April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Millions of people around the world find help from drugs that treat anxiety and sleep disorders. A new study from the University of Warwick, however, reveals that anti-anxiety and sleeping medicines have been linked to an increased risk of death.
The large study, which tracked 34,727 people for an average of seven and a half years, demonstrates that the risk of death doubles with several anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) drugs or hypnotic (sleeping) drugs. The research team, led by Professor Scott Weich, emphasized that the results are based on routine data and need to be interpreted cautiously, however, they believe that a better understanding of the impact of these drugs is essential.
“The key message here is that we really do have to use these drugs more carefully. This builds on a growing body of evidence suggesting that their side effects are significant and dangerous. We have to do everything possible to minimize over reliance on anxiolytics and sleeping pills,” said Weich, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Warwick.
“That’s not to say that they cannot be effective. But particularly due to their addictive potential we need to make sure that we help patients to spend as little time on them as possible and that we consider other options, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, to help them to overcome anxiety or sleep problems,” Weich continued.
Where possible, the researchers adjusted for factors such as age, smoking and alcohol use, socioeconomic status and other prescription medications. Most importantly, factors such as sleep disorders, anxiety disorders and all psychiatric illness were controlled for in all participants, who were tracked from the time they received their first prescription for either an anxiolytic or hypnotic drug.
The most commonly prescribed drug class was benzodiazepines, including diazepam and temazepam, according to the researchers. The effects of two other groups of drugs — the so-called “Z” drugs, and all other anxiolytic and hypnotic drugs — were also examined by the scientists. Over the course of the study, many participants received more than one drug, and five percent received prescriptions from all three groups.
The findings of this study were published in a recent issue of BMJ.