Do They Help or Hurt?
Xanax and Valium are well-known benzodiazepine medications.
Because of the potential for addiction, benzodiazepines are not considered a safe medication to treat depression. They are only used to treat symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, or other conditions that would indicate the use of a benzodiazepine. They should not be used in place of antidepressant medication.
Despite this fact, doctors sometimes prescribe benzodiazepine medications alone to treat depression. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that benzodiazepine monotherapy (using a benzodiazepine alone instead of combined with an antidepressant) was used for 9.3% of patients included in the survey. Use of a benzodiazepine alone was more likely if the patient was female, between the ages of 45 and 64, or had Medicare for insurance.
This practice goes against American Psychiatric Association guidelines, which state that benzodiazepines can be used in combination with antidepressants to treat anxiety or insomnia that exists along with depression. The study did find that psychiatrists are much less likely to prescribe benzodiazepines alone for depression than other medical practitioners.2
Yes. Another reason why benzodiazepines are not typically used as the primary medication to treat depression is that they can become addictive when used at high doses or long periods. When a benzodiazepine medication is prescribed, if the drug is taken for a long time, the body builds up a tolerance, meaning that it takes more medication to produce the same effects.
Long-term use of benzodiazepines does not cause cravings for the drug, as other substances do, but stopping the medication suddenly can lead to withdrawal symptoms. This is why the medication must be gradually decreased when benzodiazepine use ends.
When benzodiazepine use stops, the dose must be reduced gradually to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms. This gradual reduction is called ramping down or tapering and is one of the first treatments used for benzodiazepine addiction. In cases of addiction to a strong, shorter-acting benzodiazepine, such as Xanax® (alprazolam), a weaker, longer-acting benzodiazepine is sometimes used to lessen the effects of withdrawal. Clonazepam is the most frequently used benzodiazepine for this purpose. Ramping down is usually done gradually, so other addiction treatments happen while the drug is being removed from the body. These treatments may include behavioral therapies and marriage and family counseling.
Benzos are strong, tranquilizing medications that depress the body’s systems. They should not be used to treat depression and should only be used for other conditions if prescribed by a physician. If you know someone who has become addicted to benzos, help them to find treatment as soon as possible.
If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.