Antidepressant prescribing for any indication has substantially increased over the past two decades. It has been attributed to increasing long-term use rather than increases in those starting medication.
However, little was known about trends in prescribing anxiolytics (antidepressants, benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, anticonvulsants, antipsychotics) for the treatment of anxiety. Several changes may have affected prescribing in recent years, including changes in clinical guidance.
Scientists from the University of Bristol found increased incident prescribing of anxiolytics in recent years. Long-term prescribing of benzodiazepines declined in those aged under 35, yet 44% of prescriptions in 2017 were longer than the recommended four weeks.
Dr. Charlotte Archer, an NIHR-funded Senior Research Associate in Primary Care Mental Health at Bristol Medical School (PHS), said: “The increases in the number of new patients starting anxiolytic treatment may reflect better detection of anxiety by GPs. The increase in new prescriptions was substantial in those aged 18-34, particularly in recent years, and this may also reflect an earlier unmet need for young adults.”
“It is also important to consider that some of this prescribing is not based on robust evidence of effectiveness, and some may contradict guidelines. There is also limited evidence on the effect of taking antidepressants long-term, so there may be unintended harm to those being prescribed this medication for a long time.”
“The information from this study has allowed us to understand primary care better prescribing for anxiety and how trends have changed over the study period. We need research to improve our understanding of why we are seeing this increase in prescribing, especially in young adults, and to provide interventions that can reduce the growing reliance on medication for this age group.”
- Charlotte Archer et al. Rise in prescribing for anxiety in UK primary care between 2003 and 2018: a population-based cohort study using Clinical Practice Research Datalink. DOI: 10.3399/BJGP.2021.0561