Posted on June 26, 2015 in Teen Mental Health

Teens Prescribed Anxiety, Sleep Medications Prone to Abuse Them Later

A new study from the University of Michigan warns that teens prescribed medications for anxiety or sleep disorders are at an increased risk for becoming drug abusers. The risk is significant, with teens prescribed these medications 12 times more likely than their peers to start abusing their drugs later. While trying to help teens with anxiety and sleep problems, doctors may be creating a generation of recreational drug abusers. Better education about the risks of prescription drug abuse, monitoring of prescriptions and alternatives to medication could help solve this problem and prevent teens from abusing drugs.

Teens With Anxiety and Sleep Disorders

Anxiety disorders affect over 40 million Americans and represent the most common type of mental illness. Teens are not exempt from this statistic, and in fact, many cases of anxiety disorders develop during the teenage years. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety, panic disorder, social anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. Both therapy and medication can be used to treat these disorders. Sleep disorders are common in people who struggle with anxiety, which means that many teens are dealt a double blow: they feel anxious and can’t sleep well.

Teens and Prescription Medications

The recent study, conducted by the University of Michigan School of Nursing, surveyed nearly 3,000 teens and pre-teens in Detroit. The study was conducted over a period of three years and found that 9 percent of the young participants received a prescription for a sleep aid or an anti-anxiety drug. When compared to the teens who did not receive prescriptions, those with prescriptions were 12 times more likely to end up abusing someone else’s medications. The researchers also found that the risk of prescription drug abuse was greater for white teens, females over the age of 15 and for teens who had prescriptions for a longer time period.

Abusing any kind of prescription drug is a serious and dangerous practice, but sleep and anxiety medications in particular are addictive. They can also cause fatal overdoses, especially when mixed with alcohol or narcotics. Examples of the medications under scrutiny in the study include Ativan, Klonopin and Xanax for anxiety and Ambien, Lunesta and Restoril for sleep disorders. All of these medications are controlled substances because they are susceptible to abuse, are addictive and are harmful when misused.

The researchers who conducted this study recognize and acknowledge the importance of anti-anxiety and sleep medications for many teens. These drugs have helped millions of people to feel well again; however, they clearly pose a risk for teenagers. The researchers hope to investigate the underlying issues. They want to know why so many teens need anti-anxiety medications and why so many are struggling to sleep to the extent that they need prescription sleep aids. These questions may be the focus of future studies.

For now, what is important is education not only for parents and teens, but also for prescribing doctors. Physicians need to be aware of the risks of giving teens prescriptions so that they can make the best choices for their patients. Teens and their parents should be aware of the risks as well. Educated teens may make better choices about drug abuse, while knowledgeable parents will be better able to monitor drug use and to talk to their teens about substance abuse. When everyone involved is more educated, teens will benefit and hopefully the risks of using these important medications will be lowered.

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