Prescription drug abuse has reached an all-time high. Although data shows that many prescription drug abusers often progress to less expensive illicit drugs such as heroin, studies are showing that these legal drugs are causing more deaths than expected. And it hurts young adults the most: “In 2014, more than 1,700 young adults died from prescription drug (mainly opioid) overdoses—more than died from overdoses of any other drug, including heroin and cocaine combined—and many more needed emergency treatment.” – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) So, what makes psychiatric drugs so popular as recreational drugs? Do prescriptions turn people into addicts?
What Are Psychiatric Drugs?
Psychiatric drugs or psychoactive medications are taken to alter the chemicals of the brain and central nervous system (CNS). These medications are used to treat many mental illnesses. They are often made from synthetic chemicals. These drugs can assist people in living normal lives instead of living in hospitals and institutions. These drugs are prescribed by physicians, nurse practitioners and psychologists. There are many types of psychoactive drugs. These include:
- Mood Stabilizers
Who Takes Psychiatric Medications?
Psychiatric drugs are taken to treat a variety of mental health disorders including:
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Anxiety Disorders
- Bipolar Disorder
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Eating Disorders
- Mood Disorders
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
When taken as directed, psychoactive drugs are extremely helpful. They allow many Americans to live their lives and continue to work and maintain healthy relationships. For some, though, their prescription medications and spiral into an addiction.
Illicit or Prescription Drugs: The Dangers of Both
Why are prescription drugs abused more than ever? NIDA believes they have the answer: “They include drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, greater social acceptability for using medications for different purposes, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies. These factors together have helped create the broad “environmental availability” of prescription medications in general and opioid analgesics in particular.” This flood of prescription medications into the market is alarming, but it doesn’t answer the question as to why so many people decide to misuse these drugs. The answer may be in the nature of the drugs themselves. Prescription medications are STRONG, and when taken differently than directed – like snorted or injected – the medications act much more quickly. In turn, it accelerates the tolerance in the addict. The cycle of addiction begins the moment the drug is taken. Awareness is lowered and it becomes easy to ignore daily tasks. Once withdrawal kicks in, the addict searches for more of the drug. Inevitably, they need more and more to feel the drug’s effects. This cycle is the same for prescription drugs and illicit drugs alike. Just because the medications are prescribed by a doctor doesn’t make them any safer for an addict. In fact, doctors out of Canada are noticing quite the opposite with the commonly prescribed drug class of benzodiazepines.
What is a Benzodiazepine?
Benzodiazepines fall under a classification of drugs called anxiolytics and hypnotics. Although it has become used more commonly that barbiturates due to the assumption that it was non-addictive, that now isn’t true. Benzos make users feel:
- Blurred Vision
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, “Abuse is frequently associated with adolescents and young adults who take the drug orally or crush it up and snort it to get high. Abuse is particularly high among heroin and cocaine abusers.” Benzos come in many shapes and forms. Some address sleep while others are meant for treating anxiety or seizures. What are these drugs, and what names do they go by?
Popular Name Brands of Benzos
Benzos come in many forms, here are most popular drugs of this class on the market today:
- Halcion (triazolam): This drug is stronger than Valium or Xanax. It is usually used to treat severe insomnia. It is quick acting and the half-life is so fast, that those who wake up in the middle of the night may not benefit from this drug. It is suggested that Halcion be used at the lowest dose possible and for only a short time. It cannot be used for pregnant women (Category X).
- ProSom (estazolam): ProSom is often used to treat insomnia, but it is only suggested for short-term use. The withdrawal is like an alcohol hangover. It may also cause dizziness.
- Valium (diazepam): Diazepam have a calming effect, and is used to treat anxiety, alcohol withdrawal syndrome, seizures, difficulty sleeping restless leg syndrome. Side effects include impaired coordination, impaired balance, depression, and poor sleep. High doses can cause respiratory distress.
