Limited Utility for Benzodiazepines in Chronic Pain Management: A Narrative Review

Adv Ther. 2020 Jun;37(6):2604-2619. doi: 10.1007/s12325-020-01354-6. Epub 2020 May 6.


Introduction: Controversy and uncertainty exist about the use of benzodiazepine receptor agonists (BZRAs) in pain management. This article curates available research to determine the appropriate role of BZRAs in the course of pain management, and how prescribers might address these challenges.

Methods: A narrative review was performed to determine the appropriate role of BZRAs in pain management and to develop practice recommendations. Publications were identified by a search of PubMed, references of retrieved reports, guidelines, and the author's personal files.

Results: BZRAs were found to have analgesic benefit for two pain conditions: burning mouth syndrome and stiff person syndrome. Absence of research, heterogeneity of trials, and small sample sizes precluded drawing conclusions about efficacy of BZRAs for the other 109 pain conditions explored. Data supports the use of BZRAs to treat co-occurring insomnia and anxiety disorders but only when alternatives are inadequate and only for short periods of time (2-4 weeks). The utility of BZRAs is limited by loss of efficacy that may be seen with continued use and adverse reactions including physiologic dependence which develops in 20-100% of those who take these agents for more than a month.

Conclusions: BZRAs are often used inappropriately in pain management. Their initiation and duration of use should be limited to a narrow range of conditions. When prescribed for 4 weeks or more, patients should be encouraged to discontinue them through a supported, slow tapering process that may take 12-18 months or longer.

Keywords: Benzodiazepine; Benzodiazepine receptor agonist; Chronic pain; Overdose; Pain management; Tapering; Withdrawal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Benzodiazepines / pharmacology*
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Inappropriate Prescribing / prevention & control
  • Pain Management / methods


  • Benzodiazepines