Preventing a Future Generation of Addicts: Curtail Teen Prescriptions for Sleep Aids and Anti-Anxiety Meds

Researchers have completed the first longitudinal study to determine whether teens’ recent medical use of anxiety or sleep medications is associated with later taking somebody else’s prescription medication illegally, either for self-treatment or recreational use. Examples of anti-anxiety medications include Klonopin, Xanax and Ativan; sleep medications include Ambien, Restoril and Lunesta. These are controlled substances partly because of the potential for abuse, and it is a felony to share them.

According to a study from the University Of Michigan School Of Nursing, teens prescribed anxiety or sleep medications are up to 12 times more likely to abuse those drugs than those who had never had a prescription. Moreover, nearly 9 percent of the 2,745 adolescent study participants had received a prescription for anxiety or sleep medications during their lifetime, and more than 3 percent received at least one prescription during the three-year study period.

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 were more likely to abuse the medications.

The study recommends better education for parents and adolescents prescribed these medications, closer monitoring of refills and making it standard practice to give teens a substance use assessment before prescribing these drugs.

The question begs to be asked; why are so many kids being prescribed these drugs at all? Finding out the cause of so much stress and anxiety through a non-medical approach is very effective with much less risk to health. The medical community may be inadvertently creating a new generation of drug abusers. Parents should consider talking to a psychologist who supports the use of alternative therapies for mental health and substance abuse in adolescence. Preventing a lifetime of suffering with addictions is possible.


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