- Xanax (alprazolam): Xanax is a strong, short-acting benzo. It is used to treat anxiety disorder and panic disorder. It can also be used for social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. According to Forbes, it’s the 12th most prescribed medicine in the US as of 2010. Overdose can cause respiratory depression.
Mortality in People Who Misuse Benzos
In Vancouver, Canada, doctors began seeing patterns in addicts who injected drugs and used benzos. Researched followed 2,802 participants from May 1996 through November 2013. The results? Overall, 18.8 percent of participants died – 527 total. Benzodiazepine was directly associated with increased all-cause mortality. The same study sites: “Studies examining data from large U.S. surveys have described the burden of disease from illicit drug use, including prescription drugs. These data demonstrated that, in 2010, almost 3% of the U.S. household population reported nonmedical prescription drug use in the previous month, and that more than 15% of 12th graders reported misusing prescription drugs in the previous year.”
Benzo Interactions with Other Drugs
Benzodiazepines are tranquilizing medications that can calm and relax a person’s nervous system. Medications in the benzo family such as alprazolam (Xanax) or diazepam (Valium) are known to help its user with things like anxiety and muscle spasms. When benzodiazepines are mixed with other drugs, their interactions can be toxic and sometimes fatal. Mixing benzos with drugs classified as “uppers” such as methamphetamines or ecstasy will cause immense damage to a person’s body and mind. When a stimulant like meth or ecstasy is mixed with a depressant such as Xanax or Ativan, the body struggles to know whether to depress or stimulate the nervous system. Pathways are frantic, and the brain goes into a confused overdrive. The body’s nervous system doesn’t know up from down, and the reaction can cause the following:
- Heart failure
When benzodiazepines are mixed with other depressants, the result is catastrophic. Mixing benzos with other medications like oxycodone or Vicodin will cause someone to become overly sedated. When someone is in a state of deep sedation, their response times are barely non-existent. This depression of the central nervous system can lead to the following:
- Unconsciousness or coma
- Slowed breathing
- Irregular heartbeat
It is highly likely that mixing any other drug with benzos can cause overdose. Overdosing because of benzodiazepine abuse along with other drugs can include symptoms such as:
- Blurred vision or double vision
- Pinpointed pupils
- Slow, shallow, or stopped breathing
If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of overdose, it is important that you go to the hospital immediately. These symptoms are serious and can result in death.
Signs Someone is Misusing Prescriptions Drugs
Depending on the drug, the signs and symptoms of abuse change. For instance, someone abusing opiates may act different from someone abusing benzos. Many of these drugs cause unnatural sleepiness. Here are some other signs someone you love may be abusing prescription drugs:
- Socially withdrawals and doesn’t want to spend time with friends or family
- No longer takes pleasure in hobbies or past interests
- Moody – may be angry or violent against people who try to help them
- Stops taking care of themselves (bathing, wearing clean clothing)
- Unnaturally sleepy at different times of the day
- In the case of teens, disregard for household and school rules
Getting Help for Someone with a Psychiatric Drug Addiction
It’s often the case that those abusing psychiatric drugs are also suffering from a co-occurring disorder. For that reason, it’s important to get evaluated by a licensed psychologist. Withdrawal effects can be dangerous, so oversight by medical professionals is often necessary. Northpoint Recovery offers a clear vision of hope with the assistance of licensed recovery professionals. We can assist you in finding the support you or your loved one needs to attain sobriety. We have heroin addiction treatment programs that directly address mental health disorders and addiction. We also offer flexible inpatient and outpatient programs depending on the individual’s needs. Learn more about Northpoint Rehab here or contact us to speak to one of our recovery specialists.
Abuse of Prescription (Rx) Drugs Affects Young Adults Most Benzodiazepines Linked to Higher Mortality among Drug Users than Heroin, Cocaine, Say Health Experts The Impact of Benzodiazepine Use on Mortality Among Polysubstance Users in Vancouver, Canada