How Effective Are Benzodiazepines for Depression?

S. Berger

Benzodiazepines are a family of medications that promote the sending of inhibitory signals in the brain. They are often taken as a treatment for anxiety disorders, insomnia, and panic, which can all occur alongside mood disorders like depression. Using benzodiazepines for depression can sometimes be beneficial to patients, although not all individuals may see an improved mood after their use; occasionally, these medications can pose dangers for depressed people.

Benzodiazepines are frequently used to treat anxiety disorders, but they sometimes can pose dangers for patients with depression.
Benzodiazepines are frequently used to treat anxiety disorders, but they sometimes can pose dangers for patients with depression.

Both types of disorders often accompany one another, so some people take a combination of antidepressants and benzodiazepines for depression and anxiety. Generally, this combination of therapies can allow for effective treatment of the symptoms caused by each class of mental condition. Many individuals choose to avoid taking benzodiazepine medication on a daily basis, however, because of the risk of physical dependence that these drugs carry. Additionally, some people may become more prone to accidents when taking these anti-anxiety drugs, and this danger is sometimes increased when they are depressed, as depression may cause them to have difficulty focusing on daily activities.

Occasionally, individuals may use benzodiazepines for depression occurring without anxiety. This course of treatment may not always be effective, however, as anti-anxiety medications have effects on the brain that are quite different from antidepressants. Certain symptoms of this disorder, such as depressed mood, confusion, oversleeping, and overeating, may even become more pronounced among some people taking these drugs. The consistent nature of depression also means that daily medication can be required in many cases. Taking benzodiazepines for depression every day for a long period of time or in large doses can lead to physical dependence after several weeks, making this a potentially dangerous treatment option.

Other factors exist that can influence the use of benzodiazepines for depression. Some individuals with mood disorders may also have a history of, or are at risk for developing, substance abuse problems. Anti-anxiety medications can be addictive, though, meaning that people with a history of illegal drug use may choose to avoid these substances, or to take them only under controlled conditions. At times, a professional evaluation may be required to determine whether these drugs are a safe course of treatment in light of multiple mental disorders.

Personal elements may also affect the use of benzodiazepines for depression therapy. Alcohol can interact harmfully with this class of drugs, putting individuals at risk for memory loss, mood changes, and, in some cases, death. Many people that drink frequently choose alternative medications, or to limit their benzodiazepine use to small amounts, for this reason. Tolerance may develop to these compounds when they are taken in large doses, or on a frequent basis. Therefore, some people with persistent depression and anxiety use counseling or other therapies in order to avoid taking these drugs too often.

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