Long-term benzodiazepine use and salivary cortisol. The Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA)

L. Manthey, E.J. Giltay, T. van Veen, A.K. Neven, S.A. Vreeburg, B.W.J.H. Penninx, F.G. Zitman

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Background: As benzodiazepines (BZDs) have anxiolytic effects, it is expected that they influence the stress system. During short-term treatment, BZD use was found to suppress cortisol levels. However, little research has been done on the effects of long-term BZD administration on the hypomalamic- pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Methods: The association between long-term. BZD use and cortisol levels was investigated in subjects of the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety with a lifetime diagnosis of anxiety or depression (n = 1531). The subjects were categorized as "daily BZD users" (n = 96), "infrequent BZD users" (n = 172), and "nonusers" (n = 1263). Possible associations between characteristics of BZD use (dose, duration, and dependence) and salivary cortisol levels were analyzed. Main Outcome Measure: Subjects provided 7 saliva samples, from which 4 cortisol indicators were calculated: the cortisol awakening response, diurnal slope, evening cortisol, and cortisol suppression after ingestion of 0.5 mg of dexamethasone. Results: Daily users used BZDs for a median duration of 26.5 months and had a median daily dosage of 6.0 mg as measured in diazepam equivalents. Evening cortisol levels were significantly lower in daily users (P = 0.004; effect size: d = 0.24) and infrequent users (P = 0.04; effect size: d = 0.12) compared to nonusers. We did not find significant differences in the cortisol awakening response, diurnal slope, or in the dexamethasone suppression test. Conclusions: Despite the finding of slightly lower evening cortisol levels in daily and infrequent BZD users compared to nonusers, results indicate that long-term BZD use is not convincingly associated with HPA axis alterations. Copyright © 2010 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)160-168
JournalJournal of clinical psychopharmacology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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