18th August, 2017

Prescription Drug Addiction

Overview, Signs, Symptoms & Treatment

addiction to prescription drugs

Prescription drugs are pervasive in today’s society, and many of them have a high potential for abuse and addiction, causing addiction rates to rise.

According to SAMHSA, “Prescription drug misuse and abuse is the intentional or unintentional use of medication without a prescription, in a way other than prescribed, or for the experience or feeling it causes.” Over time, prescription drug abuse can become addiction which causes problems in a person’s life that can involve their professional, personal, health, financial, and legal situations. Because prescription drugs are used medically and prescribed by doctors, many individuals feel that they are safer or less addictive than illicit drugs. This could not be further from the truth.

Prescription drug addiction can lead to many problems in an individual’s life and in the lives of their loved ones. When you notice the signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction in yourself or your loved ones, seeking treatment immediately is necessary.

Prescription Drug Addiction Overview

SAMHSA states, “15.3 million people aged 12 or older used prescription drugs non-medically in the past year, and 6.5 million did so in the past month.” The abuse of prescription drugs is higher than the abuse of any other drug with the exclusion of alcohol and marijuana. The results are still just as dangerous as illicit drug abuse, and the abuse of prescription drugs leads to addiction as well.

There are several types of commonly abused prescription drugs, according to the NIDA, and they all may lead to addiction if the individual abuses them long enough and in high enough doses. They are:

  • Depressants
    • Barbiturates
    • Benzodiazepines
    • Sleep medications
  • Opioids 
    • Codeine
    • Morphine
    • Fentanyl
    • Oxycodone
    • Hydrocodone
    • Hyromorphone
    • Meperidine
  • Stimulants 
    • Amphetamines
    • Methylphenidate

The abuse of any of these drugs can cause addiction and other health and medical issues. When a person becomes addicted to prescription drugs, it can be very dangerous and lead to just as many issues as the abuse of illicit drugs.

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Prescription Drug Addiction Signs

But how can you know that someone is addicted to prescription drugs? It can be difficult to tell, as the different drugs cause different intoxication effects. However, many of the behavioral effects of having an addiction are similar and common among all drug addicted individuals. They are

  • An inability to stop abusing a drug, even if it causes problems in their life
  • The use of drugs constantly, even when alone
  • “Making excuses to use drugs” (NLM)
  • A tendency to stop spending time with individuals who do not abuse drugs and only wanting to spend time with those who do
  • “No longer taking part in activities because of drug abuse”
  • Becoming secretive, paranoid, or otherwise attempting to hide the full extent of their drug abuse because they are afraid others will try to make them stop
  • Missing school or work in order to do drugs or having a decrease in their performance ability as a result of drug abuse
  • Sudden “episodes of violence” that are not common to the individual’s behavior
  • Constant confusion
  • Neglecting to take care of themselves and not eating, showering, or caring about their physical appearance as a result of drug abuse
  • Hostility when confronted about their drug use by others
  • Hiding drugs or drug paraphernalia in or around their home or bedroom
  • Relationship, work, school, legal, and financial problems that are caused by drug abuse and a disinterest in stopping their drug abuse in order to fix these problems

Someone who is truly addicted to prescription drugs will experience a “lack of control over [their] drug abuse.” And in some cases, it will only become worse and lead to illicit drug abuse. The ONDCP states, “data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time in 2009 began by using a prescription drug non-medically.” These types of addictions are dangerous and can lead to even more harmful consequences.

Specific prescription drugs have certain signs that point to abuse and possibly addiction. If the signs below seem constant in an individual you know, there is a strong possibility that they may already be addicted to a prescription drug.

  • The long-term effects of depressant abuse are
    • Confusion
    • Slurred speech
    • “Impaired thinking, memory, and judgment” (CESAR)
    • Weakness in muscles
    • Coordination problems
    • Mood swings
    • Constant drowsiness or fatigue
      • Depressant addiction is also dangerous because, in many cases, it can lead to overdose and, especially when mixed with alcohol, can cause respiratory depression and death.
  • The long-term effects of opioid abuse are
    • Low blood pressure
    • Headaches
    • Constipation
    • Nausea
    • Mood swings
    • Withdrawal (with signs similar to the flu as well as muscle and joint pain)
      • Opioid addiction can also lead to respiratory depression and death if the drug is taken in high enough doses.
  • The long-term effects of stimulant abuse are
    • Irrational, manic behavior when on the drug, depression and sleepiness when off it
    • Insomnia
    • Ulcers
    • Malnutrition and extreme weight loss
    • Irregular heart rhythms
      • Stimulants, when abused in large doses over time, can cause what is called stimulant-induced psychosis, a disorder that causes a person to hallucinate, become very paranoid, and otherwise behave dangerously.

Someone who is constantly displaying the symptoms listed above may be addicted to one of the common prescription drugs. If you are worried about yourself and your possible addiction to prescription drugs, consider the symptoms of this condition.

Prescription Drug Addiction Symptoms

If you have been abusing prescription drugs (either knowingly or unknowingly), there is a chance that you might be addicted to them. When a person abuses these drugs for long enough, they change the way the brain works causing extreme problems that take time to be remedied.

Ask yourself the questions below and consider the symptoms of prescription drug abuse.

  • Do I abuse prescription drugs constantly or every day?
  • Do I feel that I need these drugs just to get out of bed or fall asleep?
  • Have I been abusing them for so long that I can’t imagine stopping?
  • When I am unable to get a hold of the drug I need, do I notice physical and psychological symptoms that manifest as a result of my inability to get more of the drug? Have I noticed that my tolerance for the drug I abuse has gone up?
  • Have I ever considered taking illicit drugs because my tolerance for prescription drugs has risen so much?
  • Has my drug abuse caused any major problems for me in the last year including health, work, school, relationship, financial, or legal problems?
  • Am I only happy when I am taking drugs?
  • Is there nothing that I think about or care about more than my next fix?
  • Do I feel a lack of control over my drug abuse?
  • If I wanted to stop now, do I believe that I could?

If you answered yes to the questions above, you are most certainly dealing with drug addiction. Someone who abuses drugs may feel guilty or try to stop, but someone who is addicted will not be able to do so, not matter how bad they feel. Prescription drug addiction can be just as dangerous physically and mentally as illicit drug abuse, and it can cause just as many problems in your daily life. This is why treatment for prescription drug addiction is so important.

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