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.
Data from 2.5 million people The researchers used data from an anonymized database of electronic health records in the U.K. This included data from more than 2.5 million people registered at 176 primary care practices across the U.K.
The results showed a significant increase in prescribing for anxiety. Prevalence of prescriptions of all drugs, excluding benzodiazepines, increased over the study period, with a marked increase from 2008 to 2018. Over the complete study period (2003–2018), the prevalence of prescriptions for anxiolytic drugs increased by almost a factor of two.
This trend was driven by increases in new patients beginning treatment for anxiety and in particular among young adults (ages 18–35).
This mirrors an increase in the number of people being diagnosed with anxiety, Prof.Thalia Eley, Professor of Developmental Behavioural Genetics at King’s College London, told Medical News Today.