, Volume 118, Issue 2, pp 107-115

Current benzodiazepine issues

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This article deals with some of the recent evidence bearing on the issues of the liability of benzodiazepines to lead to abuse, dependence, and adverse behavioral effects. Reviews of epidemiological, clinical and experimental literature indicated that the previous conclusion about abuse of these drugs still holds: the vast majority of the use of benzodiazepines is appropriate. Problems of nonmedical use arise nearly exclusively among people who abuse other drugs. Nevertheless, there are reasons for concern about patients who take benzodiazepines regularly for long periods of time. These drugs can produce physiological dependence when taken chronicaly, and although this does not appear to result in dose escalation or other evidence of “psychological dependence,” physiological dependence can result in patient discomfort if drug use is abruptly discontiniued. Also, physicians are currently prescribing shorter-acting benzodiazepines in preference to longer-acting benzodiazepines. The shorter-acting drugs can produce a more intense withdrawal syndrome following chronic administration. Furthermore, rates of use of benzodiazepines increase with age, and elderly patients are more likely than younger ones to take the drug chronically. The clearest adverse effect of benzodiazepines is impairment of memory. This, too, may be particular concern in older patients whose recall in the absence of drug is typically impaired relative to younger individuals, and who are more compromised following drug administration.

This article was supported by USPHS Grant DA-00254 and by funding from Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc.