According to a new study carried out by the American Psychiatric Association in December 2018 more than one eight of adults in the US used benzodiazepines in the past year. While 12.6% of adults used benzodiazepine drugs, misuse was accounted for more than 17% of overall use. The results of the research were published online in Psychiatric Services in Advance.

The scientists defined misuse as taking the prescription drugs in any other way a doctor did not direct, including using the drug without a prescription or for longer than their physician suggested. The results show that young adults aged from 18 to 25 are most likely to misuse prescription medications.

Benzodiazepine Side Effects

Benzodiazepines are a class of medications that are often used to treat sleeping disorders such as insomnia. Most commonly used benzodiazepines are Alprazolam (Xanax) diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), and lorazepam (Ativan). Common side effects of these drugs include daytime drowsiness, confusion, dizziness, impaired coordination, vision problems, depression, headaches, grogginess, and so on. These medications have a high risk of abuse and may cause addiction. In the case of benzodiazepine withdrawal, the affected individual can experience tremors, muscle cramps, and even life-threatening seizures. Therefore, it is important to stop using benzodiazepines slowly, and under professional supervision.

The researchers from the American Psychiatric Association analyzed data from the 2015 and 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Studies from 2013 and 2014 found that only 6% of adults used benzodiazepine drugs, and they have not accounted for potential misuse. Apart from realizing that the overall use of prescription drugs has increased, now we also know that the highest benzodiazepine use is among adults 50 to 64 years. In previous studies, the use was the highest among seniors older than 65.

Benzodiazepine misuse was primarily associated with dependence on prescription opioids or stimulants. The biggest reasons for abuse were either to relieve tension or to help with sleep. However, around 50% answered to relieve stress, while only a quarter answered to aid sleep. When it comes taking these drugs without a prescription, the most common source was a friend or a family member. The lead authors of the study, Donovan Maust, M.D. and Ann Arbor advise doctors that patients who are prescribed stimulants or opioids must be supervised and monitored for potential benzodiazepine misuse. They also note that misuse may derive from limited access to health care and behavioral treatments. Therefore, abuse may be decreased with improved access to behavioral therapies for sleep problems.

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