ADHD News & Research

Are Teens Taking Anxiety Medication More Likely to Abuse Drugs?

Prescriptions for teen anxiety and sleep problems are on the rise. Is this surge contributing to more illegal substance abuse?

December 2, 2014

Anxiety medications like Klonopin or Xanax, and sleep medications like Ambien and Lunesta are controlled substances with a high risk of abuse. While they have a valid place in doctor-prescribed treatment plans, alternative therapies may be smart for teens. A recent study by the University of Michigan School of Nursing found that teens who were prescribed anxiety or sleep medications have a higher lifetime risk of abusing similar medications not prescribed to them in the future.

The researchers analyzed a sample of 2,745 adolescents from five Detroit-area schools across a three-year period. The students were categorized into three groups: teens who were never prescribed anxiety or sleep medication; teens prescribed either type of medication during the study; and teens who were prescribed anxiety or sleep medication outside of the study period. Approximately nine percent of the students were prescribed these drugs during their lifetimes, and three percent were prescribed at least one of these drugs during the study.

The researchers found that teens prescribed these medications during their lifetimes were 12 times more likely to abuse someone else’s prescription than were teens never prescribed the medications. Teens prescribed the medications during the study period were 10 times more likely to abuse drugs within two years. White students were two times more likely to use someone else’s prescription, even though it is a felony to share a controlled substance. Girls over 15 years old, and people taking the medication for a longer period of time also showed increased risk.

The scientists, led by Carol Boyd, hope that this revelation will make parents of teens more aware of the risks inherent in anxiety and sleep medications, and make them more vigilant when monitoring teens’ refills. This finding is especially important for ADHD patients, who may be at a higher risk for substance abuse, possibly due to shared genetic factors. Parents should educate teens about any prescriptions they take, including the risks of sharing a controlled substance — including breaking the law — to make sure adolescents are only taking the dosages prescribe for their treatment.