A disturbing trend in the United Kingdom is being looked at with growing concern by British public health officials: Xanax use among children and adolescents is showing a rapid increase. An article published by the Telegraph reported that an NHS study found that one in eight British children, some as young as 11 years old,is being treated for anxiety.
Xanax is the brand name for the drug alprazolam, commonly used to treat anxiety in patients of all ages. The drug is part of a class of prescription tranquilizers called benzodiazepines, which are addictive. The BBC reports that in from 2016 to 2017, there were eight cases of minors (under the age of 18) being treated for addiction to Xanax and its generic copies. From 2017 to 2018, the number increased by over 500 percent, to 53.
Why is this occurring? There are a few possible explanations, and it’s most likely that several factors are working simultaneously to explain such a rapid increase in new cases.
There are a few reasons that may be working in tandem to explain why Xanax use (and abuse) is on the rise in the UK:
In a profile of a British Xanax addict published by the Vice, one subject said that Xanax was “easier to get than alcohol.” Another report published by the BBC found that children were shopping for dealers and even buying drugs like Xanax and other benzodiazepines, nicknamed “benzos,” on social media. Addicts, especially kids, are most likely to use whatever is easiest to get their hands on. There’s no denying that in the UK, Xanax is highly accessible.
Marijuana and alcohol have an overwhelming representation when it comes to exposure in popular music and other media, but Xanax seems to have a certain status when it comes to mentions in popular music, specifically Hip-Hop. The drug also gets mentioned in popularmovies and TV shows, being framed as a “way to unwind.”
As previously mentioned, the rate at which children are being treated for anxiety in the United Kingdom has increased recently, prompting prominent national health groups to start calling the issue an “epidemic of anxiety” sweeping England and its neighbors in the UK. It’s difficult to say if anxiety, in general, is increasing or if there have just been more diagnoses in recent years, as prominent athletes and public figures have begun to be more vocal about mental health.
What we do know is that treatment for anxiety in children is increasing, and as more prescriptions are written for Xanax, more of the drug will end up on the street and in the hands of those using recreationally rather than as a therapy and treatment for their mental health.
Similar to the way in which the opioid crisis has touched parts of the UK, the United States isn’t totally insulated from an increase in Xanax use. In fact, the issue in the US, while not as widespread, may be more dangerous, as the Huffington Post reports that teens are mixing Xanax and other benzos with alcohol and opioids, a combination that can be lethal.
The US has also seen a rise in anxiety in recent decades, which experts say could be due to the internet and, more specifically, social media.
According to the Washington Post, being constantly connected and in communication with others all over the globe may be a bane to teens’ mental health as it becomes very easy to compare themselves to their peers, adding stress to a time where mental instability is already very common.
Do you know someone abusing Xanax or using it for recreational purposes? Contact FHE Health to find out how to seek the help you or your loved one needs.