While anti-anxiety and sleep medications have been traditionally considered to be non habit-forming, a new study has found medications that adolescents are 12 times more likely to abuse. The University of Michigan investigators found that the teens acquired the additional pills from friends or family members, reopening the debate on pre-prescription substance abuse assessments.
Published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, the study focused on 2,745 high school and middle school students from the Detroit area between 2009 and 2012; three percent of the test group was currently on an anti-anxiety or sleep medication while almost nine percent had been prescribed a potentially addictive benzodiazepine (such as Xanax or Valium) or sleep medication (i.e., Ambien, Lunesta) at some point. The students who never had a prescription were 10 times more likely than the control group to obtain these drugs illegally while the ones that did were 12 times more likely to get them from friends and family.
While the teens that had a current prescription during the course of the three-year study were more likely to abuse anti-anxiety and sleep medications, the students who previously had a prescription for the drugs were only at a heightened risk to abuse anxiety medications.
“This is a wake-up call to the medical community as far as the risks involved in prescribing these medications to young people. When taken as prescribed, these drugs are effective and not dangerous. The problem is when adolescents use too many of them or mix them with other substances, especially alcohol,” said Carol Boyd, lead author and professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing.
The study involved students from two middle schools and three high schools. The test group, which consisted of 65 percent caucasian, 29 percent African American and six percent other nationalities including Asian, Hispanic and American Indian, completed online surveys every six months over the course of the three-year study. The participants were evenly split between males and females with an average age of 14 at the beginning of the study.
The students that were found to be the most at risk of abuse were caucasian, female or those that had a valid prescription for a period of time. Caucasian students were twice as likely as African American students to use someone’s anti-anxiety or sleep medication illegally, while 80 percent of the entire test group came from an educated family (considered as having at least one parent with a college degree).
Finding a solution
The number of prescriptions for anti-anxiety and sleep medications for teens has increased over the past decade, with almost three percent of the U.S. population using them each year. Since selling or giving prescription medications such as these are already considered felonies, more preventative measures need to be explored such as substance abuse assessments or educational requirements prior to the prescription being issued. Proper education on the dangers of addiction or sharing prescriptions, withdrawal from the drug or the dangers of mixing them with other substances could go a long way as far as getting teens to avoid the irresponsible use that can lead to addiction.
One of White River Academy’s core values is a commitment to education, instilling healthier behaviors and coping methods via psychoeducational and process groups. If you would like more information on our holistic approaches to addiction treatment, feel free to contact us today.