The Effect of Anxiolytic Drugs on Memory in Anxious Subjects

  • I. Lucki
  • K. Rickels
Part of the Psychopharmacology Series book series (PSYCHOPHARM, volume 6)


The benzodiazepines (BZs), represented by diazepam, are the class of drugs used most frequently to treat clinical anxiety disorders. Since it is known that acute BZ intake impairs memory function, the effects of BZs on memory were evaluated in chronic users of BZ medications. In addition, the acute effects of diazepam were compared with those of the non-BZ anxiolytic buspirone on memory function in anxious subjects. Memory function was evaluated by a free verbal recall procedure where subjects recalled a list of 16 noncategorized nouns immediately after the word list was read (immediate recall) and again 20 min later (delayed recall). When the chronic BZ users were tested for free verbal recall during their first visit, 4–14 h after their last dose, they did not differ in immediate or delayed recall from an age- and sex-matched group of unmedicated anxious subjects. At a subsequent visit, the acute effects of BZ medications were studied 6090 min after the subjects took their usual dose. Although acute BZ administration did not alter immediate recall, delayed recall was significantly impaired in the chronic BZ users. Thus, complete tolerance does not develop to the acute memory-impairing effects of BZs after long-term use. Acute administration of the anxiolytic drugs diazepam (5 mg) or buspirone (5 or 10 mg) did not alter immediate recall in another group of unmedicated anxious subjects. Diazepam selectively impaired delayed recall of the word list when compared with placebo. In contrast, neither dose of buspirone altered delayed recall. To the extent that such effects on verbal recall tests are reflected in a patient’s daily activities, the failure of buspirone to adversely affect memory function could contribute to its usefulness as an alternative antianxiety therapy.


Serial Position Word List Digit Span Serial Position Curve Anxiolytic Drug 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • I. Lucki
    • 1
  • K. Rickels
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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