If you’ve ever called on Valium, Xanax or another type of benzodiazepine to help you sleep or to find calm, you may have experienced the hung over, foggy feeling that lingers the next day. Research has found that regular and sustained use of these drugs might cause serious long-term damage.
Benzodiazepines are widely prescribed for a number of conditions including insomnia, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. They include branded drugs such as Valium, Xanax, Ativan and Klonopin and growing research has found that they can greatly increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
In a review of 9,000 patients, there were some startling findings:
- Use of the a benzodiazepine for three to six months increased the risk of Alzheimer’s by 32%.
- The risk jumped to 84% when it was taken for more than six months.
- those who had taken a benzodiazepine for three months or less had about the same risk of dementia as those who had never taken the drug.
Similar results have been found in other studies.
There is a clear association between benzodiazepines and Alzheimer’s, but further research is needed before we can claim that benzodiazepines cause Alzheimer’s.
Despite this, there are plenty of reasons to steer clear of these drugs. When taken over time, the effectiveness of benzodiazepines can decline. This can trigger a dangerous chase, with people taking higher-doses or longer-lasting benzodiazepines to find relief. These drugs can also interfere with sleep and set up a traumatic journey along a path of dependence and addiction.
Benzodiazepines can be effective for short-term stress, such as in the days following the death of a loved one, a crisis or another situation that triggers intense emotion. However, they can cause problems if they’re used for much longer than a few weeks.
If benzodiazepines have been used regularly for more than a few weeks, it’s important that any withdrawal from the drug happens under the close supervision of a doctor. Withdrawal can cause powerful symptoms, including anxiety, depression, hallucinations, panic attacks and seizures.
It’s important to remember that, as with any drug, just because they’re prescribed, that doesn’t mean they’re safe. Dependency and side effects can still happen under the care of a doctor and some side effects, such as the risk of dementia, we are only just discovering.
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