The prescribing of narcotic anti-anxiety and sleeping medications to teenagers may have devastating consequences, leading to a new generation of illegal, recreational drug users, according to researchers at the University of Michigan. The study, conducted at the U-M School of Nursing, found that teenagers prescribed anti-anxiety or sleep medications are up to 12 times more likely to abuse those drugs than those who had never had a prescription.
“I recognize the importance of these medications in treating anxiety and sleep problems,” said the study’s first author Carol Boyd, the Deborah J. Oakley Professor of Nursing. “However, the number of adolescents prescribed these medications and the number misusing them is disturbing for several reasons.”
People experiencing anxiety problems are often treated with sedative drugs in the benzodiazepine family, typically prescribed under the brand names of Valium, Xanax, and Ativan. Such drugs, while effective, happen to be addictive; prolonged use and misuse can lead to serious health consequences, especially if benzodiazepines are mixed with alcohol or other drugs, commonly resulting in overdose.
People suffering from sleep disorders may be given what are known as hypnotic drugs, like Ambien, Restoril and Lunesta. Sleeping medications have a high potential for abuse and can be extremely dangerous if mixed with other drugs or alcohol.
The study included 2,745 adolescent study participants, of which nearly nine percent had been prescribed a drug for anxiety or sleep during their lifetime. During the three-year study period, more than three percent received at least one prescription for anxiety or sleep disorders.
The study’s key findings include:
- Adolescents prescribed anxiety medications during their lifetime, but not during the study, were 12 times more likely to use someone else’s anxiety medication than participants who had never been prescribed such drugs.
- Those prescribed anxiety or sleep medications during the study period were 10 times more likely to abuse them within two years, to get high or to experiment, than teens without prescriptions.
- White students were twice as likely as black students to use others’ medications, and females older than 15 and teens who had prescriptions for longer periods of time were more likely to abuse the medications.
“I looked at these numbers and said, ‘There’s a story here.’ It just catches you off guard that so many adolescents are being prescribed these medications,” Boyd said. “Why is it that our youth are anxious and sleepless? Is it because they are under stress, consuming too much caffeine or seeking an altered state? ”