Teens With Prescriptions for Anxiety, Sleep Drugs Often Abuse Them Later

Teens With Prescriptions for Anxiety, Sleep Drugs Often Abuse Them Later

Teens who have had prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication or sleep medication are much more likely to eventually abuse these drugs, according to a new study from the University of Michigan.

The Michigan researchers discovered that teenagers who received prescriptions for sleep or anxiety medications were 10 times more likely to abuse these drugs in the next two years than teens who have never had them prescribed. Furthermore, adolescents who have been prescribed anxiety medications during their lifetimes are 12 times as likely to later use someone else’s anxiety medications.

This study also found that the period of time over which teenagers took sleep or anxiety medications influenced how likely they were to later abuse these drugs. Teens who had long-term prescriptions for these drugs were more likely to abuse them later than teens who had prescriptions for relatively short periods of time.

Surprising Number of Teens Use Others’ Medications

The number of teens abusing others’ prescriptions was a surprise to the Michigan team. The researchers originally set out to discover how many teenagers were abusing their own anxiety or sleep prescriptions and inadvertently discovered that many teens were abusing these drugs by taking other teens’ medications.

This discovery adds a new complication for parents who are concerned about their teens abusing prescription medications. Parents may be vigilant when it comes to prescription drugs in their own homes, keeping medicine cabinets locked and monitoring the number of pills that ought to remain. However, it becomes more difficult to monitor a teen’s behavior outside the home and to know when a teen may be receiving or even taking medications from a friend.

To prevent this kind of abuse, parents and physicians need to educate teens about the risks involved in abusing and misusing prescription drugs. The potential for drug dependence increases when medications are misused or abused, and the potential for dependence, addiction, injury or death increases significantly if anxiety or sleep medications are mixed with alcohol or narcotics.

There are also potential legal consequences involved in prescription drug misuse. Sharing prescription anxiety or sleep medications, which are controlled substances, is a felony.

High Rates of Mental Illness

The risk involved in prescribing anxiety and sleep medications does not cancel out the benefits of such medications for many teenagers suffering from chronic sleep disruptions and severe anxiety. However, the significant percentage of teenagers who are suffering from sleep disorders and anxiety is in itself cause for concern.

The Michigan study found that 9 percent of the 2,745 Detroit-area teenagers who participated in this study had at one time been prescribed either sleep or anxiety medication. The actual number of teenagers who suffer from sleep and anxiety disorders is likely even higher than this, and other kinds of mental illness are also a major problem for teenagers. For example, studies suggest that as many as one-third of teenagers suffer from depression.

A better understanding of why so many teenagers are living with mental health issues may help to prevent some teens from developing anxiety, sleep problems or other mental health issues. This would result in fewer teenagers who ever need the assistance of prescription medications in order to function normally, and in turn help to reduce the number of teenagers who end up putting themselves at risk by misusing or abusing these drugs.

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