Conference Coverage

What’s the proper place of benzodiazepines in psychiatry?



In another presentation, psychiatrist Murray B. Stein, MD, MPH, of the University of California at San Diego and VA San Diego Healthcare System, offered these tips about prescribing benzodiazepines for patients with anxiety.

Be very cautious about prescribing as needed

“It’s rarely indicated to prescribe benzodiazepine [as needed] when you’re treating people with anxiety,” he said. “The main reason is patients don’t know when they need it. They take their pills either when they’re so anxious that they’ve already been freaking out for a long time, or they take it when they’re first starting to feel at least a bit anxious. That leads to taking it to prevent being anxious.”

Allow an as-needed approach in certain situations

It can be appropriate to prescribe benzodiazepines for specific short-term anxiety-provoking situations, such as speaking in public, Dr. Stein said.

However, he said, advise patients to try the medication beforehand so they understand its effects. “I’ve had one occasion where I thought we had a dose worked out well. Somebody had to do a work presentation, and he took the medicine and got up in front of the group. He wasn’t anxious at all. But he couldn’t remember a single thing.”

Don’t use them as patients start SSRIs

Patients can get anxious as they start SSRIs, especially for panic disorders, Dr. Stein said. So it might seem reasonable, as some psychiatrists believe, to add benzodiazepines on a short-term basis.

But Dr. Stein said he is not a fan of this approach. As he noted, benzodiazepines are hard to stop. He prefers to help patients understand possible side effects of SSRIs instead, and he emphasized the importance of being available to help patients get through them.

Dr. Jain and Dr. Stein each reported multiple relationships with industry.

Next Article: