A systematic review of interventions to deprescribe benzodiazepines and other hypnotics among older people

Emily Reeve, Magdalene Ong, Angela Wu, Jesse Jansen, Mirko Petrovic, Danijela Gnjidic

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

116 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Benzodiazepines are effective medicines for insomnia and anxiety but are commonly used beyond recommended treatment time frames, which may lead to adverse drug events. The aim of this systematic review was to critically evaluate the success of interventions used to reduce benzodiazepines and ‘Z-drug’ use, and the impact of these interventions on clinical outcomes in older adults. 

Methods: A search was conducted in PubMed, Embase, Informit, International Pharmaceutical Abstracts, Scopus, PsychINFO, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) and CINAHL. Studies conducted in older adults (≥65 years) and published between January 1995 and July 2015 were included. Two authors independently reviewed all articles for eligibility and extracted the data. 

Results: Seven studies of benzodiazepines and Z-drug withdrawal were identified. Benzodiazepine discontinuation rates were 64.3% in one study that employed pharmacological substitution with melatonin and 65.0% in a study that employed general practitioner-targeted intervention. Mixed interventions including patient education and tapering (n = 2), pharmacological substitution with psychological support (n = 1) and tapering with psychological support (n = 1) yielded discontinuation rates between 27.0 and 80.0%. Five studies measured clinical outcomes following benzodiazepine discontinuation. Most (n = 4) observed no difference in prevalence of withdrawal symptoms or sleep quality, while one study reported decline in quality of life in those who continued taking benzodiazepine vs. those who discontinued over 8 months. 

Conclusions: Current evidence shows that benzodiazepine withdrawal is feasible in the older population, but withdrawal rates vary according to the type of intervention. As the benefits and sustainability of these interventions are unclear, further studies should be conducted to assess this.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)927-935
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Clinical Pharmacology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Benzodiazepines
  • Deprescribing
  • Older adults
  • Z-drugs

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