(TFC) – The United States is in the midst of an opioid crisis, and it seems like everyone is focused right now on the rise in overdoses and substance abuse related issues in our population. One thing no one seems to be talking about as much is the problem people, especially young people, are having with benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium and Klonopin. Why is Gen Y having such a problem with drugs like Xanax, and why aren’t more people talking about it?
The Anxious Generation
You don’t often hear someone mentioning Gen Y or the millennials in a positive light. Either they’re destroying industries they don’t like — they’ve apparently killed upwards of 70 things as of this past July — or they’re being talked down to for their sense of entitlement, their lack of work ethic or any number of other negative things associated with this generation. They’ve also been dubbed the most anxious generation in recent history.
This could be due to a variety of things, from being constantly connected via social media to contending with living in a world that is almost impossible to survive in — at least if you’re trying to survive the way the older generations believe you should be able to. News flash, boomers, it doesn’t work that way anymore.
Whatever the reason, the members of Generation Y are the most anxious generation, and because of this, they are also the generation that is most commonly prescribed benzos like Xanax to help them manage their symptoms. Right now, over 5% of the adult population in the United States takes Xanax or other similar prescription medications.
The Xanax Problem
The increasing number of people who are being prescribed Xanax and other similar medications are almost always followed by increasing numbers of people becoming dependent on the drug — and increasing numbers of overdoses as well. Between 2005 and 2011, Xanax-related ER visits doubled.
This isn’t just something that is affecting the common user — a number of celebrity deaths in recent years have also been attributed either directly or indirectly to benzodiazepines. Whitney Houston, Heath Ledger and Michael Jackson were all found to have these drugs in their system at the time of their death.
Xanax is popular for recreational use in addition to its uses for anxiety treatment, and it tends to be one the cheapest drugs to purchase illegally. In the UK, a bar of Xanax can be picked up for less than $3 — probably less than you would actually pay for a prescription in the United States.
Xanax might not be as bad as opioid addictions in terms of the number of overdoses that happen every year, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem here — one study even found that upwards of ¾ of benzo overdoses were also found to involve opioid use as well.
Starting the Conversation
The Xanax problem tends to be an invisible addiction — individuals who are addicted to benzos often start with a prescription from their doctor and then continue into recreational use when they realize how much better they feel while they’re taking the medication. It’s not until they stop taking the pills that they realize how much worse they feel.
We need to start this conversation so that people realize benzo abuse is a big problem, especially in millennials. Conversations about mental health and addiction should be more commonplace, instead of stigmatized. Once we can start talking about it, the people who need assistance might be able to better recognize and understand their symptoms and seek help if needed.
A large part of this will be contingent on eliminating the negative stigma that surrounds both mental illness and addiction. Many people don’t seek treatment because they’re afraid of being categorized as crazy, so they suffer in silence instead of taking advantage of the services that are often available in their area. Mental illnesses like anxiety are nothing to be ashamed of. Neither is seeking treatment for them.
The first step is to start talking about the problem. Once we can get people to realize it’s there, we can start finding solutions.