Gender differences in the use of anxiolytics and antidepressants: a population based study

Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2009 Nov;18(11):1101-10. doi: 10.1002/pds.1827.


Purpose: In the majority of studies on determinants of use of anxiolytics and antidepressants a substantially higher consumption is observed among women than among men. We investigated gender differences in the association between the use of anxiolytics and antidepressants and mental health and explored if there are indications of gender differences in inappropriate use of these medicines.

Methods: Data were from the 2004 Belgian Health Interview Survey, a nationally representative sample of the Belgian population. The analysis was restricted to the population of 15 years and older (n = 11,220). The probability of use of anxiolytics and antidepressants was assessed through logistic regression models by gender and through models including the interaction between gender and mental health.

Results: The association between the use of antidepressants and mental health did not vary substantially between men and women. Among men the use of anxiolytics showed a strong association with sleeping problems, but not with depressive disorders. Among women the use of anxiolytics was significantly associated with the three mental health conditions that were investigated: depressive disorder, anxiety, and sleeping problems.

Conclusions: The link between mental health and use of anxiolytics differs by gender. Some indications exist for gender differences in inappropriate use of anxiolytics, whereas this does not hold true for the use of antidepressants. Further efforts are needed to increase the awareness of prescribers, policy makers, and the general public on the appropriate use of anxiolytics, especially among women and in the older population.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Antidepressive Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Belgium
  • Drug Utilization Review*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mental Health* / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Population Surveillance*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Antidepressive Agents