Teens Likely to Abuse Legally Prescribed Anxiety, Sleep Drugs

Teenagers prescribed anxiety or sleep medications are up to 12 times more likely to illegally abuse those drugs than their peers who had never received a prescription.

Teenagers prescribed anxiety or sleep medications are up to 12 times more likely to illegally abuse those drugs than their peers who had never received a prescription.

According to researchers from the University of Michigan School of Nursing, those abusing the medications often used them to experiment or get high.

“I recognize the importance of these medications in treating anxiety and sleep problems,” said first study author Carol Boyd, the Deborah J. Oakley Professor of Nursing, in a press release. “However, the number of adolescents prescribed these medications and the number misusing them is disturbing for several reasons.”

The research also revealed that white students were twice as likely to use someone else’s presciption medications. Female students aged older than 15 years and participants who had their prescriptions for longer periods of time were more likely to abuse the medications.

Published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, the study assessed whether recent use of anxiety or sleep medications by teenagers is associated with later medication abuse. It included students from 5 Detroit-area schools who were divided based on whether they had never received anxiety or sleep medication prescriptions, had those prescriptions during the study period, or previously had anxiety or sleep medication prescriptions, but did not have them during the study period.

Approximately 9% of the 2745 participants had received a prescription for anxiety of sleep medications within their lifetimes, and more than 3% received at least 1 prescription during the 3-year study period.

“I looked at these numbers and said, ‘There’s a story here,’” Boyd commented. “It just catches you off guard that so many adolescents are being prescribed these medications. Why is it that or youth are anxious and sleepless? Is it because they are under stress, consuming too much caffeine, or seeking an altered state?”

The researchers called for better education for parents and adolescents prescribed the medications, refill monitoring, and making it standard practice to give teens a substance use assessment prior to prescribing the drugs.