Psychiatry Research Updates: Substance Abuse and Exercise

teen exercising swimming breaststrokeSubstance Abuse

Prescribing Anxiety Meds for Teens May Trigger Later Drug Abuse

Adolescents are commonly prescribed anti-anxiety or sleep medications, which is often reasonable, given the efficacy of these agents. We often worry about abuse potential, but we’ve had little data to tell how much we should worry, until now. It turns out that we may be prodding some of these teens down the road toward addiction.

University of Michigan researchers conducted a longitudinal study that looked at more than 2,700 adolescents attending five Detroit area secondary schools between 2009 and 2012.

The adolescents were divided into three groups: Those who were never prescribed anxiety or sleep medication; those prescribed those medications but not during the study period; and those prescribed the medications during the study period.

Almost 9% of the teens had received a prescription for anxiety or sleep medications during their lifetime and 3.4% had received at least one prescription during that three-year period. Compared with adolescents never prescribed either type of medication, adolescents prescribed these medications during the study period were 10 times more likely to use them for “sensation-seeking motivations,” such as to get high or to experiment. They were also three times more likely to use someone else’s prescription to self-treat anxiety or to help them sleep.

Along with taking a look at recent prescriptions, the study also looked at whether adolescents prescribed medications at any point in their past would be more likely to use someone else’s prescription to get high. Researchers hypothesized that once exposed to these types of medications adolescents would be more likely to use someone else’s prescription for sensation-seeking reasons.

In fact, teens prescribed the medications prior to the study period, were 12 times more likely to use someone else’s anxiety medication, compared with teens never prescribed anxiolytic medications. This association was not found with sleep medications, however (Boyd CJ et al, Pscyhol Addict Behav 2014;epub head of print).

CCPR’s Take: Be cautious when prescribing benzos to teens—once they discover the “Ativan feeling,” they may well seek it out in the future, whether they are anxious or not.


Not Only Good for Children’s Overall Health, It’s Good for their Brains

Exercise is good for the brain as well as the body—we’ve known for several years that this is true for adults, but a new study indicates it’s true for children, too.

To test the hypothesis that exercise could improve cognitive function in kids, researchers randomly assigned 221 children, ages 8 to 9, to either a nine-month afterschool physical activity program or to a wait-list control group. The children assigned to the Fitness Improves Thinking in Kids (FITKids) program spent a total of two hours every day after school for 150 days of a school year doing a combination of moderate to vigorous exercise and less vigorous skills games. Children participated in brief, age-appropriate activities such as jumping jacks, throwing, and catching—moving to various stations targeting aerobic activities, muscular strength and endurance, or movement.

Children took both a pretest prior to starting the intervention and a post-test when the program ended to measure changes in both mental and physical fitness. In addition to improvements in physical conditioning, such as maximal oxygen consumption, children who took part in the exercise group did much better overall on measures of attentional inhibition (the ability to restrict distractions or habits to maintain focus) and cognitive flexibility (the ability to multi-task). While children in both groups improved, the children in the exercise program had greater improvement in both inhibition (3.2% more than control) and cognitive flexibility (4.8% more than control). Improvements were greater in children who attended the exercise program most often (Hillman CH et al, Pediatrics 20l4;134(4):e1063-1071).

CCPR’s Take: Kids and their parents should know that being fit can translate to better attention, decision-making ability, and brain function. The study should also give pause to educators about reducing physical activity during the school day, such as recess time, in an attempt to increase academic achievement.

Psychiatry Research Updates: Substance Abuse and Exercise

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This article was published in print 12/2014 in Volume:Issue 5:8.

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APA Reference
Psychiatry Report, T. (2016). Psychiatry Research Updates: Substance Abuse and Exercise. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 19 Sep 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Sep 2016
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