank you for the great work you are doing.”

41) Man, London

“I've used a pretty decent amount of benzos during my time of using them. All of them were research chemical benzos because they were easier to get hold of than regular benzos. I will explain the reasons why I used them. Probably the most useful was for stimulant comedowns. I like to take stims in the evenings or night because I like the atmosphere but I also do love being able to eat and sleep haha. After I decided to end the session for the night, I would usually dose from 1-5mg of Etizolam. This would give me almost instant relief as in not having any anxiety, heart stops racing, calming down, being able to eat and sleep which is impossible for me without. I would then usually have a snack like a smoothie and peacefully fall asleep. My next reason was basically the same but without the stimulant part. I just loved the feeling of ease and tiredness they gave me when used in the right amount. I didn't have any problems sleeping without them most of the time, but I just loved being really tired and instantly falling asleep. The third reason is kinda lame but it was just not liking being sober so I'd just take some benzos to not be sober. I never used them during the day for anxiety or anything like that though. Those were my positive experiences with them.

I'm now gonna get into the negatives. I often dosed way too much and the feeling they gave me then was terrible. It made me depressive, lethargic, dragging myself from the computer into the bed and just thinking oh my god – it was way too much again, I feel like killing myself right now. The inhibition with the depressive feelings also made me self harm once. I've had countless blackouts and incredible delusions of sobriety which lead to some of the worst situations of my life. One time my girlfriend called the ambulance on me because I thought I wasn't feeling anything and kept drinking alcohol which could've been fatal. She later told me that I was falling asleep every 2 seconds mid sentence while talking to the paramedics. Whole family was traumatised. Slept through school on many occasions because I took too much and got screamed at by my mother which was also pretty bad. The inhibition also made me take way too much LSD which is still having a negative impact on my life today. Just overall many horror stories. Probably some more shit which I can't even remember.

I think the last two points correlate a bit so I'm gonna get into that now. I think rap has a very big impact on drug use. Teenagers (including myself) consciously or not take some of their favourite rappers as idols and want to be like them in a sense. The whole "Xanax" thing in rap is really disappointing to someone who has experienced the negative sides of benzos and I believe they should truly be more responsible with this stuff. This also includes opiates. Learning at school would probably give a better understanding to kids that these are literally anti-anxiety and sleep meds and don't really give you a "high" that's noticeable like weed or alcohol does. They should also mention the high addiction potential and risks of withdrawal which includes death. I myself have been clean from benzodiazepines for a bit more than 4 weeks. I personally feel tho that I've never had an addiction to it and didn't have a single thought like 'man I wish I had some benzos right now'".

40) Gender unspecified, Buckinghamshire

"I have anxiety and Xanax and valium I occasionally take as either relief from anxiety, to enjoy myself or to sleep. When I was taking pills or cocaine I would use Xanax to sleep after a night out (I don’t anymore as I quit them). Now I take Xanax very occasionally because I enjoy feeling calm and the sleep I get from it resets me. I’ll probably take it this summer to sleep at festivals as it’s harder to sleep then. I don’t think I need help for my benzo use because it is always strategic and very occasional. I did use them more when I was at university to sleep when I was anxious about my deadlines but I stopped when life got easier.”

39) Man, Bristol

"I took an array of benzo's (Xanax, Valium, and other research chems) for over 2 years during a bad time of my life. I was depressed and anxious at the time and the benzos took the edge off until the next day. Then I woke up and took more. Repeat cycle for 2 years. I experienced many blackouts, usually when I mixed with alcohol which is a massive mistake. I eventually went cold turkey and didn't taper off which resulted in a seizure. This was an awful experience but also one that helped me see the light in terms of drugs. I still take benzos on rare occasions, when I cannot sleep or when I feel overly anxious. It's a safety net for me, overall this is a bad thing that needs to stop. If I was educated on drugs, I wouldn't have had a seizure.”

38) Man, Chatham, Kent

"I started taking valium and Xanax when I was 18. Due to the nature of the drug I don’t totally remember the things that happened but it didn’t fuck my life up quite a bit. I ended up being kicked out of uni. The reason I was hooked so easily is because I’ve always suffered from anxiety so when I first tried it it was pure bliss. I even told myself for a long time that it makes me the better version of me. I think Benzo abuse damages the soul more than anything else I’ve done, it changes who you are. I feel like I’ve done unfixable damage to myself but I’m better now. Sorry this stories a bit all over the place, I’m out right now but wanted to help with the harm prevention so young people don’t suffer how I did."

37) Man, Leeds

"I did Valium (diazepam) recreationally at a house party. I purchased it from an unlicensed source. I took around 100mg (5 20mg pills). It made me feel very relaxed but I couldn’t really balance properly and lost most of the use of my legs. I also had a lasting effect of amnesia including the evening I took them and the day after I have no memory of. I would consider doing them again as they are fun recreationally however I have not done them since my first time of trying them."

36) Gender unspecified, Brighton

"I used benzos regularly in my teens and 20s. I first discovered them when I was prescribed diazepam, temazepam and lorazepam for mental health and sleep-related issues in my late teens (around 2007, when they were much more frequently prescribed). For a short period of time they helped with the quite serious mental health challenges I was experiencing, and allowed me to feel normal enough to connect with other people. However, ongoing use led to dependence and withdrawal, so I eventually tapered off and only used benzos sporadically if someone else offered them to me. When my use of other drugs and alcohol progressed further (around age 19-20) I started buying illicit benzos to use alongside other substances and/or deal with the comedowns (e.g. after a party or night out using stimulants/MDMA). This was fairly common among my peers at the time, although several stopped mixing benzos with stimulants after an acquaintance died from the same combination. Despite understanding the risks, I still used benzos for this purpose 1-3 times a week.

As I reached my early 20s and began working, I discovered I couldn’t trust myself to drink or use stimulants on a work night, so I bought benzos, cannabis and milder opiates (e.g. tramadol/dihydrocodeine) instead to provide the escape I needed. I regularly experienced blackouts, extreme mood swings and cognitive difficulties, but I continued using as I felt completely unable to spend any time alone with myself. Around the same time, my alcohol and drug use led to a very traumatic experience, which led me to stop drinking for 10 months. In that same period, my benzo and other drug use spiralled as a way to cope with the trauma. I didn’t seek support until I was around 28 years old, when I approached my local drug and alcohol service. I saw a key worker weekly alongside private therapy sessions, but couldn’t attend groups due to a conflict of interest with my job at the time (I was working in mental health). I was referred for residential rehab but there was a long wait for funding so I connected with my local recovery community in the meantime, and by the time the funding became a possibility I had already been abstinent for several months. Through mutual aid and ongoing therapy, I have been free from illicit substances and alcohol since 2017.”

35) Man, Derbyshire

“I started taking them after learning my mum had been sexually abused, diagnosed with PTSD, and I had been diagnosed with ADHD. My grandma passed with COVID five months prior. In the meantime, I was trying to get through university and apply for state benefits for my mum. I would say they got through that period stable and calm. I was obviously depressed and anxious without them. I'm now attempting to come off them myself, as admitting to taking them will have my ADHD medication probably revoked. I'm addicted to them now. I started on etizolam going up to no more then 2mg. I switched to valium 10mg, and I sometimes go up to 20mg max. The last year has been the toughest of my life. I regret taking benzos. But I don't know what that period looks like without benzos.”

34) Gender unspecified, Berkshire

“To start off, I was an alcoholic and cannabis user already. I used to struggle sleeping, and was going through a particularly bad stage. A friend offered me a Valium one night, to help me sleep well (blue pill off the street). She said she wouldn't give them to me often but I would have one or two off of her every week. A couple of months later I was drinking with a different friend, he offered me the same blue pills and said they would help me get twice as drunk, twice as quickly. I held out my hand and he poured me a handful. I took two 10mg that day, whilst drinking and went to a family meal, they say I was drooling, rolling my eyes around my head, falling asleep at the dinner table. I woke up the next morning and remembered.. NOTHING. As an alcoholic I have had many blackouts, but since becoming a Valium user I call them grey outs as I had never had a blackout quite like this. I

used them for a further year and 1/2 ish, when suddenly my drug dealer died (the friend who had filled my hand previously). I had no other means of getting the Valium I was now taking daily, for sleep, anxiety at work and social situations and to assist with my drinking. PANIC. I booked an emergency doctors appointment that day, I told the doctor I was grieving and had high anxiety, I needed some TEMPORARY anxiety relief - knowing that Diazepam would be one of the options being a 'short-term' prescription. So I walked out with some pills, but no means enough to fulfil my cravings. I struggled for a week with the lower dose, drinking and smoking more to satisfy the longings for more Valium. I called my doctor the next week and said anxiety was still high. This went on for a couple of weeks, leading him to continue upping my dose.

I was HOOKED. Valium was all that mattered to me. I was numb to every one I loved, unreachable. I had a job which I thrived in, even with the alcohol addiction, and yet, suddenly I wasn't functioning. Colleague's would notice me bouncing off the walls and walking into things. Trying to communicate was painful - to a point where it was easier for myself and those around me if I didn't bother. Mumbles and slurs, losing my trail of thought, replacing words with words that were of no relevance to what I was saying. Once the doctor told me that he would not be upping my dose any further, I broke down and admitted that I needed them, the effect was wearing off and I needed more. He refused and I knew this was it, I had taken this as far as I could and I needed to stop. I was faced with the reality before me. I had no choice. I called my doctor again and poured the truth out to him:”I am an addict and I have been playing you all along to get a fix. Now, I know I need to stop and I need help.”

I still remember clearly his response: absolute shock. From that day forward I began to lower my dose. Once at 5mg a day I stopped tapering and quit. That's when the living nightmare of withdrawals began. To this day I have never suffered so much. No amount of grief, heart ache or physical pain has compared. Rocking, shaking and sweating for a week or two. My head felt like it was bleeding - that's how I described it at the time - I have never felt such discomfort - nothing like your typical headache. I was utterly depersonalized, walking down the road screaming. Suicidal. Hurling words of abuse to the people who loved me - I say that they loved me and not visa versa, because at that time I had no love for anyone. I was signed off work for around 6 weeks due to withdrawals. After the 2 week period of initial withdrawals, fluctuations of anger, suicidal ideation, blackout, continued headaches, grief, spasms- which started a few days after I quit, gradually deteriorating but are still with me now in times of stress. These spasms (for the first couple of months clean) would come along mostly whilst trying to fall asleep, like jolts of electricity through my entire body, my legs and arms would go crazy - that has stopped. But I also had these jolts (brain zaps) in my head, a sudden movement that would turn my head in a flinch, these I still get but only now when anxious, tired or stressed.

