A large-scale study has identified a connection between anti-anxiety medication, sleeping pills, and risk of premature mortality. Though scientists clarify the study proves correlation, not causation, the data results are still noteworthy for anyone already on or considering these drugs.

Possible Concerns

Prescriptions of anti-anxiety medication and sleeping pills have continued to increase over the years and have raised some concerns from various scientists. According to the study, more than 16 million prescriptions were written for these types of drugs in England general practice alone between 2011 and 2012.

The recent study cites evidence of adverse effects that were documented in other research as a motivator for the research. Those effects include an increased risk of dementia, cancer, infections, and other psychomotor impairments. Studies showing these effects have been small, though, and subsequently it has been difficult to determine whether or not the drugs were actually the cause of these specific problems.

Study Details

In order to dive deeper into the subject in an attempt to identify whether long term careor not the drugs were truly the reason for these increased risks of health problems, UK Researchers looked at information on 34,727 individuals aged 16 and older who filled prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications like Valium or Xanax and sleep aids like Ambien and Lunesta. To obtain the data, the researchers used the General Practice Research Database, which was created in 1987 and currently stands as the largest anonymised longitudinal primary care database in the world.

Researchers compared the individuals with prescriptions to control patients in a 1:2 ratio, meaning there were 69,418 control individuals used in the study. After adjusting for influencing factors like alcohol use, smoking, sex, age, sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, socioeconomic status, other psychological problems, and other drugs, the results were quite significant. People who took the anti-anxiety medication and sleeping pills had more than double the risk of death compared to those who didn’t consume those drugs.

The study was published online in BMJ in February of this year. Dr. Scott Weich, the lead author of the study and professor of psychiatry at the University of Warwick, explained that although the results did not conclusively prove causation, they add to the increasing data that points to the danger of these types of drugs.

“I prescribe these drugs, and they are difficult to come off. The less time you spend on them the better,” he said.

Increased Risk of Long Term Care

Unfortunately, because they are so hard to get off and many people aren’t sure of another course of action, some people stay on these drugs throughout their entire lives, which may cause some serious health problems down the road. The possible health effects like increased risk of dementia, cancer, and other psychomotor impairments can dramatically increase the risk of long term care, as well, which continues to rise in cost across the nation.

Approximately 35% of Long Term Care Insurance applicants that we work with take these types of medications. Taking any medication or having any health problem such as anxiety, depression, etc. can increase the risk that your application will not be accepted because you pose a much higher risk to the insurance company than those who don’t have those conditions. Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand and research has found that people who suffer from depression are twice as likely to develop cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Being aware of the effects of these anti-anxiety and sleeping pills can help you make more informed decisions about your health and your future. If at all possible, as the lead author explained, it is best to be on those types of drugs for as short of time as possible, or not at all, if other courses of action provide help. Read more about why people need long term care or access the full study here.