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Rise in Teen Anxiety Medication Abuse and Overdose

Prescription bottle with backlit Lorezapam (Ativan) tablets spilling out of it

Anxiety disorder rates have continued to increase among adolescents, leading doctors to prescribe a greater number of anti-anxiety medications for teens. However, some teens are misusing these drugs for their pleasurable side effects, which has led to many unintentional overdoses.

Teen anxiety treatment is important, but the primary type of anti-anxiety medication is a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. The most common benzodiazepines include Xanax and Valium, which are infamous for their addictive qualities and potential for misuse. Misusing these drugs can lead to a higher risk of unintentional overdose and even suicide.

Research shows that more than 10% of people aged 12–17 have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Other medical professionals have found that around 25% of teens struggle with mild to moderate anxiety. Now, a new study shows that with higher rates of teen anxiety comes higher rates of prescription drug abuse in teens.

Study Shows Rise of Benzodiazepines Use in Children

The study tracked the numbers of harmful exposures to benzodiazepines in children from 2000 to 2015, finding that rates increased dramatically over 15 years. In this time period, there were 296,838 exposures, and the rate increased by 54% between 2000 and 2015.

Around half of the benzodiazepine exposures in 2015 were due to misuse or attempted suicide. Fewer cases involved these behaviors in previous years, and many recent cases also included the co-use of other drugs.

Increase in Teen Overdose

Combining substances, such as benzodiazepines and alcohol, can lead to a life-threatening overdose, including suicide among teens. This means that in some instances, teens are purposely using their medication to commit suicide, while others take higher amounts in order to feel pleasurable side effects. Regardless, the study found that rates of teen overdose and attempted suicides caused by benzodiazepines have increased.

The primary symptoms of a benzodiazepine overdose include:

  • Bluish lips or fingernails
  • Slow or stopped breathing
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Falling into a deep sleep
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Impaired coordination

Signs of Teen Benzo Addiction

The signs of a benzodiazepine addiction are similar to those of other drugs. Some signs of drug use in teens include:

  • Acting withdrawn, frequently tired or depressed
  • Hostile attitude
  • Changes in peer or friend groups
  • Poor grooming or hygiene
  • Declining school performance
  • Missing or skipping classes
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Deteriorating relationships with family and friends
  • Changes in eating or sleeping

If your child is showing signs of a substance use disorder or co-occurring mental health condition, such as anxiety, help is available. Next Generation is a specialized teen drug rehab that uses evidence-based approaches to treat adolescents struggling with addiction. Contact us today to learn more about plans and programs that can work well for your teen.


McCarthy, Claire. “Anxiety in Teens is Rising: What’s Going On?” American Academy of Pediatrics, November 20, 2019. Accessed February 8, 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health.” April 19, 2019. Accessed February 8, 2020.

Bernstein, Jeffrey. “The Rising Epidemic of Anxiety in Children and Teens.” Psychology Today, January 23, 2016. Accessed February 8, 2020.

Friedrich, Joseph; et al. “Child and adolescent benzodiazepine exposure and overdose in the United States: 16 years of poison center data.” Clinical Toxicology, October 15, 2019. Accessed February 8, 2020.

MedlinePlus. “Diazepam Overdose.” September 23, 2017. Accessed February 8, 2020.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.” January 2014. Accessed February 8, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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