Learn the warning signs of prescription medication addiction.
“My main point is that just because the doctor prescribes it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you. And just because you’re not abusing it doesn’t shield you from becoming addicted.”
~ Amber Dee, Wreckage: Prescription Drug Addiction –Caught by Surprise
The abuse of prescription medication is a real and growing problem in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 48 million Americans – 1 out of every 5 people 12 or older – will use a prescription drug for a nonmedical reason at some point in their lifetime.
This means that it is very probable that someone you know will struggle with a substance abuse problem manifesting as a prescription medication addiction. It may even be you.
Could I Start Abusing My Prescription Medications Unintentionally? Could I Even Become Addicted?
Unfortunately, the answer to both of these questions is “yes”. To understand how, a bit of explanation is in order.
Certain classes of prescription medications are riskier than others, in terms of their potential for abuse and addiction. Addiction doesn’t happen overnight – it is a progressive disease:
- Changes within the brain –In addition to their prescribed purpose, drugs with a high potential for abuse and addiction act upon the reward pathways of the brain. The brain treats the ingestion of the drug – even when taken exactly as prescribed –as an activity necessary for life, such as eating or reproduction, and consequently, releases excessive amounts of dopamine, the chemical associated with pleasure.
- Tolerance –This is when the body adapts to the presence of the prescription medication, and consequently, more and more of the drug must be taken in order to experience the same effects.
- Dependence – Over time, the normal production of dopamine is disrupted, to the point where the person can only feel “normal” when the drug is in their system. They are unable to feel pleasure or even function without the drug.
- Withdrawal –When the drug is discontinued or even delayed, a dependent person begins experiencing symptoms of withdrawal – unpleasant mental and physical sensations that begin mere hours after the last use and can last for days, weeks, or even months. Withdrawal symptoms can range in severity from mildly uncomfortable to severely painful to possibly life-threatening, depending upon the substance.
For some people, withdrawal symptoms can be the reason why they return to using.
This is not a matter of choice or willpower – it is a chemical imbalance in the brain.
- Drug-seeking behavior –These are addictive behaviors that are characterized by compulsive actions performed in an attempt to procure more of the drug – obtaining multiple prescriptions, “shopping” doctors to find one willing to write more or stronger prescriptions, forging prescriptions, etc.
- Addiction –The biggest characteristic of an active addiction is when a person is unable to discontinue the use/misuse/abuse of the substance, even in the face of negative consequences – relationship problems, difficulties at work, health issues, or legal entanglements.
For example, a person who continues to drive while they are impaired, even after multiple arrests, is exhibiting signs of being addicted.
What Types of Prescription Medications Are Abused Most Often?
The NIDA lists three classes of prescription medications that are commonly abused:
- Opioid Painkillers –This class of drugs, in large part derived from the opium poppy, are intended for short-term acute pain, individuals with cancer, or end-of-life patients. When they are incorrectly prescribed and taken for long-term chronic pain, the risk of dependence and addiction is magnified. Common opioid painkillers include:
- Oxycodone (Roxicet, Percodan, Percocet, and OxyContin)
- Hydrocodone (Lorcet, Lortab, Vicoprofen, and Vicodin)
- Morphine (Avinza and MS Contin)
- Methadone (Dolophine and Methadose)
- Fentanyl (Fentora, Onsolis, and Duragesic patches)
- Hydromorphone (Palladone and Dilaudid)
- Codeine– the most widely-used opiate in the world
- Meperidine (Demerol)
- Propoxyphene (Darvon and Darvocet)
- Pentazocine (Fortral, Sosegon, and Talwin)
- Butophanol (Stadol)
- Oxymorphone (Opana and Numorphan)
- Tramadol (Tramal, Ultracet, and Ultram)
- Benzodiazepines –These are central nervous system depressants that are used to treat such conditions as insomnia, anxiety, panic disorder, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal. “Benzo” withdrawal can be severe, and should always be medically-supervised. Common benzodiazepines include:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Bentazepam (Thiadipona)
- Bromazepam (Lectopam, Rekotnil, Somalium, and others)
- Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Oxazepam (Seresta)
- Temazepam (Restoril)
- Zolpidem (Ambien)
- Stimulants –This class of drugs used to treat narcolepsy, attention deficit disorder, and depression. It is used illicitly – primarily by college students – as a means to improve cognition, memory, and focus. Common prescription stimulants include:
- Dextroamphetamine (Adderall)
- Methylphenidate (Concerta, Ritalin)
I Am Prescribed One or More of Those Medications. How Can I Tell If I’m Addicted?
If you have to ask that question, there is already a good chance that you have a problem to some degree. There are a number of questions that you should ask yourself clarify your situation:
- Do you hide your prescription medication usage– taking it when you’re alone, for example?
- Do you lie about how much and how often you’re taking your medication?
- Have you unsuccessfully tried to stop using?
- Do you have multiple prescriptions of the same drug?
- Have you lied to your doctor to get more or stronger medication?
- Are you having problems at home, work, or school because of your usage?
- Do you avoid people who are critical of your usage?
- Are you neglecting other responsibilities and obligations to find or buy your prescription medication?
- Do you ever take more of your prescription medication than you are supposed to or even mean to?
- Does the thought of running out make you feel uncomfortable?
- Do you take your medication in order to cope with emotional pain or stress?
- Do you find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about your next dosage?
- Has anyone ever confronted you about your prescription medication use?
- Have you ever been arrested because of prescription drugs?
- Have you ever overdosed?
- Do you feel guilty or ashamed about your prescription medication use?
If you answered “YES” to any of these questions, it may indicate the need to talk to a professional to see if further intervention is appropriate.
How to Get the Help You Need for Prescription Medication Dependency and Addiction
Northpoint Recovery is the premier substance-abuse rehab facility in the Pacific Northwest—proudly serving Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and beyond. The clinical staff uses the latest evidence-based treatment strategies to provided individualized care to clients struggling with alcoholism, illicit drug use, or prescription medication misuse.
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