Benzodiazepine Use and Misuse on the Rise

January 3, 2019

The rate of benzodiazepine use among US adults has increased to 12.6%, according to a study published online in Psychiatric Services. Misuse now accounts for nearly 20% of overall use.

The study was based on data on adults from the 2015 and 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Previous research from 2013 and 2014 identified the rate of benzodiazepine use among US adults as between 4% and 6%.

While the latest study found the rate of misuse to be 17.2% of overall use, young adults had the highest rate of misuse. At 5.6%, benzodiazepine misuse among 18- to 25-year-olds was as common as prescribed use, researchers reported.

The study found the highest prescribed use (12.9%) among adults age 50 to 64. In previous studies, adults age 65 and older had the highest rate of use.

Many Older Adults Prescribed Benzodiazepines Continue Use Long-term

According to the current study, women were more likely than men to report benzodiazepine use, although men were more likely than women to report misuse. Nearly half of survey respondents who reported misusing the drugs said they did so to relax or relieve tension. About a quarter said it helped with sleep. The most common source of nonprescribed benzodiazepines was a friend or relative.

Researchers also reported a strong link between benzodiazepine misuse and misuse of or dependence on opioids or stimulants.

“Patients also prescribed stimulants or opioids should be monitored for benzodiazepine misuse,” researchers wrote. “Improved access to behavioral interventions for sleep or anxiety may reduce some misuse.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Maust DT, Lin LA, Blow FC. Benzodiazepine use and misuse among adults in the United States. Psychiatric Services. 2018 December 17;[Epub ahead of print].

Study finds increasing use, and misuse, of benzodiazepines [press release]. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; December 17, 2018.