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Doctors warn about clear dangers of Xanax, Valium and related drugs

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Doctors group issues warning about benzodiazepine prescriptions

A new report highlights the dangers of nerve pills known as benzodiazepines that are commonly prescribed for sleep, anxiety and sometimes depression. Researchers are warning you may want to find other ways to reduce stress and anxiety because of a clear risk of dementia and death associated with anti-anxiety medications.


Helene Alphonso, DO, Director of Osteopathic Medical Education at North Texas University Health Science Center warns that some physicians still prescribe the drugs for treating anxiety, insomnia, OCD, and PTSD, despite the fact that the medications pose dangers.

Examples of the medications include Valium (diazapam), Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazapam), and Ativan (lorazepam).

"Current research is extremely clear and physicians need to partner with their patients to move them into therapies, like anti-depressants, that are proven to be safer and more effective," Alphonso says. She adds there is can be deficits in mental health providers in certain areas, which means primary care physicians prescribe the medications to treat psychiatric disorders.

Benzodiazepines linked dementia and more

In a Canadian review of 9,000 patients, benzodiapzepine use for more than three months was found to raise the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease by thirty six percent, according to the researcher.

Medicines for sleep and anxiety are especially dangerous for those over age 65 because they also increase chances of fall, fractures and hospitalization. The drugs can also lead to accidental overdose and death.

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"It's imperative to transition older patients because we're seeing a very strong correlation between use of benzodiazepines and development of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. While correlation certainly isn't causation, there's ample reason to avoid this class of drugs as a first-line therapy," Dr. Alphonso said.

Dr. Alphonso will present other strategies for treating psychiatric disorders at OMED, the annual medical education conference of the American Osteopathic Association that will take place this month.

More on benzodiazepines and Alzheimer's disease

Benzodiazepines are also highly addictive. Dr. Alphonso will also discuss detox strategies at OMED.

The take home message

Benzodiazepines are also sometimes prescribed to treat agitation in long-term care facilities. If your parent or spouse is over age sixty-five and prescribed medications like Xanax or Ativan or Valium it's important to understand the dangers.

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