Benzodiazepines: why their use and misuse is increasing

Benzodiazepines: why their use and misuse is increasing
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The use and misuse of benzodiazepines is increasing, with 12.6 percent of US adults using benzodiazepines in the past year, 17 percent of which were being misused.

The study by the American Psychiatric Association has published online in Psychiatric Services and found that the misuse of benzodiazepines was equally as common as the prescribed use of the drugs.

What are benzodiazepines?

They are a class of medication commonly used to treat conditions such as anxiety and insomnia.

These medications include:

• Alprazolam (also known as Xanax or Niravam);
•Diazepam (Valium);
•Clonazepam (Klonopin); and
•lorazepam (Ativan).

The researchers analysed data from the 2015 and 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The increase in use and misuse

Misuse is defined in the study as using the medication in any any way a doctor did not direct. This includes using the drug without a prescription, or for longer or more often than prescribed.

Previous national estimates of use did not account for misuse. The study has not only found that overall usage has increased, but is also the first analysis to find that the highest usage of benzodiazepine is among adults aged 50-64 years old.

The reasons for misuse

Misuse was found to be highest among the young adults category of 18-25 year olds, of which 5.6 percent were misusing it.

When they were asked about the reasons for misusing the medication, almost half of the respondents said that they did this to relax or relieve tension.

Just over a quarter said that they misuse the medication to help with sleep.

The most common source of using the medication without a prescription was via a friend or relative.


The authors, led by Donovan Maust M.D., suggest that patients who are prescribed stimulants or opioids alongside benzodiazepine should be monitored for misuse. They also state that some of the misuse might reflect limited healthcare access and behavioural treatments, highlighting the possibility that misuse could be reduce using improved access to behavioural interventions for anxiety or sleep-related problems.

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