When I decided to get clean, I had no support other than NA. NA is/was a huge support - it's having understanding from others, and connections with those who have been there. The doctor had no help to offer me, and was quite happy for me to taper from 5mg, which I know now based on the withdrawals I had - I should have tapered even more gradually. I googled so many times, seeking support and there just was nothing to offer. That's when I found RecoveryPosse on twitter. My recovery has progressed massively thanks to the support from fellow addicts on twitter. I think learning about Benzos at school would be useful- incredibly useful!.. As I was taught about class A drugs and the damages they can cause in school, I was prepared for that. But I had never heard a negative word said about Valium. They are 'anxiety relievers', they 'help you to relax', 'mum's take them' etc. I think it's very important that the knowing of the damage caused by these drugs is spread.

I have been clean from benzos for 1 year and 9 months. Anxiety is still much higher than it should be, I still have moments daily in which I forget what I am saying mid-sentence. But on the whole life is better than I ever thought it could be. Thank whatever you believe in for Recovery!!! I'll finish by saying that the scariest part of a benzo addiction to me.. is the INTENSE LOVE I have for it. I am an addict of 3 substances, and yet Valium had a hold of me that I can't put into words. It was in my mind a 'resolver of ALL problems', and 'multi-purpose drug'. That thought scares me the most. There is an ongoing fight in my mind not to give in to the part of my head that fell in love with it. I didn't know it was addictive before it was too late.”

33) Gender unspecified, Bournemouth

“Originally started to take them in conjunction with other recreational drugs, eg would take them after taking coke at the end of a night out. Would have a stash held in my room for those kinds of situations/take them around with me in case a situation came up. Had some rough periods of time where I would feel unconsolable, feel like I'd be frantic or panicking and resorted to taking benzos to calm down and stop feeling so uncontrollable. Feel like I have some level of control, know the consequences so am wary about how much or often I take it.”

32) Man, Brighton

“Most people don't even realise the bars and Vals they are doing are actually pressed research chemicals. I do really like Diclazepam, Etizolam, Flualprazolam and Clonazolam. However, the only sources of info and harm reduction are online forums. There is very little actual safety data. However, user reports deem these to be relatively safe. The massive potency and increased blackouts do make these benzos a lot hectic than their prescribed counterparts though. At least with diazepam and alprazolam you know what you're getting, how it should feel etc.”

31) Non-binary, Gloucestershire

“About a year ago my best friend at the time was addicted to Xanax. We are no longer friends however when we were I remember thinking something was wrong with him because he acted like a zombie sometimes or really spaced out in conversation, it wasn’t until a few months into his addiction that he told me what was going on. I didn’t know how to help him because I was inexperienced with that type of thing. I wish I could have helped him. I saw him gradually becoming more obvious and reckless with his drug use a couple weeks before he verbally told me, it isolated him from me a lot because he was more interested in Xans and other drugs than keeping our friendship. I wish I had knew what to do at the time to help however due to lack of knowledge I couldn’t. We are no longer friends and he is still using.”

30) Man, Glasgow

“I’m 27, but have been using benzos since about the age of 18. There were times throughout this 9 year period where I've used them probably a bit too much, particularly in the first few years when you could still access research chemical benzos on legal high sites on the clear web. Etizolam was my favourite and I could get stupid amounts for cheap (something like 100 x 2mg tablets for £20ish), so I would just eat them like sweeties with my mates for days on end, while also drinking, smoking weed and/or using other drugs. Because they lower your inhibitions, combined with being young and immature and not really having any responsibilities, I was pretty reckless with them for a couple of years. Fortunately however, I never ended up becoming addicted to them and never experienced any withdrawals. A few of my friends did end up with fairly bad addictions to them though, with some of them experiencing seizures when coming off them.

Since that 2 or 3 year period of recklessness, my use of benzos has become more sensible as well as functional. Over the last several years it's mainly been alprazolam I've used, simply because it's much more easy to find than Etizolam now. While I occasionally still use them for recreational purposes from time to time to just relax and get stoned with my friends/girlfriend, over the last five years or so I've basically only been using them for certain specific purposes: as an occasional tool for self-medication of anxiety; to reduce the negative symptoms associated with comedowns from recreational stimulants like cocaine, MDMA, mephedrone etc; as "trip killers" when using psychedelics when I no longer want to be tripping, either because I'm having a bad trip or just to smooth out the transition from tripping to (relative) sobriety; and to help alleviate boredom of travelling long journeys by train or plane (as well as "speeding up" the journey as time just sort of flies by and/or I just fall asleep and wake up at my destination).

I would describe my use of them nowadays as more functional (i.e. serving a particular function) than recreational. All in all, nowadays it's only about once (max. twice) per week that I use them, sometimes even less often than that (e.g. once in a 2 week period), and it is only ever in one of these specific scenarios. In that respect, I find benzos actually a very useful thing to have lying around, with the constant caveat that they can only be used sparingly if you don't want to end up with any issues. Of course, I'm aware I have to be very careful when it comes to self-medicating for anxiety, but it's not very often I feel so anxious that I feel a need to use them. They're more of a last resort kind of thing. But for the last few years I would characterise my relationship with benzos as actually relatively "healthy" compared to most people who use them, and certainly compared to how I used to use them myself when I was younger where I would frequently black out for several days.

