Attitudes to long-term use of benzodiazepine hypnotics by older people in general practice: findings from interviews with service users and providers

Aging Ment Health. 2004 May;8(3):242-8. doi: 10.1080/13607860410001669778.


The aim of this study was to explore beliefs and attitudes about continuing or stopping benzodiazepine hypnotics amongst older patients using such medicines, and amongst their general practitioners. One hundred and ninety two patients aged 65 and over who were long-term users of benzodiazepine hypnotics were recruited from 25 general practices in inner city and suburban London, as were 83 practice staff. The practices had been recruited into a randomised controlled trial of benzodiazepine withdrawal in long-term users. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with patients recruited to the trial, and non-standardized (conversational) interviews with practice staff. Sixty percent of long-term benzodiazepine users had taken their hypnotic for more than 10 years, and one-third for more than 20 years. Beliefs in the efficacy of hypnotics, and self-report of insomnia despite their use, varied according to the willingness to attempt withdrawal. The majority of patients reported no warnings from professionals about adverse effects of using benzodiazepine hypnotics. Half had tried to stop at some time but most attempts had been short-lived. Patients and doctors had distinctly different views of the advantages, disadvantages and risks of stopping benzodiazepine hypnotic use. Both increased patient awareness of the problems of long-term benzodiazepine use and an evidence-based approach to withdrawal efforts in primary care are necessary to reduce the consumption of medication that has little real benefit.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Benzodiazepines / administration & dosage
  • Benzodiazepines / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / administration & dosage
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Physicians, Family*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors


  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Benzodiazepines