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Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam) Abuse In Teens

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

May 17, 2019

Rohypnol (flunitrazepam) abuse is most common among teenagers and young adults. Abusing Rohypnol can pose several dangers to both mental and physical health in teens, and may require treatment.

There are various aspects of being a teenager that can make teens more vulnerable to experimenting with drugs. This includes club drugs like Rohypnol, which is a powerful sedative that can cause physical and mental effects.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the most common age groups that abuse Rohypnol are teens and young adults. Also known as “roofies” or the date-rape drug, Rohypnol is commonly involved in drug-facilitated sexual assault.

In these cases, a person may drop a Rohypnol tablet or pill in an alcoholic drink. This can cause a person to become very sleepy, blackout, and lose chunks of time.

Taken in high doses, Rohypnol can also produce euphoric effects similar to other club drugs like ecstasy, GHB, and ketamine.

Abusing Rohypnol can be dangerous, especially among teens. Chronic abuse can lead to addiction and increase health risks such as overdose and heart failure.

What Is Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam)?

Rohypnol, a brand name of flunitrazepam, is a potent sedative that belongs to the benzodiazepine (‘benzo’) drug class. This makes it chemically similar to drugs like Xanax and Valium. Unlike other benzos, however, Rohypnol is not approved for medical use in the United States.

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Rohypnol works by slowing activity in the brain. This affects several functions throughout the body, including a person’s heart rate and breathing. People that take Rohypnol will often experience calmness and drowsiness.

However, Rohypnol can also have several side effects that, when abused, can be frightening and harmful. One of these side effects is memory loss, which can be more severe when alcohol is involved.

The powerful sedating effects of Rohypnol can also cause a sense of paralysis, impacting a person’s ability to move or call out for help. This may be most dangerous in cases where a person has been ‘roofied,’ or unknowingly drugged.

There are many street names that drug dealers and people buying Rohypnol may use when referring to the drug.

Common street names for Rohypnol include:

  • roofies
  • la rocha
  • forget-me pill
  • roapies
  • roaches
  • r-2
  • circles

How Many Teens Abuse Rohypnol?

According to national surveys on teen drug use, rates of Rohypnol abuse have slightly dropped in recent decades. While 2 percent of high schoolers in 1998 reported using Rohypnol, today that percentage has dropped to slightly less than 1 percent.

Most teens are first exposed to Rohypnol through friends, or people in a bar or party scene. Young adults can often be vulnerable to social pressure to take offered drugs, especially if they are looking for social approval.

Teens that are shy or struggle to interact easily in social situations may also be more likely to use Rohypnol to help them relax.

Methods of Rohypnol abuse among teens may include:

  • swallowing whole
  • dissolving tablets in alcohol
  • crushing and snorting it
  • mixing with other drugs (e.g. heroin, marijuana, ecstasy, LSD)
  • to ease intense symptoms following high doses of cocaine

Effects And Dangers Of Rohypnol Abuse In Teens

Many young adults that take Rohypnol use it to relax or enhance their senses at a party or rave. However, Rohypnol also has a dangerous history of being used to commit sexual assault.

Often referred to as the date-rape drug, Rohypnol can cause blackouts, memory loss, and reduce a person’s ability to fight back in situations of assault. This can affect teens of all genders, sexual orientations, races, and ethnicities.

It can be difficult to determine if a drink has been drugged. Roofies do not usually have any noticeable taste and are often colorless. In some cases, the pill or tablet may turn a light drink a bluish color.

Once a person has taken Rohypnol, effects will typically set in within 30 minutes and may last for up to 12 hours.

Physical Effects

Rohypnol can have several effects on a teen’s physical movements and bodily functions. Reactions to drugs, however, can differ for each person.

The types of effects a person experiences, and their severity, may depend on factors such as: dose, body size, physical health, and whether the roofie was mixed with other drugs.

