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Should Teens Take Benzos for Anxiety?

Nervous teen boy biting his nails

Imagine that your teenager has a headache. Are you the type of parent who gives him or her some children’s aspirin or suggests hydration, rest or a natural remedy like nuts or peppermint oil? Or do you immediately reach for the “extra strength” pain reliever to reduce the headache as quickly as possible?

While either method may be effective in treating a headache, the latter approach may not be the best course of action if the malady is teenage anxiety. More specifically, parents should not call their family physician and ask for a prescription for a benzodiazepine, also called a benzo, immediately.

When Does Teen Anxiety Become a Problem?

Many teens endure periods of stress or anxiety during their adolescence. It falls on parents to discern whether their child is just going through a rough patch or if the condition warrants additional treatment.

Here are a few scenarios that may help illustrate the difference:

  • Situation: A girl believes that several of her peers are watching and judging her during science class.
  • It may be a problem if… she feels so anxious that she starts skipping that class regularly.
  • Situation: A boy struggles with acne and worries about his complexion.
  • It may be a problem if… he stresses about his physical appearance so much that he begins refusing to go to school or leave his home.
  • Situation: A girl gets injured in a serious car accident when the vehicle slides off the road in icy or snowy conditions and then has nightmares about the incident.
  • It may be a problem if… those nightmares or flashbacks continue long after the accident or if she avoids getting into a car when there is snow or ice on the ground.

Non-Benzo Options for Anxious Adolescents

Even if it becomes clear that a teen needs medical help for an anxiety disorder, benzos are rarely the first option of health care practitioners. Usually, physicians will initially recommend a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) like Zoloft or Prozac or a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) like Cymbalta or Effexor XR. Both of these medications impact neurotransmitters to facilitate the availability of serotonin (and norepinephrine in the case of SNRIs) in the brain, which helps to regulate mood.

Another common course of action is talk therapy with a psychiatrist or psychologist. These sessions can help provide coping mechanisms for teens when they encounter situations wherein they start to feel stressed or anxious. Therapy is especially helpful for teenagers who may also deal with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or other co-occurring disorders.

Be Cautious With Benzos

However, if these treatments fail to produce results, the teen’s doctor might suggest a benzodiazepine such as Xanax, Valium or Ativan. The medication may be prescribed in conjunction with an SSRI or SNRI until those drugs begin to take effect, which can take several weeks. Other times, benzos may only be given to teens on a short-term basis.

Benzos are used sparsely by physicians because of their high potential for addiction and many side effects that accompany these drugs. Also, those who become dependent on benzos often experience severe withdrawal symptoms such as panic attacks, elevated heart rate or blood pressure, seizures or even death.

Therefore, benzos tend to be viewed by the medical community as a last resort for teenagers who deal with an anxiety disorder. If your adolescent experiences anxiety, try to provide constant support and preach patience to your teen while the treatment plan unfolds.

If someone else in your household has been prescribed a benzodiazepine, keep that drug in a secure location that cannot be accessed by your teen. And take comfort in knowing that anxiety disorders are highly treatable and that this period of difficulty for your teen will likely pass eventually.

If your teen self-medicates with alcohol or drugs because he or she feels anxious, drug dependence or addiction is possible. Contact Next Generation Village to learn more about treatment options for helping to get your teen back to a substance-free lifestyle.

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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