Prolonged use of drugs such as Ambien and Xanax may increase a person’s risk of early death, according to the findings of new research.
In a study published this month in BMJ (British Medical Journal), researchers from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom indicate that patients who took anti-anxiety medication or sleep aids were found to have more than double the risk of death when compared those who didn’t take the drugs.
Researchers compiled information from more than 270,000 primary care practices in the U.K. from 1998 to 2001, adding the data to the General Practice Research Database. Nearly 35,000 patients over the age of 16 received prescriptions for anxiolytic drugs, like Valium and Xanax, or hypnotic drugs, including Ambien, Sonata and Lunesta. Some patients took both types of drugs.
Patients who took the sedative or hypnotic drugs were compared to a control group of nearly 70,000 patients who did not take prescriptions for either anti-anxiety or sleep drugs. Participants were followed for seven years, with researchers accounting for sleep disorders, anxiety disorders and other psychiatric illnesses.
The study found that those who took drugs like Xanax or Ambien had a more than double the risk of earlier death. For every 100 people who took the drugs, four additional deaths were linked to taking sedative-hypnotic medications, according to the researchers.
The findings add to a growing body of evidence that suggests side effects of sleeping pills and anxiety drugs may be significantly more harmful than doctors previously believed.
Last year, a group of doctors backed the FDA’s decision to require new label warnings and lower dosages for Ambien and other sleep drugs. The move for updated label changes for sleeping drugs followed evidence revealing the effect the drugs have in impairing consumers taking the drugs before driving.
Additional research revealed drugs like Valium and Lunesta cause lingering effects in patients. The medications often impair users well into the following day, including side effects like prolonged drowsiness and impaired alertness.
Doctors warn that taking sleep aids over the long term can result in addiction and dependency, recommending that users spend as little time taking the drugs as possible.