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Understanding the motivations, context and content behind non-prescribed benzodiazepine use in the UK: a mixed-methods and cross-disciplinary analysis

Bloomfield, Harriet (2019) Understanding the motivations, context and content behind non-prescribed benzodiazepine use in the UK: a mixed-methods and cross-disciplinary analysis. Masters thesis (MA), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

In the recent year, there have been a growing number of news stories highlighting the increased use of benzodiazepines, in particular Xanax, amongst children and young people in the UK. Despite the national governmental and societal concern, there have been very few efforts to research the use and misuse of these drugs. Through quantitative and qualitative social research methods, this mixed-methods, cross-disciplinary thesis presents the findings from a national survey (n=595) exploring the use and misuse of benzodiazepines predominantly amongst the UK student population, and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis of 29 presumed Valium samples and 29 presumed Xanax samples. The various motivations included: self-medicating everyday sleep and/or anxiety issues; to sleep on long journeys; to feel more confident in social situations; to feel more confident in presentations and/or exams; to relax; to get high and heighten the effects of other drugs such as alcohol and/or cannabis; to counteract the effects of other drugs such as stimulants (MDMA, cocaine), psychedelics (acid, LSD) and/or study drugs (Modafinil/Ritalin); to avoid or dilute the negative emotional and physical side effects of hangovers and/or comedowns. To correct irregular sleep patterns, eradicate or ease physical pain. Ease of access, availability and low cost was acknowledged as a significant motive for some, especially when other substances were unavailable. Many highlighted the weak efficacy of NHS treatment services as a reason for self-medicating, and policy makers are urged to invest more into treatment services. However, negative side effects were also noted such as feeling overly sedated which impaired complex psychomotor tasks like driving; feeling hungover; the impairment of memory and black-outs; accidents and injuries; emotional blunting and depression; tolerance, dependency and withdrawal and; mortality. Benzodiazepines often made users feel ‘invincible’ and that usage lead to irrational and erratic behaviour: Some reported shoplifting, breaking into places, purposefully breaking things, driving and crashing their car whilst intoxicated, getting into fights, and/or physically attacking people. GC-MS analysis revealed that the ‘Xanax’ samples (thought to contain 2 mg of Alprazolam) ranged from 0.70 – 2.21 mg and the ‘Valium’ samples (thought to contain 10 mg of Diazepam) ranged from 12.97 – 26.79 mg. Six of the 29 ‘Xanax’ samples did not contain any active Alprazolam and of those, two were cut with other research chemicals. One ‘Valium’ tablet did not contain any active Diazepam.

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