Benzodiazepines, a class of sedative and anti-anxiety medications, have been linked to an increased risk of falls and reduced cognition. Long-term use of this drug class is not advised, especially for the elderly. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) analyzed benzodiazepine fill patterns among the following age groups: 18-35, 36-50, 51-64, and 65-80 years old. Using prescription fill data from 2008, the study found that the percentage of people in each group that had at least one fill of a benzodiazepine increased steadily with age. Among those 65-80 years old, 8.7 percent used benzodiazepines, compared with 2.6 percent of those 18-35 years old. In each age group, women were approximately twice as likely as men to use benzodiazepines.
Additionally, the prevalence of long-term use, defined as 120 or more days, also increased with age. Among benzodiazepine users 65-80 years old, almost one-third were long-term users, compared with 14.7 percent of those 18-35 years old.
When consulting medical professionals about these findings, the New York Times found that addiction may be a cause of long-term benzodiazepine use among older Americans. Those who stop using the drug after several weeks experience withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia and anxiety, which mirror the original reasons for taking benzodiazepines. This leads patients to believe that treatment was effective and resume taking the drug. Prescribers described facing strong resistance from patients who were advised to wean off benzodiazepines.