Learning about benzos in school would have been incredibly useful from a harm reduction perspective, much like with all drugs. I think myself and my friends could have benefitted enormously from some honest, evidence-based harm reduction education which would have empowered us to make informed decisions about their risk, particularly the risk of respiratory depression when combined with alcohol or other CNS depressants, as well as the severity of addiction they can produce and the horrible withdrawal symptoms like seizures. In my opinion, harm reduction education should be a mandatory subject in all schools, for all types of drugs. I think there is some link between club culture and benzo use, but it's maybe not the most important factor. I've heard of some people using benzos for going out to clubs etc., but I don't know any personally. I think the main link to club culture is in the use of benzos to help with stimulant comedowns, in the way I have often used them myself.”

29) Gender unspecified, London

“I bought street Valium after trying it at the hospital once (they gave it to me because I was having horrible seizures as a response to too much nausea medication). Having always had insomnia problems, I took it to help me sleep for a while, especially since I was going through a hard time and overthinking a lot at night. I also took it with weed at times. This went on for a couple months. I stopped because I was always so drowsy and defeated the day after. And as my mental health improved, I no longer needed a sleep aid as much.”

28) Gender and location unspecified

“In my experience, benzos are suuuper addicting. I used to steal them from my grandma. They make u feel numb and that makes anxiety go away which is nice but I regret most of those times because it erases your memory. I usually have rlly good memory but that period of my life is kind of blurry.”

27) Non-binary, Sleaford

“I struggle a lot with mental health issues, constantly feeling on edge and unable to relax. When I can find them, either Valium or Xanax they are pure bliss I just sit and watch TV after taking them. But I get a taste for them immediately and spend days on end a zombie, terrible memory, mood swings, absolutely no motivation to do anything even eat. I always go back to them because I always feel like a need periods of relaxation. I’ve only blacked out once and I did actually do anything just fell asleep. The drug and mental health services in my area are awful I’ve had experience with a few and got absolutely 0 support, but with benzos I’ve never really felt like I didn’t support for it because it’s not an everyday thing – it’s as and when I can find them. I think all drugs should be taught in school because we need harm prevention. Drug use is part of human nature. I don’t know about the club scene but I know for certain that uppers like cocaine and MDMA go hand in hand with benzos speaking from experience needing to taken them after a session.”

26) Gender unspecified, London

“My experience with benzos is quite neutral I'd say. There were phases in which I'd take them for a couple of weeks straight, but I never experienced tolerance or withdrawal. I always stopped after I realised it had been two weeks because I was always well aware of the potential risks of dependence sometime beyond that timeframe. I took Xanax for the first time quite young, because my dad had it in his cabinet and I was curious. I don't remember it being anything special. I just slept a lot, and didn't touch benzos until sixth form, when I actually started enjoying them. I always took them alone, and always stole them from my unobservant dad, who I'm pretty sure thought he lost the bottle himself (it was drops of Alprazolam not bars).

The main reason for taking them was that, under the pressure of exams, I began abusing my ADHD meds + red bulls to stay up at night and study. This abuse of stimulants obviously meant that I sometimes found myself unable to sleep or even remotely relax for a couple of days. I felt uncomfortably alert and anxious and in a constant state of anticipation, obviously sleep deprived and unable to focus. When I took Xanax I could finally sleep, and my body and muscles no longer felt so uncomfortably tense. Under stimulants everything was so noisy, and Xanax made everything feel more peaceful and quiet. So for a short period of time I began this cycle of stimulants during the day and Xanax at night. I soon stopped because I realised I was doing myself harm.

During uni this happened again a couple of times, but I no longer had easy access to benzos (although I did have easy access to stimulants), and I think I finally learned to be responsible with my meds. I realise this was a dumb move, but there was also a phase when I used (street bought) Xanax because I was so bored all the time and I had nothing to do at night so I just either smoked or took Xanax to force myself to sleep early. This was when I was living alone during lockdown and didn't see anyone for weeks. This didn't go on for long, and I had some remaining bars. The last time I took a quarter in September to fall asleep after taking what I thought was MDMA (but I'm pretty sure it was mostly something else), which had made my muscles very tense and I couldn't stop my jaw from trembling. I didn't take more than a quarter because I think I read somewhere that benzos might worsen MDMA neurotoxicity, but I don't know whether that's true. And that's pretty much it. Benzos have helped me at times, mostly in relation to other drugs, but for me it really wasn't that special. I'm keeping the bars because in case I decide to do psychedelics again I like the idea of having that option if I get anxious while tripping.”

25) Gender and location unspecified

“I can't begin to explain it, but there is something about benzos that I am severely addicted to. I have never done anything where taking just one pill can completely take me over. I would pop them like candy and I won't stop until the entire bottle is gone. It is really scary. I hate how I used to act because I am a totally different person. I lie, I steal and always pick fights and start arguments... Just to wake up and try to remember what the hell happened. It was so embarrassing because I ALWAYS blacked-out. The worst part is that I can't even count how many times I've died due to mixing with Fentanyl 😢 EDUCATION IS KEY! We are literally walking zombies https://www.vice.com/en/article/4awv3d/rise-of-benzo-laced-fentanyl”

24) Gender unspecified, Leeds

“Struggled with Valium abuse last year was taking large amounts and tolerance built up quickly. To initially help sleep post recreational drug use and then to sleep longer/feel out of it and relaxed. I was making bad decisions and not thinking how my actions impacted those around it, almost felt like nothing had any real consequences. I would always black out and not remember anything for whole weekends at a time whilst using. Yes there is a link between club culture and Benzo use. Was called out on my behaviour and addiction by a friend and made a decision to stop cold turkey. They’re scary drugs.”

23) Man, Leeds

“Tried a pill of Xanax and had a nice experience. It took about 30mins to kick in but afterwards felt really relaxed and just felt stress free. After about 2 hours however the rest of the night was a blur I didn’t remember anything about even getting home. Would do again.”

22) Man, Birmingham

"I started using illicit benzos to cope with the 'come downs' from cocaine and other stimulants. My experience was a positive one, however the benzo use did creep up on me and I began to self medicate my (day to day) anxiety and boredom. This led to using thoughout the week and increased my tolerance, I had to taper off on my own as I did not receive help from my GP."

21) Man, Bristol

“Benzos were the worst thing that could have happened to me. As a 16 year old, I became heavily addicted to the point where it was all day everyday. The worst part is you don’t realize what it’s doing to you at the time, or remember I lost a solid three months of my life. You don’t care about anything else but the benzos, it got to the point where I lost my job, friends, and partner. Luckily I managed to get out just before the seizures happened, but it’s a slippery slope and not one I wish anyone to go down.”

20) Man, Brighton

“I took benzos with varying degrees of regularity for about 2-3 years. In that time, I would go through periods of heavy benzo usage (anything from a couple of 10mg Valium to one or two 'red devil' Xanax on nights out). While I wouldn't say I was ever physically addicted as I never felt like I needed benzos or couldn't stop taking them, I was nevertheless surrounded by people who either were or took them regularly on nights out which encouraged me to do the same. I was initially attracted to benzos owing to how cheap they were, and when taken with alcohol, how they could have a very strong effect for such a low cost. There are more nights than I can count which I have no memory of at all owing to this combination, something which I regret deeply as I was known to become aggressive very easily while in that state. What's more, this change in mood could easily persist for weeks, especially if I was taking benzos regularly in that time. I also found myself growing apathetic and disinterested with anything apart from smoking weed, playing video games and going out. Having watched friends go through cycles of addiction, withdrawal and then addiction again, even going so far as to celebrate what was rapidly becoming a heavy benzo taking culture, I slowly started to reduce my intake of the drug.

Multiple times I have been scared for a friend's life owing to their benzo habit, and multiple times have I seen at-risk individuals become addicted to the drug as it offers escapism. I myself have had incidents on benzos where I have cut myself after ingesting 10-20 10mg Valium, and had no idea why I had decided to do that the next day. As well as all this, one of my deepest regrets from that part of my life is the fact that I have an incredibly patchy memory of around a year (mainly my first year of uni) of my life. I don't know how many memories or experiences I have lost due to my benzo usage back then, but they are parts of my life that I will never be able to get back. Ruminating on this makes me depressed, occasionally, as no-one should have their memories taken from them by anything, let alone a drug. The ease and the cheapness at which benzos can be obtained is a massive issue, and puts at-risk individuals in great danger of becoming addicted. Self-regulation is hard for at-risk individuals, especially when benzo taking is seen as a norm or even celebrated amongst groups of friends. Having more knowledge about these drugs and their effects taught from a young age would be incredibly useful in my opinion, to prepare people for the inevitable point in their lives when they will come into contact with benzos, and what to look out for in terms of risk.”

19) Man, Oxford

“I don't know if Xanax are included but i used to sell hundreds of Xanax. I never even tried them myself. I heard stories from one of the people I was supplying to that people would try and sell their shoes to him they got so desperate. I was at my friend's and show offered me a Valium which I had done before and was comfortable with, I dropped it.. hmm not enough, so I did some more. I had gone to this friend's house on Friday and told my housemate I'd be back later. I woke up.. on Monday. 5 missed calls from my boss. Apparently we stayed over, did some more and then again, That was also the day I contracted covid (well not really but that's what my work thought). That was also the day I stopped selling those drugs as I realised how dangerous they are.”

18) Man, Lancashire

“I’ve taken 450mg of Pregabalin and saved a lot of money on alcohol, it’s way too expensive in clubs these days.”

17) Man, Preston

"I was addicted to many benzodiazepines for many years from ages 16-23. I started taking them as I have severe sleeping problems from Valium all the way to the worst of all temazepam. Taking anywhere from 10-20 10mg’s a day or 10-20mg of temazepam. I quickly became addicted and didn’t know it. It took over my life I nearly lost everything my family, money, job but most importantly myself it wasn’t me I became a monster. My mental health went spiralling out of control as I suffer from ADHD as it is unknowingly it made it much worse to the point of feeling suicidal all the time depressed and constantly angry and upset and not knowing the benzos was doing this to my brain.

