Benzodiazepines and Alzheimer’s disease may be related. Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed for managing anxiety and insomnia and research indicates potential cognitive side effects associated with regular use of these drugs. A comprehensive study focused on individuals with Alzheimer’s disease revealed an increased likelihood of developing the condition among those who regularly took benzodiazepines. Read on to learn more about Alzheimer’s and benzodiazepines.
How Are Benzodiazepines and Alzheimer’s Connected?
In two large studies, benzodiazepines (which include anxiety medications and sleep aid) and anticholinergics (including antidepressants, medications for allergies, high blood pressure, or incontinence) were linked to an elevated risk of dementia in individuals using them for a few months or more. The impact in both instances was observed to rise with the duration of use and dosage.
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These findings weren’t entirely unexpected for physicians specializing in the care of older individuals. Benzos, tricyclic antidepressants and antihistamines are potentially inadvisable for older adults due to their associated side effects. These drugs share concerning side effects, such as confusion, impaired thinking, or memory lapses, which can contribute to falls, breaks and fractures, or motor vehicle accidents in older adults.
Benzodiazepine Use and Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
A 2021 review of existing literature reveals at least 15 studies investigating the relationship between benzodiazepine use and the onset of dementia. Among these studies:
- 8 studies demonstrated a positive association between benzodiazepine use and dementia development.
- 4 studies found no such association.
- Two studies presented mixed results.
Despite the apparent link between benzodiazepine use and dementia development, researchers were unable to establish causality since none of the studies were RCTs (randomized controlled trials).
Two further reviews of studies – you can view them here and here – suggested benzodiazepines as a risk factor for dementia development, although the evidence lacked the power to differentiate risks for Alzheimer’s disease versus vascular dementias, risks associated with long-acting versus short-acting benzodiazepines, and risks based on duration and dosage of drug use.
New research suggests that there is limited evidence supporting the idea that older adults prescribed benzodiazepines are at an increased risk of developing dementia. The study, utilizing Medicare claims data from 2006 to 2020 for patients aged 67 and older, sought to evaluate factors, such as co-occurring health disorders and the duration of observation, that may have influenced the association between Alzheimer’s and benzodiazepines in prior case-control studies. The researchers also identified a group of people who did not have health conditions linked to dementia. Some were prescribed benzos for pain relief, while others were not prescribed medications from this class.
The data revealed that those with benzo prescriptions often had higher rates of insomnia, anxiety, and depression, alongside a history of diabetes, hypertension, and stroke – conditions that previously accounted for reducing the association between benzodiazepine use and dementia risk. Researchers suggest that, based on the data, those prescribed benzodiazepines for pain did not show a significant difference in the risk of dementia onset compared to those not prescribed these medications. Despite these findings, the researchers emphasize the importance for healthcare providers to exercise caution and limit the sustained use of benzodiazepines in older adults.
The existing evidence, then, suggests a positive correlation between the use of benzodiazepines and the onset of dementia, even though causation cannot be definitively established. The connection between benzos and the development of dementia raises significant concerns, especially considering the widespread use of benzodiazepines among older adults. The prescription of benzodiazepines to this demographic warrants careful evaluation, given the lack of data regarding their long-term efficacy and adverse effects that including the heightened risk of developing dementia.
Benzodiazepines and Alzheimer’s Statistics
Hera are some statistics from two major studies on the link between benzodiazepines and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Researchers monitored almost 3,500 over-65s in the ACT (adult changes in thought) study. Using pharmacy records, they identified all prescription and OTC drugs taken by participants in the decade before the study. Over seven years, 800 participants developed dementia.
- The study revealed that those using anticholinergic drugs had a higher likelihood of developing dementia, and the risk increased with the dose.
- Taking a drug in this class for at least three years was associated with a 54% greater risk of dementia.
- This study is groundbreaking for including nonprescription drugs and eliminating the possibility of drugs being taken for undiagnosed dementia symptoms.
- Researchers from Canada and France linked benzo use to a heightened risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Using a health insurance database, they identified almost 2,000 over-66s diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and randomly selected over 7,000 who did not have the disease.
- Examining drug prescriptions in the five to six years before the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the study found that those taking benzos continuously for three months or less had a similar dementia risk to non-users. Those taking benzos for up to six months, though, had a 32% greater risk, and individuals taking the medication for more than six months had an 84% higher risk than non-users.
- Long-acting benzos carried a greater risk than short-acting benzos.
Get Treatment for Benzo Addiction at California Detox
If you require treatment for benzodiazepine withdrawal and addiction, we can help you here at California Detox in Laguna Beach, CA.
Supervised detoxification is the safest, most comfortable way to begin your recovery from benzo addiction. After a tapered reduction in dosage, you will address the issue of benzodiazepine dependence and prepare yourself for ongoing treatment at our beachside facility in Southern California.
All inpatient treatment programs at California Detox provide personalized treatment that may include the following therapies:
- Holistic therapies
- Individual counseling
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
- Psychotherapies (CBT and DBT)
- Aftercare and support
Call 949.694.8305 today and begin your recovery from benzo abuse tomorrow.