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Anti-Anxiety Drugs and Sleeping Pills Linked to Increased Risk of Death

Researchers warned doctors to exercise more caution in prescribing drugs like Xanax and Ambien, the side effects of which they said are "significant and dangerous."

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By Victoria Kim

04/04/14

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A large study out of the University of Warwick has linked anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills to an increased risk of death.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal BMJ and tracked 34,727 people for over seven years, controlling for factors such as age, smoking, alcohol use, other prescription medications, and socioeconomic status. The researchers also accounted for contributing risk factors for mortality such as sleep and anxiety disorders, and other psychiatric illnesses.

After adjusting for these factors, researchers found that participants who took the drugs, as compared to 69,418 controls who did not, had more than double the risk of death.

The researchers' key takeaway from the study was that the medical community should exercise more caution in administering anti-anxiety drugs like Valium and Xanax, as well as sleep aids like Ambien and Lunesta. According to Dr. Scott Weich, professor of psychiatry at the University of Warwick and the study’s lead author, the research “builds on a growing body of evidence suggesting that their side effects are significant and dangerous.”

Weich emphasized the importance of ensuring that patients spend as little time as possible on anti-anxiety and sleep aid medications due to their addictive potential, while exploring other options such as cognitive behavioral therapy to help overcome sleep and anxiety problems.

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