I took it that far I nearly OD’d but it was a long time coming taking them after coming in from the sesh every weekend to sleep which is so dangerous me not thinking and thought it was sound. To then taking 38 20mg temazepam blacking out having Seizures to being admitted to A&E to lucky to be alive. Then I’d had enough to the point of I had nothing to live for and nothing left so I visited rehab and luckily due to covid lockdown I was able to lock myself with my family in a sense at home after rehab and get watched 24/7. Let me tell you this what not easy I was trying to use phones to contact my dealers and friends to drop them during covid, literally crawling the walls and shaking crying at night had all my window and door keys taken as I was attempting regularly to escape because I was coming down off the drugs and wanted them more than anything. This was the worst experience of my life and I don’t wish this upon anyone.

I thought I was Jack the Lad and could control and it became the normal popping them like sweets but they control you quicker than you think. When you think you’re okay on them, you’re not – sooner or later they will grip you! I have dabbled in most drugs throughout my life but nothing comes close to the addiction levels and horrific impact they can do to you and your lives. Now I am 2 years clean and my life has changed so much for the better. I am now buying my own house, kept my job, and never felt better and cleaner. Please for the love of god stay away from any drugs but especially benzos as you could loose everything, I count myself a lucky one many people and friends I thought I knew have either gone from us or turned to monsters from this as they will grab you quicker than you think.”

16) Man, West Midlands

“I started using benzos after I went to 6th form at about the age of 18. They were exceptionally cheap and readily available from my weed dealer, and I initially started using them as a replacement for weed that didn't intoxicate me as much so I could focus more on my studies. I have always been a socially anxious person and they allowed me to loosen up and relax without stinking the place out of alcohol or weed. My use was moderate at first, but quickly became more and more regular. What started out as cheap eventually became a fairly expensive habit for someone with very little income.

In a tale as old as time, I figured out I could purchase them cheaply in bulk (legally online at the time as various benzo analogues weren't controlled substances). I had quickly progressed from a user to a dealer, and as word spread that I had lots of them all the time I would sell them to friends and friends of friends at parties. They were novel to a lot of my customers and they had no idea to handle them, and I kept hearing horror stories of them waking up in bushes, missing work, missing college and the like. Unfortunately by this point the effects of regular, heavy benzo use were beginning to render me very apathetic to the harm I was doing to myself and others.

I was floating around in a haze constantly, starting and finishing every day with a few and taking them constantly throughout the day. The physical side effects started to mount, starting with drowsiness, forgetfulness, clumsiness, and progressing to the point where I was wetting the bed on a regular basis and falling asleep in inappropriate places. My grades suffered, my friendships suffered, and it got to the point where people close to me were pointing out how bad I was getting.

Of course I was completely oblivious to all this, as people on GABAergic depressants usually are, and so carried on using more and more until I was taking up to 10-15mg of Etizolam a day (equivalent to about 100-150mg valium). I remember at my worst I bought a bag of 1000 and split it with one friend, and went through my whole 500 in about 3 weeks. I must have sold a few but I'm positive I ate the bulk of them. One morning before college I woke up and went for my morning piss, when everything changed. I looked down and the stream of fluid coming out of me was closer to red wine than urine, and my whole world stopped. It suddenly dawned on me that the massive amount of drugs I was taking on a daily basis probably wasn't as harmless as I was kidding myself to believe, and I told my parents about the blood in my urine and got an appointment booked at the GP. They had been concerned at my obvious symptoms but had more faith in me as a person than I deserved.

When I told them about the drug use they were massively concerned and disappointed, and it was back to the GP the next day to fess up about the true cause of my health problems. I was booked in for a cystoscopy to determine the cause of the bleeding. For those not familiar with the procedure this is a camera inserted through the urethra into the bladder, and it was just as horrible and traumatic an experience as it sounds. It's usually made slightly more tolerable by giving the patient benzos, but obviously with my addiction I was afforded no such luxury. What I didn't realise was that having a camera the width of a 2B pencil forcibly inserted into my penis was far and away less painful and uncomfortable than what I had to come.

Coming off benzos was the worst thing I have ever experienced. They are one of the few drugs you cannot quit cold turkey as the risk of a fatal seizure is too high. It involves stabilising yourself on a benzo with a long half life such as valium, and then slowly tapering the dose down over a period of months/years. For me it took about 18 months to come off them completely. 18 months of feeling effectively the opposite of what you feel while taking them: anxious, panicky, depressed, uncomfortable, combined with physical side effects like hypersensitivity, inability to sleep, inability to concentrate, sweating, the whole 9 yards. I described it at the time as feeling like the room I was in was on fire without being able to do anything about it. For 18 months. I ended up substituting the benzos for alcohol which again took some therapy and drug counselling to normalise, but fortunately by the time I was 21 and off to uni I was completely off them and feeling just about back to normal.

I would go on to use them recreationally and functionally a few times after that (I still take them occasionally for high pressure situations like interviews and public speaking), but the scars of what I went through prevented me from ever seriously relapsing. All in all it was the stupidest thing I ever did by a country mile. It cost me pretty much two years of my life, nearly cost me my ability to go to uni, could have easily cost me my life. I know multiple people who died doing the drug combinations I did on a fairly regular basis. In that sense I'm one of the lucky ones, and hopefully writing this down for the first time since might go some way to preventing someone else losing their life to these insidious, dangerous drugs.

