Benzodiazepines: Helpful or Harmful?

benzo-1“Benzodiazepines are some of the most common medications in the world; a recent study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health found that about 1 in 20 adults received a prescription for them in 2008. Unlike medications like selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which take several weeks to reach full efficacy, benzodiazepines work almost immediately. They can also be good for treating chronic anxiety in patients who have adverse reactions to SSRIs and similar medicines.

The drawbacks? Benzodiazepines can be habit-forming. And they carry a host of dangerous side effects – including impaired cognition and mobility in older individuals, and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms in people with severe addictions.

So are benzodiazepines helpful or dangerous? Like most pharmaceutical drugs, experts say, they’re a mixed bag. Despite studies suggesting that physicians over-prescribe them, even those in the medical community tend to disagree on whether the benefits of benzodiazepines outweigh the risks. For every doctor who writes a prescription for Xanax, there’s another who refuses to do so, says Jerrold Rosenbaum, chief of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.”

However, experts say most physicians agree on the following guidelines – independent of whether or not they themselves prescribe benzodiazepines.

  • Benzodiazepines can be safe for short-term use.
  • Benzodiazepines are not a  cure-all.
  • Certain people should not take benzodiazepines – or they should take extra precautions.
  • Doctors should carefully monitor patients’ use of benzodiazepines.
  • It’s possible to safely withdraw from benzodiazepines, even after extended use or abuse.

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Source: February 19, 2015