Desire to Be Popular, Anxiety, Linked to Teen Prescription Drug Abuse

Many teenagers still don’t appreciate the potential risks of prescription drugs, according to a recent study. However, the deadly epidemic of prescription drug abuse now results in more annual deaths than any illegal drug. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that of the 43,982 drug overdose deaths in 2013, 22,767 of them, or 51.8 percent, were the result of prescription drug overdoses. Of these deaths, 71.3 percent were due to opioid pain relievers and 30.6 percent were due to benzodiazepines, which are frequently prescribed for anxiety or sleep disorders. The CDC has classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic due to the widespread and deadly nature of the problem. In order to help understand the sources of this epidemic, a group of four researchers talked to teenagers in nationwide shopping malls and encouraged them to complete an online questionnaire. The four researchers who collaborated were Richard Netemeyer of the University of Virginia, Scot Burton of the University of Arkansas, Barbara Delaney of the Partnership for a Drug Free America and Gina Hijjawi of the American Institutes for Research.

Teens Asked About Drug Use, Anxiety and Desire to Be Popular

The online survey included questions about attitudes toward and use of various substances, including alcohol, tobacco and over-the-counter prescription and illegal drugs. The questionnaire also asked teens about their desires to be popular, their affinities for risky or exciting activities and their overall anxiety levels. The researchers found that teen abuse of prescription drugs increased proportionately with an increase in anxiety levels. Peak anxiety levels or an intense desire to be popular among their peers correlated with the highest rates of prescription drug abuse. They also found that teenagers who used other restricted substances such as alcohol were more likely to misuse or abuse prescription drugs. The researchers concluded that high anxiety levels and the use of other substances can be useful warning signs for parents that teens are at high risk for prescription drug abuse. They also note that teenage males who place a high value on peer popularity were significantly more likely to abuse prescription drugs.

Anxiety and Anxiety Medications May Pose a Concern

Anxiety may present a two-fold risk for teens and for parents. On one hand, research suggests that high anxiety levels place teens at risk for prescription drug abuse. Additionally, a recent study from the University of Michigan found that teenagers who have been prescribed medications for anxiety or sleep disorders are 12 times more likely to abuse these drugs. This information suggests that while it is important to treat teens for severe anxiety, it is also crucial that parents and doctors are vigilant when it comes to informing teens about prescription drug risks and monitoring their use of these drugs. The teens who participated in this study were less likely to abuse prescription drugs if they perceived the medications as presenting potential risks on par with illegal drug use. However, understanding the dangers did not entirely counteract the higher risk seen for teens with high anxiety or other risk factors. This suggests that educating teenagers about the risks of prescription drug abuse is important to fighting this epidemic, particularly in a time when prescription drugs are aggressively marketed directly to consumers on television and online. However, this research also suggests that education alone is not enough to keep all teens from abusing these drugs. Some teens may require anxiety medication addiction treatment in order to prevent long-term damages associated with these drugs.

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