Used properly they can be very useful tools, but using them as an intoxicant for intoxication's sake is a very slippery slope to an addiction that is by a lot of accounts worse than opiates, and I think a lot of people don't understand that. More education on just how horrible these things are to come off is imperative, as well as how dangerous they can be in combination with stimulants and alcohol. They might seem like a great way to fall asleep after a rave or calm yourself down for a big occasion, but any sort of dependancy on them is a guaranteed ticket to hell, and there's no such guarantee of a return trip."

15) Man, Nottingham

“Taken Xanax a couple of times, first time at home during lockdown. Don’t remember anything from the night or following day. It was my 2nd day in a new job in a shop and I threw up on the floor, no memory of this. 2nd time I was meant to pick my girlfriend up from the station and I slept in 5 hours late. She went home and told my mum she thought I was dead. My friends continue to use them I do not. They never remember their experience and are always out of it at the time. Zombie like”

14) Man, Brighton

“I’ve tried them maybe a handful of times a few years ago. My perception of them, from what I remember, was that they were a cheap fun way to get a little silly. I’ve seen and heard about others getting hooked on them which gave me the impression that it could very easily become a dangerous game. Being cheap and fun initially but soon becoming a bad habit. I don’t remember much aside from a few things here or there. There were others that I knew who used them far too regularly and some people who had to keep upping their doses to ridiculous levels in order to keep the same effects. Some people would get aggressive and punch lights in the street. Some would slur their words and just act drunk. In my eyes, I am not opposed to doing it once or twice a year recreationally although I haven’t touched the stuff in a couple years. But I understand that it can be a very addicting slippery slope for certain people.”

13) Gender unspecified, South London

"I’ve taken 2mg Xanax on multiple occasions and multiple at once time. Sometimes I have positive experiences but the negatives outweigh the positives unfortunately. On a come down (from a few different drugs) but mainly Xanax, my moods were intensified and I got upset about something and attacked someone. The last time I took a Xanax, I got arrested in another country and have no recollection of that night."

12) Gender unspecified, South East London

"They ruined mine and people around me’s lives. They made me overly aggressive and careless and a few times I’d just walk into shops and full heartedly shoplift walking out with arms full of shit. You have no care for friends or family and can feel no passion for things you love it’s so dangerous because you could honestly do anything and half the time not even remotely remember it. When I was using them regularly I now cannot remember chunks of time around that period I’ve lost months of my life, please anyone reading this and struggling get the help to get clean.❤️"

11) Man, Leicester

"Have been a long term multi addict from 17, now 22. The only thing I can’t kick is the benzos. I started because they made me feel normal (self medication) and the feeling was amazing, being care free and it was a feeling I wanted to feel forever so my doses increased from 6mg Xanax or 3mg flualprazolam spread over the weekend to a point where I was taking 20mg of Xanax or 10mg of flualprazolam daily and barely feeling it. What scared me were the 4 seizures I had every time I tried to stop, either tapering with strong benzos or going cold turkey. I am scared of going to the GP to ask for diazepam to taper as I feel I will be rejected and will have to come off of fake (research chemical) benzodiazepines. UK GPs don’t like to prescribe benzos even if you show them the Ashton manual (a guide on tapering down your dose safely) and I’m so scared of having another seizure and of the damage it does to my friends and family."

10) Man, Brighton

"Previously used small amounts for when at my lowest point mood wise to help me function day to day. Taking them didn’t last long as didn’t like the effects like memory loss etc. I still have the left over prescription and am always tempted by them when feeling overwhelmed or anxious but I know the negatives outweigh the positives so don’t - still don’t throw them away though. I also tried overdosing on them and alcohol at my lowest point mood wise."

9) Man, Brighton

"I have seen tons of my mates take them and it only ever seems to end up in them stealing from each other or fights happening so from my experiences I think they only bring the bad out of people."

8) Man, East Sussex

"Horrible stuff, arguably worse than heroin as it’s so much more socially acceptable and easier to get your hands on."

7) Man, London

"I took Valium as somewhat of a party drug throughout year 11...however naturally it made me the worst possible person to be around at a party. I would sit on a sofa the whole night like a zombie just sort of existing. The next morning I’d have very little memory of what happened but would convince myself that ‘I may not remember it but I can tell I had a sick time!’ Luckily the Valium’s never truly took hold of me and I was able to simply walk away at the end of the year. However a few months later we had a drug talk at school and I had no idea how lethal a combination of Valium and alcohol could be, having drank heavily on them many times. Had I had this information earlier I wouldn’t have taken the risk so I think it would be amazing to have some sort of education around them in schools!"

6) Man, Brighton

"I took Benzos on numerous occasions over the period of about a year, always with friends and just to have fun. The ones I tried were Xanax (although they were most probably fake) and codiene. From what I remember of the experiences, it was a fairly enjoyable experience taking them with friends, but looking back on videos of myself and others under the influence of Benzos really puts into perspective how out of control we were. I felt like I was a totally different person on Benzos and made decisions I would never normally make. I don't plan on ever touching them again. I think there should be more accessible education on Benzos and the dangers of taking them available to young people so fewer bright minds fall down the rabbit hole."

