Anti-anxiety and sleeping pills may double risk of death
A new, large-scale study from the University of Warwick has found that sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs, such as Xanax, are linked to a higher risk of death.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), demonstrated that numerous anti-anxiety drugs and hypnotic sleep agents could possibly double the risk of mortality.
Researcher Scott Weich, a Warwick professor of psychiatry, said that the main message to understand from the study is to use such drugs more carefully.
He added that there is an increasing amount of evidence that the side effects of these drugs are “significant and dangerous”, and that everything possible needs to be done to reduce people from over relying on mind-numbing tranquilizers and sleeping pills.
Although such drugs can lead to dependency and addiction, Weich noted that they do offer an effective treatment that can be beneficial in certain cases for some people.
The problem, Weich explained, is the addictive potential of anti-anxiety and sleeping pills, which means making sure patients take as few of them as possible, while considering alternative options like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for helping such patients learn how to better manage and overcome their anxiety or sleep problems.
For the study, researchers analyzed the medical records of 34,727 people, following them from the time they were first prescribed an antianxiety or sleeping medication until 7.5 years later on average.
Among the most commonly prescribed drugs were benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, as well as diazepam and temazepam.
The study also examined the effects of two other classes of sleep agents: 1) the so-called "Z-drugs"; and 2) all other anxiolytic and hypnotic drugs.
During the course of the study, numerous patients received more than one drug – and 5 percent received prescriptions for drugs from all three groups.
The study also accounted for other factors, such as age, smoking and alcohol use, as well as for other prescriptions and the socioeconomic status of the participants.
SOURCE: "Effect of anxiolytic and hypnotic drug prescriptions on mortality hazards: retrospective cohort study." Scott Weich, et al. BMJ: DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g1996. Published 19 March 2014
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