Sedative and Tranquilizer Misuse a Strong Indicator of Future Addiction to Other Drugs, says Study

Those who misuse sedatives and tranquilizers are highly likely to become dependent on other substances later on that carry a higher risk for addiction, says a new study from University of Michigan. Adults between the ages of 18 and 25 were found to be most at risk for developing addiction to opioids, alcohol, and marijuana within a few years after starting their sedative and tranquilizer prescriptions.

From Sedatives and Tranquilizers, to Opioid and Alcohol Abuse

Tranquilizer Misuse

Young adults who misuse tranquilizers are at high risk for developing addictions to other drugs.

Prescription sedatives and tranquilizers are commonly used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. These drugs are central nervous system depressants that work by slowing down brain function and breathing so patients can relax and fall asleep more easily. Sleep aids, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines like Xanax are all sedatives and tranquilizers that produce these effects.

The UM study looked at prescribing data from 35,000 American adults to identify the number of people misusing and abusing sedatives and tranquilizers. Researchers found that 75% of patients who were misusing their prescriptions stopped misusing those drugs three years later. However, 45% of those individuals had moved on to abusing other substances including opioids, alcohol, and marijuana just one year after initially taking sedatives and tranquilizers.

UM researchers say that those who illegally misuse their prescription medications are often at high risk for also becoming physically dependent and addicted to other drugs. Though most tranquilizers and sedatives are Schedule IV drugs defined as having a low potential for abuse and dependence, these prescriptions can serve as gateway drugs that lead to abuse of heavier, more potent substances. The study authors say this finding emphasizes the importance of encouraging doctors to educate patients about the risks of prescription drug misuse, and of urging patients to dispose of unused medication.

What is Prescription Misuse, and How Can it Lead to Addiction?

Prescription misuse is defined as using prescription drugs in ways other than directed, such as taking too much, taking them for longer than prescribed, or crushing and snorting the pills to get high. Though prescription drugs are legal, the practice of misusing prescription drugs is illegal, and can produce dangerous effects — including dependence and addiction. More than 20% of Americans over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons at least once in their lifetime.

Those who misuse prescription drugs are often unaware of the consequences, and face the risk of seizures, poisoning, overdose, and many other complications. Prescription drug abuse can cause users to become tolerant and require higher amounts in an effort to achieve euphoria, relaxation, and other effects. Those who become tolerant to sedatives and tranquilizers usually start taking higher doses, or move on to stronger Schedule II substances like opioids that can quickly lead to addiction.

How to Detect Sedative and Tranquilizer Misuse

Prescription drugs should only be used as directed, and should not be shared or given away to anyone else — including friends and family who may already have their own valid prescriptions. Stay on top of knowing which medications your loved ones are using at any given time, and look for changes in behavior that can indicate drug use. Decreased performance at work or school, secretive, evasive behavior, and loss of interest in favorite hobbies are just some tell-tale signs of prescription drug misuse.

Common signs of sedative and tranquilizer misuse:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Dilated pupils
  • Lack of coordination
  • Memory loss
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you or your loved one needs help fighting prescription drug abuse, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) to speak with a caring addiction counselor about your options. We’ll help you find nearby drug treatment centers that can work with you or your loved one on overcoming addiction to any substance — including alcohol, prescription drugs, and illicit substances like heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine.

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