The People's Perspective on Medicine

Anti-Anxiety Pills May Cause Confusion

Q. I was a nurse for over 42 years, and I’m alarmed by the staggering increase in the use of anti-anxiety medications like alprazolam or diazepam. There’s no doubt in my mind that these addictive drugs change the way people think. I’ve observed poor logic, poor memory and impaired reasoning even before dementia sets in.

Worse yet, these meds tend to come in very tiny pills, somehow making people think they are safer. It was very common to see withdrawal in patients who were hiding their overuse of these drugs, and the withdrawal was a frightening thing to watch. The resulting severe confusion, agitation and even hallucinations can last for days.

A. French researchers have reported that anti-anxiety agents and some sleeping pills increase the risk of dementia in older people (BMJ, online Sept. 27, 2012). They followed more than 1,000 initially healthy elders for 15 years and found that those who began taking such medications were 50 percent more likely to have developed dementia.

You are quite correct that benzodiazepines like alprazolam, diazepam or lorazepam can trigger withdrawal symptoms if stopped suddenly. Although there are no specific guidelines for discontinuing such medications, very gradual dose tapering may diminish the severity of withdrawal symptoms. We have more information on benzodiazepine side effects and how to taper off such medicines in our free Guide to Psychological Side Effects.

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    Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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    What severe anxiety medication is less likely to cause confusion in the elderly?

    These medications have a place in our world, but what is not told by the doctors is that most of these should only be taken short term. For example, if you had a life event (divorce or death) that is causing you to have a hard time in your daily life, then take something to get you over the hump. I don’t understand taking these medications for years and years. I too have heard and read about the side effects, withdrawals, and potential early dementia issues in the seniors. It would be nice that when these pills are giving out initially, there is also a plan included on how to get back off them. Step-down approach or something. Someone may not swallow this so easily if they realized how hard it would be to get back off. Maybe yoga, stress mgt. therapy, bio feedback, counseling, natural remedies would be worth a try as a 1st step. However, none of these options are quick fixes, and we in America like things to be taken care of quickly!! If you or a loved one are suffering with any of these type of medication try getting information online, there is a ton out there. I have used this site repeatedly , but there are others as well.

    Since anxiety, depression, panic, etc., are detrimental as these states wreak havoc on the immune system amongst other things…. I suppose there might be a bit of a trade-off re the use of anti-anxiety agents… Similarly, early death is correlated with the use of sleeping meds; however it seems reasonable that people who suffer from anxiety, sleeplessness, manic traits, etc., might pursue other behaviors or habits that might in themselves be correlated with early death. Things like risk-taking, poor judgment, unstable personal relationships, overuse of gratifiers like food and drugs… It’s worth thinking about, anyway.

    I suppose these anti-anxiety drugs have side effects like most drugs. I have taken xanax (generic) for many years and I am 69 years and probably have some confusion. But it is the only way I have of eliminating the anxiety and panic that comes over me and taking a small amount of this drug will actually work within 15 minutes and it does not come back for a long time. It works instantly–“not extended release”.
    My mother died at age 92 and was sharp as a tack until she passed with heart problem and took this drug for anxiety most of her life. We are lucky in our family as we must not have the addictive gene; consequently, we have never abused this anxiety drug.

    I am 61 and used ativan as needed for stress & anxiety at my job (retired now thankfully!). I noted that my balance was bad and I started having an occasional fall, not like me, mostly clumsiness. I noted a few years ago, the forgetfulness, not bad, but there and all of us contributed it to the stress. After realizing the ativan was causing the falls, I quit cold turkey. Afraid to “do” anything now, it took months to gain my confidence back to go to the gym and fix what had been injured in the falls (mostly knees), and now I am WAY better than before. Of course the retirement has helped so much, but the gym and the elliptical machine fixed my knees, just 5, 10, 15 minutes a day or a few days a week.
    Ativan has it’s place, it helped when I needed it to at least sleep. I started out on an occasional 0.25mg and ended up at 1 mg. I’m off now with no addiction ever. These benzos have side effects and my doc many yrs ago never told me what could happen.
    Be cautious with them. Find a new job or a natural way like chamomile tea(which I did, but after a few days it doesn’t work) or calcium (same after a few days).
    Hope this helps someone.

    what about Tranxene and confusion?

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