Physical effects of Rohypnol in teens may include:

  • decreased coordination
  • slow reaction time
  • slurred speech
  • slow or shallow breathing
  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • muscle relaxation
  • tremors

Taking large doses of Rohypnol, or mixing it with alcohol, may result in more severe effects. In serious cases this can lead to respiratory depression, loss of consciousness, and heart failure.

Such symptoms can also be a sign of overdose, which can occur after mixing drugs or taking large amounts of Rohypnol. The effects of Rohypnol overdose are not always fatal on their own, but can be deadly when it has been mixed with alcohol or other drugs.

Mental Effects

Rohypnol can impact a person’s ability to judge dangerous situations and think clearly. People may often feel confused or forgetful. Rohypnol can also make people unable to recall anything that happened while they were under the influence.

Other mental effects of Rohypnol may include:

  • relaxation
  • euphoria
  • confusion
  • lowered inhibition

Behavioral Changes

Rohypnol can affect a person’s behavior in many different ways, depending on the dose and whether it’s been mixed with another substance.

In some cases, taking Rohypnol can make a person more aggressive or excitable. Others may become more relaxed as a result of the drug’s sedating effects.

People that take Rohypnol can also be more likely to engage in risky behaviors or activities. This may include unprotected sex, sharing needles, or criminal activities. These behaviors can have lasting consequences, and may impact a teen’s future and harm their mental health.

Risk Factors For Rohypnol Abuse Among Teens

There are certain factors that can make both teenagers and adults more vulnerable to club drug abuse. For instance, many people who struggle with substance abuse have a personal or family history of substance abuse or other mental health problems.

Other risk factors among teens may include:

  • personal life stressors
  • environmental stress
  • alcohol abuse
  • childhood abuse or neglect
  • dropping out of school
  • criminal behaviors

Dependence And Addiction

Taking Rohypnol once does not guarantee that a teen will fall into a pattern of drug abuse. However, like many other addictive drugs, Rohypnol can trigger certain signals in the brain that make a person want to take more of it.

Over time, people who take Rohypnol can develop drug tolerance and dependence. This is when the body adapts to the person’s drug use, requiring higher doses to experience the same effects.

People who continue to increase the amount they use may develop more severe dependence and become unwilling or unable to quit taking Rohypnol on their own. This is a primary sign of addiction and may require formal treatment.

Rohypnol Withdrawal And Detox

Dependence on Rohypnol will often lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms in attempts to stop using a drug. These can also occur throughout the day between doses.

People who have become dependent on Rohypnol should not stop taking the drug all at once. This can result in dangerous and potentially life-threatening symptoms, including seizures and convulsions.

Most people that are withdrawing from benzodiazepine dependence are advised to taper their dosage, a process that involves slowly reducing the dosage over time. Determining an exact timeline for withdrawal can be tricky, and shouldn’t be attempted without medical support.

The most common recommendation for people overcoming addiction is to enter a medical detox program. This provides patients with 24-hour access to medical support and supervision while undergoing the most intense symptoms of early withdrawal.

Symptoms of Rohypnol withdrawal can range from mild to severe, and may include:

  • extreme anxiety
  • muscle pain
  • headache
  • numbness
  • tingling in hands and feets
  • tremors
  • restlessness
  • delusions
  • hallucinations
  • tremors

Treatment for Rohypnol Abuse Among Teens

The road to recovery from Rohypnol abuse is not a short journey. Many teens can benefit from entering an inpatient rehab program following detox to help them overcome their substance abuse.

Inpatient treatment can provide a safe environment for teens to address all aspects of their drug abuse, including causes and triggers. Many programs offer individual counseling and group therapy sessions, which can teach effective coping skills for managing triggering situations.

Addiction can be scary for both teens and their loved ones. Family counseling can be a helpful way to address strains in relationships and provide guidance on how family members can support their loved one’s sobriety at home.

If you are concerned that a teen you know is abusing Rohypnol, help is available. Contact us today to learn more about Rohypnol abuse in teens and effective treatment solutions.

Center for Substance Abuse Research - Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol)

National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens - What Are Date Rape Drugs and How Do You Avoid Them?

Monitoring the Future - Rohypnol

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