Home > Benzodiazepine use among young people attending a treatment centre.

Lyons, Suzi (2015) Benzodiazepine use among young people attending a treatment centre. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 55, Autumn 2015, p. 13.

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Benzodiazepines are commonly-prescribed drugs used for a wide range of conditions and symptoms including anxiety, insomnia and epilepsy. They have short-term side-effects, e.g. impairment of perception of risk, restlessness, agitation, anxiety and delusions, and long-term use can lead to dependence. The 2010/2011 National Drug Prevalence Survey found that lifetime use of benzodiazepines among 15–34-year-olds in Ireland was 35.7%, an increase on lifetime use at the time of the previous survey.1


The results shown below describe the characteristics of young people attending the Matt Talbot Services in Cork between January 2005 and August 2011, and their patterns of drug use, in particular benzodiazepines.2 The authors retrospectively reviewed client notes and extracted data of interest from the notes. Collecting complete data for each participant on all the variables of interest was not possible, and so the denominators for many characteristics vary depending on the completeness of the data relating to the individual variables. As a result, the proportions reported in the following account also vary.


The number of clients referred to the service increased over the years, from two in 2005 to 49 in 2010. A total of 198 client files were included in the study. Almost all the clients included in the study were male (98%). This is because originally the service was just for males and only started to accept females for treatment in 2010. The average age of clients was 16.4 years (range 13 to 21 years). Most clients (55/113, 49%) were referred by the Department of Justice, either through Juvenile Liaison Officers or Probation Officers.


Almost all (182/187, 99%) had ever drunk alcohol, with half starting at 13 years or younger. After alcohol, most had also used cannabis (170/181, 94%) and tobacco (153/165, 93%). The next most prevalent drug ever used was cocaine (88/162, 54%) and then benzodiazepines (80/157, 51%).


Of the 80 clients who reported ever using benzodiazepines, one third (28/80, 35%) had used them at least once a week, and half (43/77, 56%; data on time of last use were not available for three) had used them in the previous month (classified as regular users). The average age of first use of benzodiazepines was 14.9 years.


The characteristics of regular benzodiazepine users were compared with non-regular users. Regular users were significantly more likely to be regular users of other drugs. There were also statistically significant differences between behavioural and physical symptoms. Regular users were more likely to report paranoia, loss of interest in sports or hobbies, attention-seeking behaviour, pale/white skin, and vomiting. Skin pallor is well-known to be associated with benzodiazepine withdrawal and can last several weeks.


The study has limitations. Information was missing for many of the variables because data were extracted retrospectively from client notes so the results are not comprehensive. More data on psychosocial and clinical systems, which could have been collected through a tailored questionnaire, would have helped to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the clients.


The authors note that benzodiazepines had been used by many of the young people attending the service over the period and that many of them were regular users. Regular users were more likely to suffer from known side-effects of the drug such as paranoia. The authors urge greater awareness among health professionals of the acute and chronic negative consequences associated with benzodiazepine use in young people as described in their study.




1 National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) & Public Health Information and Research Branch (PHIRB) (2011) Drug use in Ireland and Northern Ireland: first results from the 2010/11drug prevalence survey. Bulletin 1. Dublin: NACD & PHIRB. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/16450


2 Murphy K, Byrne S, McCarthy S, Lambert S, Sharon and Sahm L (2014) Benzodiazepine use among young attendees of an Irish substance treatment center. Journal of Addiction Medicine 8 (3): 199–204. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/22656/

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