Benzodiazepine Prescription Rates

Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, panic disorders, insomnia, and other medical conditions like epilepsy, muscle spasms, and alcohol withdrawal. Data from the American Journal of Public Health shows that prescriptions for benzodiazepines have increased in frequency and dose, with a notable 67% increase in the number of benzodiazepine prescriptions from the mid-1990s to 2013. This rise in prevalence has also given rise to rates of benzodiazepine misuse and abuse.

Benzodiazepine prescriptions increased by 2% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

- Drug and Alcohol Dependance Journal

Data from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that 1.4 million people in the US ages 12 and older reported using a sedative or tranquilizer (including benzodiazepines) in the past month. Although many likely used the medication as prescribed, data suggests that 3.9 million people ages 12 and over have abused benzodiazepines at least once in the past year.

Benzodiazepine-Related Deaths And Emergency Room Visits

In their 2022 annual survey of drug-related emergency department (ED) visits, the Drug Abuse Warning Network highlighted that benzodiazepine-related ED visits were highest among people ages 26 to 44. Unlike other drugs, which include more male patient ED visits, there was a nearly equal split of male and female patients with benzodiazepine-related ED visits, with White patients accounting for 75%.

Furthermore, 21% of drug-related ED visits in 2022 were related to more than one substance and 73% of those involved benzodiazepines. This is particularly worrisome since combining benzodiazepines with other depressants like alcohol or opioids significantly increases the likelihood of fatal overdoses.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) show over 12,000 overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines in 2021.

Benzodiazepine Abuse

When looking at the rates of medication use, it is important to distinguish use as prescribed or prescription medication misuse. Data from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that the highest rates of benzodiazepine abuse are for people ages 18 to 25, with an estimated 2.4% misusing these medications in the past year.

Benzodiazepine misuse includes:

  • Using benzodiazepines when they are not prescribed by a medical professional
  • Taking higher or more frequent doses of benzodiazepines than prescribed
  • Using benzodiazepines that are purchased on the illicit market or internet

Benzodiazepine Dependence And Addiction

It is also important to distinguish between benzodiazepine misuse and abuse, and benzodiazepine use that meets the criteria for physical dependence or addiction which, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is characterized by the development of maladaptive behaviors related to substance use.

According to the 2021 NSDUH, over 46 million people in the US ages 12 and over met the criteria for an alcohol or drug use disorder in the past year. Although this study puts benzodiazepines in a category with other sedatives and tranquilizers, the data shows that among people in the US ages 12 and over, 2.2 million people had a tranquilizer/sedative use disorder in the past year. Rates of tranquilizer/sedative addiction were highest for people ages 18 to 25 (0.9%). Data shows that roughly 127,000 adolescents (ages 12 to 17), 303,000 young adults (ages 18 to 25), and 1.8 million adults (ages 26 and over) had a tranquilizer/sedative addiction in the past year.

Help Is Available

If you are struggling with an addiction to benzodiazepines and are looking for help, know that treatment is available.

Contact a treatment provider today to discuss your treatment options.