By Boschert, Sherry
Clinical Psychiatry News , Vol. 32, No. 10
SAN DIEGO -- The sedative effects and potential for abuse associated with benzodiazepines haven't scared physicians away from using the drugs to treat anxiety or panic disorder, Dr. Javaid I. Sheikh said at a psychopharmacology congress sponsored by the Neuroscience Education Institute.
That's a good thing, because benzodiazepines can be very useful with an antidepressant in the first 2-3 weeks of therapy while you're waiting for the antidepressant effect to be felt, said Dr. Sheikh, professor of psychiatry at Stanford (Calif.) University.
Despite their rapid anxiolytic effect, benzodiazepines officially are condoned only as second-line drugs because of the possibility of drug dependence. "Academics for about 50 years took a very harsh stance with this," he noted.
When used judiciously, however, benzodiazepines are very helpful for these patients, and "the rates of abuse in anxiety disorder patients are actually very, very low, even after years of use. We're finding out that's because many of these patients with anxiety disorder have a slightly attenuated sensitivity to benzodiazepines, so they don't get the 'buzz,' so to speak, that normal people might get," he said.
Federal data from 2001 show that the drug most frequently prescribed--15% of cases--for generalized anxiety disorder by U.S. physicians was the benzodiazepine alprazolam (Xanax).