The treatment of benzodiazepine dependence
Article first published online: 24 JAN 2006
Volume 89, Issue 11, pages 1535–1541, November 1994
How to Cite
ASHTON, H. (1994), The treatment of benzodiazepine dependence. Addiction, 89: 1535–1541. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.1994.tb03755.x
- Issue published online: 24 JAN 2006
- Article first published online: 24 JAN 2006
Withdrawal of benzodiazepines is currently advised for long-term benzodiazepine users because of doubts about continued efficacy, risks of adverse effects, including dependence and neuropsychological impairment and socio-economic costs. About half a million people in the UK may need advice on withdrawal. Successful withdrawal strategies should combine gradual dosage reduction and psychological support. The benzodiazepine dosage should be tapered at an individually titrated rate which should usually be under the patient's control. The whole process may take weeks or months. Withdrawal from diazepam is convenient because of available dosage strengths, but can be carried out directly from other benzodiazepines. Adjuvant medication may occasionally be required (antidepressants, propranolol) but no drugs have been proved to be of general utility in alleviating withdrawal-related symptoms. Psychological support should be available both during dosage reduction and for some months after cessation of drug use. Such support should include the provision of information about benzodiazepines, general encouragement, and measures to reduce anxiety and promote the learning of non-pharmacological ways of coping with stress. For many patients the degree of support required is minimal; a minority may need counselling or formal psychological therapy. Unwilling patients should not be forced to withdraw. With these methods, success rates of withdrawal are high and are unaffected by duration of usage, dosage or type of benzodiazepine, rate of withdrawal, symptom severity, psychiatric history or personality disorder. Longer-term outcome is less clear; a considerable proportion of patients may temporarily take benzodiazepines again and some need other psychotropic medication. However, the outcome may be improved by careful pharmacological and psychological handling of withdrawal and post-withdrawal phases.