When I was a substance abuse therapist in the ’70s, I was surprised by the power of benzo addiction in very old people.
Goals were to determine the prevalence of benzodiazepine use (as prescribed and misuse), characterize misuse, and examine variation by age.
A cross-sectional analysis was conducted of 2015 and 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health data limited to adults ≥18 (N=86,186) and data from those respondents reporting benzodiazepine use (N=10,290). Measurements included past-year prescription benzodiazepine use and misuse (“any way a doctor did not direct”), substance use disorders, mental illness, and demographic characteristics. Misuse was compared between younger (18–49) and older (≥50) adults.
A total of 30.6 million adults (12.6%) reported past-year benzodiazepine use—25.3 million (10.4%) as prescribed and 5.3 million (2.2%) misuse. Misuse accounted for 17.2% of overall use. Adults ages 50–64 had the highest prescribed use (12.9%). Those ages 18–25 had the highest misuse (5.2%), and those ages ≥65 had the lowest (.6%). Misuse and abuse of or dependence on prescription opioids or stimulants were strongly associated with benzodiazepine misuse. Benzodiazepine misuse without a prescription was the most common type of misuse, and a friend or relative was the most common source. Adults ages ≥50 were more likely than younger adults to use a benzodiazepine more often than prescribed and to use a benzodiazepine to help with sleep.
Benzodiazepine use among U.S. adults was higher than previously reported, and misuse accounted for nearly 20% of use overall. Use by adults ages 50–64 now exceeds use by those ages ≥65. Patients also prescribed stimulants or opioids should be monitored for benzodiazepine misuse. Improved access to behavioral interventions for sleep or anxiety may reduce some misuse.