While not typically an indicated use, benzodiazepines for depression have become more common.

Benzodiazepines also referred to as benzos, are a class of medications used for their relaxing properties. Benzodiazepines are most commonly prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, insomnia, seizures and as a sedative prior to surgery. While not typically an indicated use, benzodiazepines for depression have become more common.

As many as 40 percent of patients with a depressive disorder may be prescribed benzodiazepines as treatment. When examining the relationship between benzodiazepines and depression treatment, studies have not found a connection between the severity of depression and the use of benzodiazepines.

However, it appears the symptom is known as anhedonia—or loss of pleasure—is an indicator of whether benzodiazepines will be prescribed for depression treatment. Other common conditions that are prescribed a benzodiazepine prescription for depressive disorders include insomnia and depression-related anxiety. Despite studies showing that benzodiazepines are not necessarily more effective than placebos for treating depressive disorders, they continue to be used.

Article at a Glance

Whether depression or benzodiazepine use comes first, treating a depressive disorder and co-occurring substance use disorder requires a trained professional

As many as 40 percent of patients with a depressive disorder may be prescribed benzodiazepines as treatment

Physical dependence on benzodiazepines can occur after relatively short periods of use

Benzodiazepine addiction is most common in individuals with a co-occurring mental health disorder like depression

Ativan and Depression

Ativan is a benzodiazepine approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for short term relief of anxiety-like during a panic attack. Like other benzodiazepines, using Ativan for depression is not uncommon. Ativan is being prescribed less frequently than in the past, so it ’s not being used as often for depression as other benzodiazepines.

Some concerns regarding the use of Ativan include the potential to develop dependence. If someone was prescribed this medication they may have asked: “Can Ativan cause depression?” It appears that Ativan, as well as other benzodiazepines, do contribute in some level to the development of depression.

Klonopin and Depression

Klonopin is another commonly prescribed benzodiazepine. The effects of Klonopin last longer than those of Ativan. While prescribing Klonopin for depression is not common, it may be prescribed when anxiety co-occurs with depression. If someone who is living with depression is prescribed Klonopin they may ask, “Can Klonopin cause depression?” and “Can Klonopin help with depression?”.

Klonopin may be used during the beginning of depression treatment for anxiety-related symptoms and insomnia until an antidepressant medication takes effect. Using Klonopin in this way can provide relief of some symptoms, which may encourage someone to continue taking antidepressants because it can take some time before they begin to work effectively. However, Klonopin’s effects have the potential to cause depression or increase depressive symptoms if used for an extended period.

Valium and Depression

Valium is intended for the short-term treatment of anxiety symptoms. Like Klonopin and other benzodiazepines, taking Valium for depression is usually prescribed only during the initial treatment period. However, Valium use with certain antidepressants like Prozac, may intensify the effects and cause increased feelings of depression.

Someone who has a history of taking Valium and living with depression is at a higher risk to experience negative effects from benzodiazepines. For people with a history of depression, Valium use may cause their depression to worsen. During Valium withdrawal, depression is also a common side effect.

Xanax and Depression

Xanax is the most widely used benzodiazepine and consistently one of the top five most prescribed psychiatric medications. Using Xanax for depression treatment is not uncommon, but it is typically not used. Besides the concerns of addiction potential when prescribing Xanax in addition to the heightened risk of developing a substance use disorder for people with depressive disorders, some data has indicated that Xanax may make depression worse.

Examining  the relationship between Xanax and depression can often raise two questions including, “Does Xanax help with depression?” and “Can Xanax cause depression?” Xanax and other benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants. This means they slow the functions of the body and the brain’s thought processes. For someone with pre-existing depression, this may result in increased depression. Someone with depression who is also taking Xanax may notice an increase in depressive symptoms even if only taking Xanax for a short period.

Do Benzodiazepines Cause Depression?

Misconceptions involving benzodiazepines being produced to treat depression are common. Considering the benzodiazepine depression relationship, it is reasonable to question if benzodiazepines not only help with depression but also if they can cause depression.

Research has shown that people with pre-existing depression or a predisposition to depression are more likely to experience a depressive episode or increase existing levels of depression induced from the use of benzodiazepines.

Benzo Withdrawal Depression

Physical dependence on benzodiazepines can occur after relatively short periods of use. When stopping the use of benzodiazepines, whether they have been taken as prescribed or not, withdrawal is likely.

Some people may experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome when stopping the use of benzodiazepines. This may last for several months after discontinuing use.

People experiencing long-term effects from withdrawal should seek professional assistance to ensure setbacks are avoided. Benzodiazepine withdrawal depression poses a significant risk for setbacks because it can seem appealing to return to using benzodiazepines if someone is withdrawing without medical assistance. However, by remaining abstinent and working through post-acute withdrawal syndrome in a treatment facility or hospital, long-term recovery is possible.

Link Between Benzos and Treatment-Resistant Depression

For people with treatment-resistant depression, regular treatment like antidepressant medication and therapy are sometimes not enough. People with treatment-resistant depression may find they experience little improvement with treatment or that they improve briefly but then regress back to their old addictions.

Benzodiazepines have been linked to treatment-related depression. Benzodiazepines, even when used as prescribed, numb feelings and increase feelings of isolation. Using benzodiazepines for an extended period have been shown to impair brain functions which can contribute to the development of treatment-resistant depression.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Benzodiazepine Addiction and Depression

Benzodiazepine addiction is most common in individuals with a co-occurring mental health disorder like depression. People seeking treatment for benzodiazepine addiction with co-occurring depression should search for facilities that are staffed by medical professionals experienced in treating co-occurring mental health disorders.

Medication management may be necessary to assist in relieving depressive symptoms. In these cases, antidepressant medications are typically prescribed because of their low risk of abuse and dependence. Avoiding the use of medications specifically produced  for anxiety treatment may prevent setbacks

If you or a loved one struggles with addiction and a co-occurring mental health condition like depression, help is available at treatment centers across the country. The Recovery Village offers comprehensive treatment for substance use and co-occurring disorders. For more information about our care options, contact us today.

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Medically Reviewed By – Denise-Marie Griswold, LCAS
Denise-Marie Griswold is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist. She earned her Master's Degree in Substance Abuse and Clinical Counseling from East Carolina University in 2014. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.