As-needed Use of Benzodiazepines in Managing Clinical Anxiety: Incidence and Implications
H. A. Westra and S. H. Stewart
Affiliation: Anxiety and Affective Disorders Service, W818 Victoria Campus, 375 South Street, London Health Sciences Centre, London, Ontario, Canada.
Benzodiazepines (BZs) have been widely investigated in terms of clinical efficacy, factors underlying dependence, associated cognitive impairments, and interactions with psychotherapy for anxiety control. However, few studies have systema- tically considered manner of BZ administration in relation to these variables. Studies of chronic BZ users indicate that as-needed or p.r.n. use is a very common practice, increases with chronicity of BZ use, and is preferred compared to regularly scheduled BZ administration. Moreover, a recent study of physician prescription practices indicated that p.r.n. BZ use is a commonly recommended BZ use regimen for anxiety disorder management. Physician advocates of p.r.n. BZ prescriptions for anxiety disorders cite enhanced patient control over symptoms, facilitation of exposure to fear-provoking situations, and reduced frequency of use as rationales supporting this practice. Available data however, do not consistently support these hypothesized advantages of p.r.n. BZ use. And in general, findings from different investigations relevant to this question suggest that p.r.n. BZ administration may be associated with increased patient preference for BZs over placebo, continued use, and greater impairment on cognitive f actors associated with positive long-term anxiety management. Ironically, p.r.n. BZ administration may also be associated with reduced anxiolytic efficacy over time. These suggestive findings argue for greater systematic investigation of manner of BZ administration as an important medication use parameter. Such investigations may also yield practical guidelines for navigating BZ discontinuation and promoting more successful long-term management of anxiety.
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