1 in 6 Adults in the US Takes a Psychiatric Drug

Study reports high prevalence of long-term drug prescription and use


In a recently published research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Thomas Moore and Donald Mattison present their findings on the percentage of adults in the United States who have been prescribed three classes of psychiatric drugs (1) antidepressants; (2) anxiolytics, sedatives, and hypnotics; and (3) antipsychotics.

Photo credit: Flickr
Photo credit: Flickr

“Overall, 16.7% (95% CI, 15.9%-17.5%) of 242 million US adults reported filling 1 or more prescriptions for psychiatric drugs in 2013”, they report. This translates to 1 in 6 adults.

Drug Class % prescribed in the US (n= 242 million persons)
Antidepressants 12%
Anxiolytics, sedatives, and hypnotics 8.3%
Antipsychotics 1.4%


The researchers collected their data from the 2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Policy. They report differences in prescriptions based on race/ethnicity, gender, and age. White adults were most likely o be prescribed a drug (20.8%) followed by Black (9.7%), Hispanic (8.7%) and Asian adults (4.8%). The percentage of women prescribed a drug was nearly twice as large as their

The percentage of women prescribed a drug was nearly twice as large as their male counterparts (21.2% v/s 11.9%). Older adults were more likely to receive a prescription – those aged 60-85 years were almost 3.5 times more likely to get one compared to 18-39-year-olds. Finally, most adults reported the long-term use of drugs with 8 of 10 percent indicating that they had “filled 3 or more prescriptions in 2013 or indicating that they had started taking the drug during 2011 or earlier.”

The results raise concerns about appropriate prescribing practices, according to the researchers. They note that for antidepressants directions for optimal treatment duration are ambiguous whereas for benzodiazepines there are clear “warnings about drug dependence, tolerance, withdrawal, and rebound symptoms”. (see here for a recently published personal story on MIA related to benzodiazepine withdrawal). Their concerns have been echoed by others, like

Their concerns have been echoed by others, like Fava and his colleagues who have recommended that SSRIs be added to the list of drugs that potentially lead to withdrawal symptoms upon their discontinuation. Others, like Murray and his colleagues, have also raised issues related to the long-term use of antipsychotics.

The researchers conclude their letter by noting, “safe use of psychiatric drugs could be improved by increasing emphasis on prescribing these agents at the lowest effective dose and systematically reassessing the need for continued use.” This is especially important given that 1 in 6 persons in the US are currently being prescribed a psychiatric drug.



Moore TJ, Mattison DR. Adult Utilization of Psychiatric Drugs and Differences by Sex, Age, and Race. JAMA Intern Med. Published online December 12, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.7507 (Full Text)

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Akansha Vaswani
MIA-UMB News Team: Akansha Vaswani is a therapist and a researcher with a particular interest in the lived experiences of people’s lives. Her studies in marriage and family therapy strengthened her commitment to social justice, de-colonizing, feminist and social constructionist approaches to therapy. She is currently involved in research examining biases in psychiatric research, the psychosocial aspects of chronic illness, and the effects of structural violence on marginalized communities.


  1. The reason so many people, especially the elderly and women, are taking “psychiatric drugs” could be that doctors have no flipping clue how to treat most chronic illnesses.

    And, sadly, the ones I run across don’t seem too interested in learning

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  2. That is really disturbing. Our main problem is not with alcohol or street drugs, it is with prescription drugs.

    At lease we ought to be able to stop people from giving them to children.

    Prosecute them for Crimes Against Humanity in the International Courts.


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  3. At last. My life was ruined by an overnight severe suicidal reaction to Prozac, for STRESS, not depression. I was 57. The panicked doctor immediately embarked on a course of 14 ECT treatments (eventually 66 in 20 months), that destroyed my career as a sculptor, novelist and screen writer, and led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder with 13 years of drugs and debility. 10 years later another SSRI, Lexapro, (`this one’s different’), also led to a devastating depression and suicidal reaction and more ECT. Neither event was reported as an adverse reaction. How many hundreds of thousands have died or suffered dreadfully because of no one admitting this possibility? Even if you don’t die from it, the stress placed on the individual and their families is immense. For instance my relationship with my children has been badly affected as a consequence of my drug induced behaviour, my being labelled as `sick’ and the stigma associated with it.
    Are psychiatrists ignorant, blind, in denial, or merely unwilling to upset the big pharma gravy train in their continued abuse using these drugs? If GPs remain ignorant surely the responsibility falls on both the specialist profession, psychiatry, and the government that has assured the public that all is well in SSRI land, to EDUCATE them. Neither should have the luxury of standing back and saying ,”well, it’s the GPs fault, they’re the ones doing it.” Passing the buck doesn’t cut it. These studies are merely the tip of the huge iceberg that hopefully one day soon will sink psychiatry and its drug assault forever.

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  4. I think the one in six figure might be low. I am no statistician, mathematician, or clinician, but, basically through anecdotal remarks and findings, I feel the statistic should be much higher. I say one in four at least; maybe one in three. I think there are some real statistics missing here or maybe “fudged.” When you think of the goal of Big Pharma and the ignorant doctors, psychiatrists, physicians of all specialties, pediatricians, etc. I think the goal is 100% compliance amongst 100% of the population. Just think they use Xanax or some other drug to relax the patient prior to anesthesia and surgery and to assist in chemotherapy. I, honestly, doubt in America that there is anybody left who has not been prescribed or had these drugs put into them. Now, the goal is that 100% compliance in 100% of the population 100% of all days.

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