Background: Benzodiazepine abuse and dependence have been recognized and widely discussed for more than 40 years. With more than 230 million daily doses prescribed in Germany per year, the burden of reimbursement on the statutory health insurance carriers is high, albeit with a slight decline from year to year. At present, about 50% of all prescriptions in Germany are issued privately, even for patients who have statutory health insurance.
Methods: We selectively review the literature on the epidemiology and treatment of benzodiazepine dependence and abuse in Germany.
Results: Estimates of the number of benzodiazepine-dependent persons in Germany range from 128 000 to 1.6 million. Most estimates take no account of the large number of private prescriptions (i.e., those that are not reimbursed by the statutory health insurance scheme), while many exclude prescriptions for elderly persons, for whom these drugs are frequently prescribed. For the outpatient treatment of benzodiazepine withdrawal, it is recommended that the drug should first be switched to an equivalent dose of another benzodiazepine with an intermediate or long-acting effect; the dose should then, in general, be reduced weekly. In case of consumption of a high dose (≥ 20 mg diazepam equivalent), hospitalization and the additional administration of carbamazepine or valproic acid are recommended. Flumazenil treatment can improve with - drawal symptoms and leads to higher abstinence rates. Antidepressants should be given only if the patient is depressed. The dependence potential of nonbenzodiazepine drugs such as zolpidem and zopiclon must also be borne in mind.
Conclusion: Benzodiazepines are generally highly effective when first given, but they should generally be given only for strict indications and for a limited time. If these drugs still need to be given beyond the short term, timely referral to a specialist is indicated, and possibly also contact with the addiction aid system.