Newswise — A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus has revealed that the use and discontinuation of benzodiazepines can lead to nervous system damage and ongoing negative effects on one's life, even after discontinuation. The findings of this study were published today in the journal PLOS One.
The research provides compelling evidence that a subset of patients experience long-term neurological complications associated with benzodiazepine use, challenging the commonly held belief that these drugs are safe and well-tolerated. Dr. Alexis Ritvo, an assistant professor in psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and medical director of the nonprofit Alliance for Benzodiazepine Best Practices, emphasized the significance of this study, stating that it should prompt a reevaluation of how benzodiazepines are perceived and prescribed.
For more than six decades, patients have been reporting enduring effects from benzodiazepines, corroborating the study's findings. Dr. Christy Huff, a cardiologist, coauthor of the paper, and director of the Benzodiazepine Information Coalition, shared her personal experience as a patient who continues to suffer daily symptoms, even four years after discontinuing benzodiazepines. She believes that the survey and the introduction of the term "BIND" (Benzodiazepine-Induced Neurological Dysfunction) provide a platform for patients to share their experiences and highlight the urgent need for further investigations into this issue.
The survey was a collaborative effort between the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and various patient-led advocacy organizations dedicated to raising awareness about the harms associated with benzodiazepines. The research team's firsthand experience with benzodiazepines informed the development of the survey questions, ensuring that the patient perspective was accurately represented.
According to the study, the symptoms associated with benzodiazepine use were found to be long-lasting, with a significant majority of respondents (76.6%) reporting durations of months or even over a year. More than half of the participants experienced ten specific symptoms persisting for more than a year, including 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. Disturbingly, these symptoms often appeared as new and distinct from the initial reasons for taking benzodiazepines.
The impact on individuals' lives was also profound, with a majority of respondents reporting long-term negative effects in various areas. Relationships were significantly damaged, job loss occurred, and medical costs increased. Alarmingly, 54.4% of the respondents reported having suicidal thoughts or even attempting suicide.
The researchers believe that these symptoms and adverse effects are indicative of benzodiazepine-induced neurological dysfunction (BIND), which is believed to be a result of brain changes caused by benzodiazepine exposure. A review of existing literature suggests that BIND occurs in approximately one in five long-term users of these drugs. However, the specific risk factors for BIND remain unknown, necessitating further research to fully understand the condition and explore potential treatment options.
In order to better define and describe BIND, the study's scientific review board unified various terms used to describe this condition, including protracted withdrawal, under the term "benzodiazepine-induced neurological dysfunction" (BIND).
To gain insight into BIND, Dr. Ritvo and colleagues analyzed data from a previous survey that had been conducted with current and former benzodiazepine users. The survey, which included responses from 1,207 individuals, was the largest of its kind. Participants were sourced from benzodiazepine support groups as well as health and wellness websites. The respondents represented different stages of benzodiazepine use, including those currently taking the medication (63.2%), those in the process of tapering off (24.4%), and those who had fully discontinued (11.3%). Almost all respondents had a prescription for benzodiazepines (98.6%), and the majority (91%) reported taking the medication as prescribed.
About the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus is a world-class medical destination at the forefront of transformative science, medicine, education and patient care. The campus encompasses the University of Colorado health professional schools, more than 60 centers and institutes, and two nationally ranked independent hospitals - UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and Children's Hospital Colorado - that treat more than two million adult and pediatric patients each year. Innovative, interconnected and highly collaborative, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus delivers life-changing treatments, patient care and professional training and conducts world-renowned research fueled by over $690 million in research grants. For more information, visit www.cuanschutz.edu.
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