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Keywords:

  • benzodiazepine;
  • discontinuation;
  • major depression;
  • serotonin reuptake inhibitor;
  • withdrawal symptoms

Abstract  Chronic benzodiazepine (BDZ) users often have difficulty with BDZ withdrawal. To examine clinical effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) on tapering BDZ use in non-depressive patients, 97 outpatients with a history of BDZ use for at least 3 months were recruited at an internal medicine clinic of a university hospital. After the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) clinical interviews for screening major depression, 66 outpatients (68%) without the DSM-IV major depression were randomly assigned to one of three groups: SSRI-assisted BDZ-reduction group (10–20 mg of paroxetine, n = 22), simple BDZ-reduction group (no paroxetine, n = 23), and reference group (no BDZ-reduction, n = 21). A standardized 8-week program involving gradual BDZ discontinuation was performed in the two BDZ-reduction groups. The Hamilton Rating Scales for Depression (HAM-D) and Anxiety (HAM-A) and the BDZ Withdrawal Symptom Questionnaire were assessed during the intervention period. Those with major depression were excluded from the BDZ-reduction intervention and treated with a different protocol of medication. In total, 10 (45.5%) in the SSRI-assisted BDZ-reduction group (n = 22) succeeded in becoming BDZ-free after completing the program, whereas only four (17.4%) in the simple BDZ-reduction group (n = 23) succeeded. The assistance of the SSRI significantly predicted the success of becoming BDZ-free (P = 0.023), controlling for the effects of age, gender, period of BDZ use, and baseline HAM-D and HAM-A scores. The score changes on the three questionnaires were comparable (all P > 0.05) among the three groups during the intervention period. The use of SSRI may have beneficial effects on BDZ withdrawal without the worsening of mood states in cases without major depression.