5) Man, London

"I started using benzos to help with my anxiety. I was buying 10mg roche valium direct from the dark web. Ended up taking them an awful lot. sometimes 15+ tablets a day. It would just knock me for 6. I am currently still using actively. Taking 20/30mg just to be able to sleep, because if i don’t the chances of sleep are below 0% haha. I wouldn’t recommend benzos to anyone, whether that be Valium/Xanax. Unless it’s prescribed by a doctors, don’t let yourself get drawn in, by the ‘Hype’ of American rappers making out it’s a fun thing to do. I had a seizure because of a mixture of Valium & Xanax and alcohol. Luckily i was with someone who hadn’t taken any and he was there to support me. But blackouts are a regular occurrence, and the memory loss, especially from xans. Stay away kids. It ain’t worth it. This is coming from an active benzo abuser, addict, whatever you wanna call it."

4) Man, Southampton

"First of all I’d like to say that the world of benzos was opened up to me when i was prescribed them during my chemotherapy. I later went on to abuse the prescription benzos by mixing them with alcohol, it was mainly to escape the situation i was in. Not long after i turned to sourcing my own benzos and using them recreationally. Alprazolam was my favourite but I also used diazepam lorazepam and temazepam. My experience with recreational benzos is negative. It obviously felt very nice and no other drug has given me the same feeling but it quickly turned to addiction.

It was effecting how I interacted with my loved ones and stopped me from engaging in my hobbies. I experienced many blackouts on benzos. My worst being when i fell down the stairs and went to hospital; i walked out of the hospital and was incredibly disrespectful to my family and i don’t remember a thing. During my main course of addiction there were days that I barely remember and weeks that are missing from my memory. I never looked for support on my benzo addiction because I didn’t want it to stop. Even when I made myself stop I never told anyone because i wanted the fall back option of going back to them. I only got support from my family when i had a very bad black out because i couldn’t hide it at that point. I told my psychologist and my doctors but i have still never been offered support for it. They didn’t seem to take much notice and continue to prescribe me a range of addictive substances.

Learning about benzos and drugs in school would be incredibly beneficial. When they educate student on drugs they give an entirely unrealistic representation and just say “don’t do drugs.” They should really focus on these prescription medications in school because they can go so unnoticed. Where they are often prescribed by a doctor people don’t seem to worry as much, but in my opinion benzos are the most dangerous drugs out there especially considering the lack of education surrounding them. I don’t think there’s a link between club culture and benzo use. I think the main link is the lack of education of the public and doctors. Some doctors overprescribe benzos and the effects of that can be seen everywhere."

3) Man, Cumbria

"I'm now 20 and have been using various benzos since 16. I started off occasionally taking Xanax with mates. But by year 12 it had got much worse, and I was buying Xanax in bulk lots of between 100 and 5/600 pills. At my worst I was taking 8-10 a day regularly, it would be the first thing I did in the morning and the last thing I did before sleeping. Towards the end of year 12 I started using cocaine regularly as I was also selling it, so my benzo use reduced but I would still be taking Xanax/valium most days. For the past few months my cocaine use has been heavier than ever. I have been taking between a quarter and half ounce a week consistently for almost a year. During this time I have also been taking lots of valium. Not every day but when I do take it I'll take 20-30 in the space of 24 hours easily as my tolerance has built up a lot. I think the reason I take benzos is to block out bad thoughts and bad memories and just generally be able to enjoy life more. I've never actively sought after support for benzo use, however I was given information by my doctor on how to get help after I went to hospital after taking around 15-20 valium in a few hours. I’m generally pretty cautious about when I take benzos I'm case I do blackout. The first blackout I had was when I was 17, I took 3 Xanax before bed and the next morning crashed in to a neighbour's car. Later that day I went to a concert and I have no memory of that. Another time more recently I took 25 klonopin in a couple of hours and the next day I was sent home from work because I was still visibly fucked. Learning about benzos at school would definitely be useful because there were lots of others similar ages to me who were using benzos.”

2) Man, Eastleigh

"Every time I've done benzos they have turned out to be fake. On the other hand people I have met have had such a crippling and debilitating experience/addiction that has forced them to go on too harder drugs. I've had close mates not even recognise me and not recognise what they are doing so benzos are a scary thing. I can understand them medically but after seeing too many people abuse them, all I see it as is a home wrecker/an easy way to lose your life.”

1) Gender unspecified, Manchester

"My dad takes them (prescribed). I tried them in school to knock me out because I found it hard to sleep. I used to take 4 tablets of 5mg a night and it used to knock me out. My mates said I used to call them and talk absolute gibberish when I was on them- I used to not remember even calling them. Now I take 2 tablets if I feel like my anxiety is unbearable. They calm everything down (mind and body) and stop me from worrying about stupid shit. They make me feel really really relaxed and at times euphoric. I’m 22 by the way."


Resources

You can visit the Talk to Frank website, or Drink and Drugs News to find local drug treatment services.

If you're having trouble finding the right sort of help, call the Frank drugs helpline on 0300 123 6600. They can talk you through all your options.

  • You can call the Samaritans on 116 123 or call Papyrus on 0800 068 41 41 or email pat@papyrus-uk.org or text Papyrus on 07860 039967 to talk to someone at any time, day or night, 24/7
  • You can contact the Listening Place for online and telephone support
  • Mind – Phone open 9am-6pm weekdays: 0300 123 3393
  • Sane – 0300 304 7000
  • Drug and Alcohol use: We are with you
  • For information on benzos, Drugs and Me have a harm reduction page

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