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Opinion on benzodiazepines has moved from optimism after their entry onto the market to disillusionment over their potential for dependence. Legal proceedings against manufacturers of benzodiazepines, health authorities and doctors will be taking place this year. Nonetheless, just over 18 million prescriptions for benzodiazepines were issued in 1990, most of which came from general practice. Is there any role left for this group of drugs? This review addresses the issues of dependence on an withdrawal from benzodiazepines and weighs up the evidence for their present vilification.