, Volume 88, Issue 4, pp 426-433

Chronic use of benzodiazepines and psychomotor and cognitive test performance

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The performance of 43 long-term users (average = 5 years) of benzodiazepine (BZ) medications was examined on a battery of behavioral tasks, cognitive tests, and subjective mood rating scales. The performance of the chronic BZ users did not differ significantly from age- and sex-matched anxious subjects, except that critical flicker fusion (CFF) thresholds were lower and subjective ratings of tranquilization were higher in the BZ users. Twenty-two subjects were reexamined in order to determine the acute effects of BZ medications in long-term users. The acute administration of BZ medications significantly increased CFF thresholds, improved digit-symbol substitution test performance, impaired the delayed recall of verbal material, increased subjective ratings of tranquilization, and reduced physical sedation. Motor performance tests were not impaired and subjective feelings of sedation were not increased after the acute administration of BZs by chronic users. During withdrawal from long-term BZ use (17 subjects), CFF thresholds were elevated, subjective ratings of physical sedation and anxiety were increased, but performance on other psychomotor and cognitive tests was not altered. The results suggest that tolerance develops selectively to different behavioral and subjective effects of BZ medications with their continued use. Tolerance failed to develop to the antianxiety effects, the reduction of CFF threshold, and to the impairment of short-term memory caused by BZs. However, chronic users of BZ medications failed to demonstrate psychomotor-impairing or sedating effects to BZ medications. The results have implications for evaluating the safety of the long-term use of BZ medications.