Benzodiazepine Use and Misuse Among Adults in the United States

Psychiatr Serv. 2019 Feb 1;70(2):97-106. doi: 10.1176/ Epub 2018 Dec 17.


Objective: Goals were to determine the prevalence of benzodiazepine use (as prescribed and misuse), characterize misuse, and examine variation by age.

Methods: A cross-sectional analysis was conducted of 2015 and 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health data limited to adults ≥18 (N=86,186) and data from those respondents reporting benzodiazepine use (N=10,290). Measurements included past-year prescription benzodiazepine use and misuse ("any way a doctor did not direct"), substance use disorders, mental illness, and demographic characteristics. Misuse was compared between younger (18-49) and older (≥50) adults.

Results: A total of 30.6 million adults (12.6%) reported past-year benzodiazepine use-25.3 million (10.4%) as prescribed and 5.3 million (2.2%) misuse. Misuse accounted for 17.2% of overall use. Adults ages 50-64 had the highest prescribed use (12.9%). Those ages 18-25 had the highest misuse (5.2%), and those ages ≥65 had the lowest (.6%). Misuse and abuse of or dependence on prescription opioids or stimulants were strongly associated with benzodiazepine misuse. Benzodiazepine misuse without a prescription was the most common type of misuse, and a friend or relative was the most common source. Adults ages ≥50 were more likely than younger adults to use a benzodiazepine more often than prescribed and to use a benzodiazepine to help with sleep.

Conclusions: Benzodiazepine use among U.S. adults was higher than previously reported, and misuse accounted for nearly 20% of use overall. Use by adults ages 50-64 now exceeds use by those ages ≥65. Patients also prescribed stimulants or opioids should be monitored for benzodiazepine misuse. Improved access to behavioral interventions for sleep or anxiety may reduce some misuse.

Keywords: Alcohol and drug abuse; Benzodiazepines; Geriatric psychiatry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Benzodiazepines / therapeutic use*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prescription Drug Misuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Benzodiazepines