Short-Term Benzodiazepines May Improve Information Processing in Acute MDD

A man is drinking a medicine pill with a glass of water indoor
Treatment with benzodiazepines for less than 3 months may not decrease the cognitive function of patients with major depressive disorder who are also prescribed antidepressants.

Short-term use of conjunctive benzodiazepines and antidepressants might improve information processing in the acute treatment period and at 1-year follow-up in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD), according to study results published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Researchers conducted a prospective study of 402 Chinese patients with MDD treated with combined benzodiazepine (<3 months) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) therapy (n=49) or SSRI therapy alone (n=353). The study was completed over 3 separate stages, which included a case-control study, a diagnostic testing phase, and a longitudinal study. The longitudinal study consisted of an 8-week phase and an 88-week stable treatment phase, respectively. Depressive symptoms and cognitive function were measured at the start of therapy, at 8 weeks, and at 48-weeks using multiple assessment tools, including the Digit Symbol Coding Test (DSCT).

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After analysis, the researchers found that after adjusting for baseline factors, DSCT scores were marginally higher in patients treated with combined benzodiazepine and SSRI therapy vs SSRI therapy alone at 8 weeks (odds ratio, 1.052; 95% CI, 1.000-1.105). In addition, a variance analysis showed that combined treatment may improve DSCT scores at 1 year compared with baseline (F score, 7.569; P =.006).

Key limitations of the study were the small sample size and the lack of a healthy control group.

“In clinical practice, we recommend the combination of short-term use of [benzodiazepines] at acute treatment phase in MDD patients who regularly take antidepressants [because this] could improve some of the patients’ cognitive symptoms,” the researchers wrote.


Yanping D, Jing W, Wenqi G, et al. The effect of short-term use of benzodiazepines on cognitive function of major depressive disorder patients being treated with antidepressants. J Affect Disord. 2019;256:1-7.