Despite potential for dependence and adverse neurological effects, long-term benzodiazepine (BZD) use is common among people living with HIV (PLWH). As PLWH are at risk for central nervous system dysfunction, we retrospectively examined the association between BZD use and HIV-associated neurocognitive impairment (NCI).
Three hundred six PLWH underwent comprehensive neurobehavioral evaluations. Current BZD use (BZD+) was determined through self-report. Using propensity scores, 153 BZD− individuals were matched to 153 BZD+ participants on demographics and medical comorbidities. Multiple regression models examined NCI and demographically adjusted neurocognitive T-scores as a function of BZD status, adjusting for estimated premorbid ability, current affective symptoms, and nadir CD4 count. Secondary analyses explored neurocognitive correlates of positive BZD urine toxicology screens (TOX+) and specific BZD agents.
Median duration of BZD use was 24 months. Current BZD use related to higher likelihood of NCI (odds ratio = 2.13, P
= 0.003) and poorer global (d
= −0.28, P
= 0.020), processing speed
= −0.23, P
= 0.047), and motor T-scores (d
= −0.32, P
= 0.008). Compared with BZD−/TOX−, BZD+/TOX+ exhibited additional decrements in executive function (d
= −0.48, P
= 0.013), working memory
= −0.49, P
= 0.011), and delayed recall (d
= −0.41, P
= 0.032). For individual agents, diazepam, lorazepam, and alprazolam were most strongly associated with NCI (odds ratios >2.31).
BZD use may elevate risk for NCI in PLWH, potentially through diffuse neurocognitive slowing and acute compromise of recall and higher-order capacities. These effects are robust to psychosocial and HIV-specific factors and occur in comparison with a tightly matched BZD− group. Prospective and interventional studies should evaluate causal associations between NCI and BZD use and explore treatment alternatives to BZDs in PLWH.