Memory Loss Meds: Can Xanax and Valium Increase Your Risk of Alzheimers?

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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Benzodiazepines are great for anxiety but used long term there are downsides. Long-term use of benzodiazepines can be habit forming and oh—put you at increased risk of Alzheimer disease.

Common benzodiazepines like Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam) and Valium (diazepam) are used to treat anxiety symptoms, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder and have been associated with cognitive impairment in some older adults. These effects were presumed to be short-lived and reversible until the results of a new study, so pay attention. Long-term exposure to benzodiazepines might increase the risk of Alzheimer disease.

In a study of nearly 2000 older adults in Canada, use of benzodiazepines for more than 180 days was associated with a 1.5-fold increase in risk of Alzheimer disease. What is important to note is that longer exposure and longer-half life benzos (like Klonopin/clonazepam) were associated with increased risk.

This study should reinforce that benzos are only a short term solution. Studies show that when either lorazepam or alprazolam are used for more than one month, dependence will occur in 47% of those taking them. Now we know there is also an increased risk of Alzheimer disease. Benzos shouldn’t be used long term and treatment for more than 4 months should be re-evaluated to determine the continued need for the drug.

Dr O.

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