1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to secondary content



You and Your Health

Treatment for Abuse of Anti-Anxiety Drugs Tripled Over 10 Years

Treatment for Abuse of Anti-Anxiety Drugs Tripled Over 10 Years

Photo: Misuse of Valium, Ativan and other benzodiazepines is a growing problem

Click Here to Enlarge Photo

Misuse of Valium, Ativan and other benzodiazepines is a growing problem, report finds.

Admissions for treatment of benzodiazepine abuse nearly tripled in the United States between 1998 and 2008, while overall admissions for substance abuse rose only 11 percent, according to a government study released Thursday.

Benzodiazepines—a class of drugs prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia and seizure disorders—include Valium, Halcion, Xanax, Ativan and Librium. Abuse of benzodiazepines, which were introduced in the 1950s to replace barbiturates, can lead to addiction, injury and death.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) study found that admissions for treatment of benzodiazepine abuse among patients 12 and older rose from 22,400 in 1998 to 60,200 a decade later. Benzodiazepine-related admissions accounted for 3.2 percent of all substance abuse admissions in 2008, compared with 1.3 percent in 1998.

Most admissions involved white patients (84.8 percent), males (56 percent), and those ages 18 to 34 (55.3 percent). Ninety-five percent of patients who abused benzodiazepines also abused other substances, and in more than three-quarters of those cases, benzodiazepine was the secondary drug of abuse.

Opiates were the primary substance of abuse in more than half of all the cases where benzodiazepine was the secondary drug of abuse. But there were age-related differences. Among teens, marijuana was the most common primary substance of abuse. Among patients 45 and older, alcohol nearly equaled opiates (42.1 percent vs. 47.1 percent) as the primary substance of abuse.

“The misuse of benzodiazepines along with other prescription drugs is fueling the rise of treatment admissions,” SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde said in an agency news release.

“Prescription drug misuse is dangerous and can even be deadly. Everyone has a role to play in helping to prevent prescription drug misuse. Simple steps such as locking up medications and proper disposal of unused medications are easy ways people can contribute to reducing the problem,” she said.


More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about prescription drug abuse and addiction.