Cognitive Impairment from Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use Remains Even After Drug Withdrawal

Long-term benzodiazepine use shown to effect cognitive function during current use and for years after drug discontinuation.

Shannon Peters
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A new study, led by Simon Crowe, professor in the School of Psychology and Public Health at La Trobe University in Australia, explores the long-term cognitive effects of benzodiazepine use. The results of the meta-analysis, published in Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, indicate that long-term benzodiazepine use has significant negative effects on cognition that remain even after discontinuing the drug.

“The results of this meta-analytic study are important in that they corroborate the mounting evidence that a range of neuropsychological functions are impaired as a result of long-term benzodiazepine use, and that these are likely to persist even following withdrawal,” write the authors.

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Benzodiazepines, used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and panic disorder, are one of the most commonly prescribed psychiatric drugs in the world. “While these medications are useful in the short-term, the published evidence indicates that when they are used for longer periods, they often culminate in significant harm,” write the researchers. These harms include the risk of dependency and adverse effects, such as cognitive impairment. Given these negative effects, many studies have investigated factors associated with long-term benzodiazepine use.

The authors previously conducted a meta-analysis and found that, although cognitive functioning improved after discontinuation of benzodiazepines, participants still demonstrated cognitive deficits 6 months after withdrawal. The purpose of the present study was to update the previous meta-analysis in order to “provide an up to date review of the residual cognitive effects of the benzodiazepines in current users, those who have recently withdrawn and characterizing the long-term residual effects of those who have successfully abstained following withdrawal,” write the authors. The researchers reviewed 8 studies that had been published between 2003 and 2016, in addition to the 11 studies reviewed in the previous meta-analysis.

Results demonstrate that current long-term benzodiazepine use (i.e., greater than 1 year) significantly affects a number of cognitive domains: working memory, processing speed, divided attention, visuoconstruction (i.e, ability to organize spatial information and physically form a design), recent memory, and expressive language (i.e., verbal and nonverbal communication). The reviewed studies suggest that cognitive deficits persist after recent and long-standing benzodiazepine withdrawal (up to 3.5 years).

The results of the current study add further evidence to the previous meta-analysis, indicating that long-term benzodiazepine use has significant negative effects on cognition. They also provide new data on the lasting effects of benzodiazepines even after discontinuation.

The authors state, “These results are indeed significant, for they challenge earlier findings that benzodiazepine users who are successful in withdrawing from benzodiazepine can expect recovery in cognitive functioning.”

Given the prevalence of benzodiazepine prescription, these findings have important clinical implications for prescribing. In order for patients to provide truly informed consent, prescribers must educate their patients about the adverse effects of long-term benzodiazepine use, including cognitive impairment.

 

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Crowe, S. F., & Stranks, E. K. (2017). The residual medium and long-term cognitive effects of benzodiazepine use: An updated meta-analysis. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology. Advance online publication. doi:10.1093/arclin/acx120 (Link)

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Shannon Peters
MIA Research News Team: Shannon Peters is a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts Boston and has a master’s degree in mental health counseling. She is particularly interested in exploring the impacts of medicalization and pathologizing the experiences of individuals who have been affected by trauma. She is engaged in research on the effects of institutional corruption and financial conflicts of interest on research and practice.

15 COMMENTS

  1. These drugs have been around and prescribed long term for decades now. DECADES! Why in God’s name is this just now coming to light? How did an entire medical/healthcare profession and pharmaceutical industry so royally screw this up?!
    I’ve lost EVERYTHING thanks to the 13 years of benzo prescriptions Sans informed consent!
    Y’all needed to fix this shit years ago!

    • Mad about long term benzo damage, I’m going to tell you how they did it. This is what I discovered through my research. They’re all corrupt to the bone. The pharmaceutical industry, the FDA, the CDC, even the EPA. It’s a house of cards that’s run on deceit, lies, omission, fraud and greed. Many great books have been written exposing this fraud but one of my favorites is Peter C. Gotzsche’s book, ‘Deadly Medicine and Organised Crime: How big pharma has corrupted healthcare’. Follow the money, it’s about unmitigated greed with no regard to patients health, well-being or safety. It’s all about the money. That’s how this happened. And it will NEVER be fixed. They don’t want it ‘fixed’. It would hurt the bottom line – profit. Only in America is it legal to murder for profit. We’re just lucky to have survived. Sadly, many don’t.

        • guiding-lights, I don’t know why books have gotten so expensive. ‘Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry’ – $85.00 USD (When I purchased this book a few years ago it was only $45.00.) I have read that Amazon, who has a $600 million dollar contract with the CIA puts ridiculously high prices on books that expose truth so we can’t afford to purchase them to read. Check out the price of the Dr. Colin A. Ross’s book I’ve been wanting desperately to read. But, there’s no way I can afford it.) – Bluebird : Deliberate Creation of Multiple Personality by Psychiatrists • 20 Used from $97.46 3 New from $187.48 – 7 Used from $235.97 5 New from $438.94 If you provide me your address I’m happy to send you the copy of ‘Deadly Medicines’ by Peter C. Gotzsche I have. I’ve purchased it for others before just to educate them. But whether they actually read it is another story.

  2. Oh, yes, the cognitive effects can last for a very long time, even years after stopping the drug. Reports are just trickling in, but benzos in the meantime are still being given past the 1- to 2-week period. I think 2-4 weeks is far too long. People become dependent very easily on these drugs.

    I think studies have been so few because this seems like a miracle drug to doctors. It works fast, people seem pleased, and all is well, right? Well, not so. The damage is being done to the nerves. And since nerves are all over the body, problems can cover a huge range.

    I wish I could redo my life. I would NOT EVER take these pills again. I would say to anyone, if you want to get off, go very slowly. That way the CNS is less compromised. It’s all about the neurotransmitters. You have to take care of them.

  3. After being prescribed the usual toxic cocktail of psychiatric drugs including Klonopin alone for more than ten years, and due to the severity of that cold-turkey withdrawal I have lost 85% of all childhood memories, lifetime personal memories and no longer dream, or can remember my dreams. I rarely wake feeling rested because of this. In my eyes, benzodiazepines are the most dangerous drugs on this planet yet they’re handed out like candy especially to children who have less of a voice than us adults who have been silenced by our Mental Health care facilities after complaining about side effects, adverse effects or the mentally torturous withdrawals that they said was ‘just fine’ to abruptly stop taking them. They provided no withdrawal symptoms I may experience, and when I filed my case against them for ‘neglect of care’, it was DENIED because I signed a simple one-page consent form the year before. Therefore, they stated they were under no obligation what so ever to inform me of anything more. So although that withdrawal took my mind to the most terrifying place that’s ever existed, total psychosis, seizures and unrelenting pure hell, we, the patient, are still not listened to, believed or helped in any humane way. If Psychiatry & GP’s can’t prescribe these toxic drugs (benzo’s) responsibly according to guidelines (no longer than 2 weeks) then perhaps they shouldn’t prescribe them at all. Or better yet, arrest them for dealing drugs. Because that’s all they are – addicting, toxic drugs that do far more harm than good.

  4. Cognitive impairment is such a clever euphemism for brain damage. It reminds me of many other psychiatric euphemisms:

    involuntary incarceration in a prison = hospitalization
    neurotoxic drugs = medication, antidepressants, antipsychotics
    labeling and stigmatization = diagnosis
    fictitious diseases = mental illness
    jailer and pseudo-scientific quack = psychiatrist
    torture and abuse = treatment
    suicide = emotional lability

    and the list goes on…