Anxiety: Study finds sharp increase in prescriptions for young adults

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New research finds a steep increase in anxiety prescriptions for young adults in the United Kingdom. Sean Locke/Stocksy
  • Researchers explored trends in prescribing treatments for anxiety in the United Kingdom primary care between 2003 and 2018.
  • Prescriptions for anxiety increased sharply between 2008 and 2018, particularly among young adults.
  • The authors say that some prescribing contradicts guidelines and may cause unintended harm.

Feelings of worry or nervousness are a part of life for many people. However, when feelings of worry become persistent, distressing, and interfere with daily life, anxiety may require treatment.

This is not uncommon; anxiety disorders are the most common group of mental health conditions in the United States, affecting approximately 40 million people.

Medications for anxiety – known as anxiolytics – include benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, antipsychotics, and anticonvulsants. Antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may also be prescribed for anxiety.

Recent research has shown an increase in prescriptions for depression, with one study in England finding a tripling of prescriptions for antidepressants in 20 years. However, prescribing patterns for anxiety are less well understood.

To investigate this, a team of researchers from the University of Bristol, U.K. evaluated prescriptions for anxiety in U.K. primary care. Their results, now published in the British Journal of General Practice, show a steep rise in prescribing for anxiety between 2008 and 2018, particularly among young adults.