Benzodiazepines Linked to Increased Risk of Alzheimer’s: Causation or Not?

Rob Wipond
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According to a study in the British Medical Journal, benzodiazepine use is associated with a significantly increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Some experts have argued in news reports that the findings simply indicate that people with Alzheimer’s are more often prescribed benzodiazepines. However, the study authors have pointed out that there appears to be a dose-dependent response occurring.

The team of Quebec-based researchers studied six years of records for 1,796 elderly people with a first diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and 7,184 controls, and found that the longer people took benzodiazepines for, the higher their risk of developing Alzheimer’s was.

“Those who took the cumulative equivalent of daily doses for three to six months over a five-year period were roughly 32% more likely than those who took none to develop Alzheimer’s,” reported the Los Angeles Times. “Those who took the cumulative equivalent of a full daily dose for more than six months were 84% more likely to do so.”

The director of Alzheimer’s Research UK told BBC News that, “This study shows an apparent link between the use of benzodiazepines and Alzheimer’s disease although it’s hard to know the underlying reason behind the link. One limitation of this study is that benzodiazepines treat symptoms such as anxiety and sleep disturbance, which may also be early indicators of Alzheimer’s disease.”

The president of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology told BBC News that the findings “could mean that the drugs cause the disease, but [the findings are] more likely to mean that the drugs are being given to people who are already ill.”

However, the researchers themselves felt the case for causation was strong. “Benzodiazepine use is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” they wrote. “The stronger association observed for long term exposures reinforces the suspicion of a possible direct association, even if benzodiazepine use might also be an early marker of a condition associated with an increased risk of dementia.”

Benzodiazepine use and risk of Alzheimer’s disease: case-control study (Billioti de Gage, Sophie et al. British Medical Journal. September 9, 2014. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g5205)

Anxiety and sleeping pills ‘linked to dementia’ (BBC News, September 9, 2014)

Drugs used for anxiety, sleep are linked to Alzheimer’s disease in older people (Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2014)

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7 COMMENTS

  1. What if we just stopped prescribing benzo’s? It is the only way to then study the effects, to see if Alzheimer’s rates drop. Period. We know these drugs cause serious brain injury and memory disturbances so I think we are better off without them any way, restricted to use in people with seizures who have emergencies only. Sure you can knock out brain function with these drugs, which is why they work for people with seizures, .. But is the brain injury for minimal benefit worth it for the deadening of effect , emotions, anxiety, or other problems? http://www.obamasweapon.com

    • True. There is little benefit to this drugs for longer than a few days maybe 2-3 weeks to provide a relaxing effect in very stressful situations but many people get dangerous side effects even over short periods and these drugs are very addictive.
      Prescribing them for months and years is criminal.

  2. Great, so you’re going to tell people like one of my good friends who has used on successfully for years without raising the dose that she needs to CT it or anyone else in her position? I don’t think that will exactly convert people to our cause.

    And you do know that severe sleep deprivation which many people use benzos for can also cause dementia like symptoms, right?

    Instead of banning meds which is as extreme a position as prescribing them willy nilly, what about providing fully informed consent to people so they can make the best decision for their situation? For example, if temazepam had worked to enable me to sleep a full night on the pap machine which it didn’t do, why not provide me all my options in this situation?

    For example, tell me what the risks are long term for the med vs. not doing at all and risk seeing my current symptoms of sleep deprivation worsen? Discuss the possibility of OTC remedies or non OTC/med remedies which so far haven’t worked. Or discuss a plan to get my sleep stabilized and then come up with a plan to get off of the med in a safe manner while hopefully not losing any gains I have made in sleep.

    I don’t know, that just seems alot more reasonable to me than extremism either way regarding the issue of meds.

    • Well, there are reasons why doctors can prescribe certain medications only for certain problems. You can’t give out morphine for minor pain problems or problems that can be addressed with less dangerous meds without running into risks of destroying your patients’ lives. I don’t see why benzos are being prescribed for almost anything and for long-term use when they are clearly very dangerous and addictive drugs. Plus they have an additional “feel good effect” or high if you like which is an additional problem for creating psychological addiction and is probably a reason why psychiatrists think they “treat depression”.

  3. I’m not surprised by these finding. . . If you notice the side effects to any number of drugs advertised on TV is the same as the disorder that they claim to treat…It’s the perfect crime…If you take an Antidepressants for depression that same drug can make depression worse and can cause suicidal or homicidal tendencies. These Benzodiazepines like Xanax are addictive and have the same side effects as Alzheimers, just read the side effects. Benzodiazepines warning labels will tell you that these drugs can causes forgetful, confusion, decreased awareness, clumsiness, discouragement, irritability general slowing of mental and physical activity, trouble concentrating, difficulty performing routine task, trembling, changes in behavior, confusion about identity, place and time, attack, assault or force, loss of self control, loss of memory, seeing, hearing and feeling things that are not there…I could go on. .. As I said it’s the Prefect Crime…Big Pharma has got a License To KIL and they are making a Killing at the patients expense… The PREP Act has given the Pharmaceutical Industry financial immunity if their drugs kill or permanently injure someone. This is why we need money OUT of Politics and Prison Time for ANY Elected Official who sells the People’s Trust for personal gain!

  4. Sorry, not buying the “people who are more likely to develop dementia are more likely to use Benzos.” The direct dose-dependent relationship makes that much more unlikely to be true. There is a dramatic difference between those taking them intermittently or briefly and those taking them chronically over time. Any good scientist’s first hypothesis here is that the drugs are the cause. Sure. this is not definitive and more study is needed, but this should mean an immediate halt to long-term use of benzos for sleep problems until this is proven NOT to be a problem.

    There are also tons of other options for sleep issues that are rarely explored. Benzos for sleep should be an absolute last resort, and then only short-term. They are very similar in effect to alcohol. Drinking a sixpack before bed will definitely put you out, and if used occasionally won’t have too much of an adverse impact, but doing it every night is probably not advisable. Now that I think of it, long-term alcohol abuse leads to dementia, so why should we be surprised if long-term benzo use did something similar?

    — Steve