Study Finds Risk of Abuse for Teens Prescribed Drugs for Sleep Problems or Anxiety

Upset teenA new study finds teenagers who have been prescribed medications for sleep problems or anxiety are much more likely to abuse them, compared with teens who have never received prescriptions for these drugs.

Fox News reports a growing number of teens are being prescribed anti-anxiety or sleep medications.

"This is a wake-up call to the medical community as far as the risks involved in prescribing these medications to young people," lead researcher Carol J. Boyd of the University of Michigan School of Nursing, said in a news release. "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."

She added, "Prescribers and parents don't realize the abuse potential. These drugs produce highly attractive sensations, and adolescents may start seeking the drugs after their prescriptions run out."

Boyd noted these medications can impair driving, and can be deadly when mixed with other substances. Abusing these drugs can increase the chance of overdose, substance use disorders and criminal activity, the researchers said.

The study of more than 2,700 teens found almost 9 percent had at some point been prescribed an anti-anxiety medication such as Valium, Xanax or Klonopin, or a sleep medication such as Lunesta, Ambien or Restoril. The researchers found students who stopped using the medication before the study were 12 times more likely to use another person's anti-anxiety drugs illegally. In many cases, they obtained the drugs from family or friends.

Overall, more than 3 percent of teens had a current prescription for anti-anxiety or sleep medications during the three-year study. Those teens were 10 times more likely than students who never had a prescription to obtain anti-anxiety or sleep medications illegally.

The findings are published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

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