Long-Term Effects of Benzodiazepines
The third paper from the benzodiazepine experience survey was released recently, reporting some of the long-term symptoms and life effects attributed by respondents to benzodiazepines. It also proposes a name for these enduring symptoms that many have experienced: benzodiazepine-induced neurological dysfunction (BIND).
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Benzodiazepine use associated with brain injury, job loss, and suicide
PORTLAND, Oregon, June 29, 2023 (eReleases) –
Benzodiazepine use and discontinuation is associated with nervous system injury and negative life effects that continue after discontinuation, according to an article published 06/29/2023 in the open access journal PLOS ONE.
“Despite the fact that benzodiazepines have been widely prescribed for decades, this survey presents significant new evidence that a subset of patients experience long-term neurological complications,” stated first author Alexis Ritvo, M.D. “This should change how we think about benzodiazepines and how they are prescribed.”
Previous studies had described this injury with various terminologies, perhaps the most well-known being protracted withdrawal. As part of the PLOS ONE study, a scientific review board unified these names under the term benzodiazepine-induced neurological dysfunction (BIND) to more accurately describe the condition.
To better characterize BIND, Dr. Ritvo and colleagues analyzed data from a previously published survey of current and former benzodiazepine users that asked about their symptoms and adverse life effects attributed to benzodiazepine use. The survey of 1,207 benzodiazepine users from benzodiazepine support groups and health/wellness sites is the largest of its kind. Respondents included those taking benzodiazepines (63.2%), in the process of tapering (24.4%), or fully discontinued (11.3%). Nearly all respondents had a prescription for benzodiazepines (98.6%) and 91% took them definitely or mostly as prescribed.
Symptoms were long-lasting, with 76.6% of all affirmative answers to symptom questions reporting symptom duration to be months or over one year. The following ten symptoms (out of a possible 23) persisted over a year in greater than half of respondents: low energy, difficulty focusing, memory loss, anxiety, insomnia, sensitivity to light and sounds, digestive problems, symptoms triggered by food and drink, muscle weakness, and body pain. Particularly alarming, these symptoms were often reported as new and distinct from the symptoms for which benzodiazepines were originally prescribed. In addition, a majority of respondents reported prolonged negative life impacts in all areas, such as significantly damaged relationships, job loss, and increased medical costs. Notably, 54.4% of the respondents reported suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide.
BIND is thought to be a result of brain changes resulting from benzodiazepine exposure. A general review of the literature suggests that it occurs in roughly 1 in 5 long-term users. The risk factors for BIND are not known, and more research is needed to further define the condition, along with treatment options.
Christy Huff, M.D., one of the co-authors, said, “Patients have been reporting long-term effects from benzodiazepines for over 60 years. I am one of those patients. Even though I took my medication as prescribed, I still experience symptoms on a daily basis at four years off benzodiazepines. Our survey and the new term BIND give a voice to the patient experience and point to the need for further investigations.”
The survey was a collaborative effort between CU Anschutz, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and several patient-led advocacy organizations that educate on benzodiazepine harms. Several members of the research team have lived experience with benzodiazepines, which informed the survey questions.
"Long-term consequences of benzodiazepine-induced neurological dysfunction: A survey”
PLOS ONE 2023