Benzodiazepines are some of the most widely prescribed pharmaceuticals in the world. In the U.S. alone, there are fifteen kinds of benzos, commonly prescribed for anxiety and sleeplessness. They have a calming and tranquilizing effect. But French scientists recently found they will do much more than calm you down—they could increase your risk of dementia.
The study was likely spurred because 30 percent of people over the age of 65 in France take benzodiazepines. How many Americans are on the drugs isn’t well known, though it’s thought to be a similar percentage. In older adults, the medication is most often doled out to help with insomnia. But, it’s in these elderly patients that the risk for related dementia is most prominent.
According to the research, those on the benzos increased their risk of dementia significantly. Those who didn’t take the drugs had a risk of 3.2 per 100 “person years” (describing one person at risk of development of dementia during a period of one year). In those who did take the drugs, the rate was 4.8 per 100 person years. In other words, according to the study authors, the rate of dementia was increased by 50% in those who took benzodiazepines.
Here are some of the facts. The study used participants who had never taken the drugs before, 1,063 of them. The average age of participants was 78. Of those participating, 95 were prescribed benzodiazepines during the study period. 253 participants developed dementia. Of those, 30 had begun taking benzos between three and five years into the study.
The dangers of these drugs are not entirely new. It has a high risk of abuse because of its calming effects. According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, people can develop a tolerance for these drugs, which doctors counteract by simply giving them more. Many people who are put on these drugs end up taking them for the rest of their lives.
They include: Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepamn), Ativan (lorazepam), and Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam), also known as the “date rape drug”.
While this French study was very specific to older adults, it would be interesting to see further research on the effects on younger populations, not that we would advocate giving more people these drugs. Instead, it would be even better if money was invested in studying natural anti-anxiety alternatives and sleep aids. If you find yourself always waking up tired or anxious, try using safer solutions, such as cornflower or herbal sleep remedies.