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Article Summary

Prescription Drug Addiction

Most people take prescription drugs for a variety of reasons, and according to instructions from their doctors. However, the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) estimates that 48 million people aged above 12 use these drugs for nonmedical reasons. This figure represents close to 20% of the entire American population.

The increase in prescription drug abuse has led to a corresponding rise in ER visits from accidental overdoses. Similarly, prescription drug addiction has grown admissions to treatment and rehabilitation programs.

To this end, just because drugs are prescribed by doctors and administered at pharmacies does not necessarily mean that anyone should use them. With the rise in prescription numbers, it is not surprising that there has been a simultaneous increase in the chances of drug abuse and addiction.

Understanding Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drug abuse, dependence, and addiction have become endemic across the globe - particularly in Europe and the United States. This rise has been evidenced by the increase in the number of people seeking treatment for addiction.

In the United States, the leading addictions arise from stimulants, sedatives, tranquilizers, and opioids. In fact, between 1998 and 2008, the number of people getting help for opioid addiction grew by over 400%. However, only about 1 person in every 100 abusing prescription drugs gets treated.

National surveys in the US show that people abuse drugs intended to treat anxiety, sleeplessness, difficulty maintaining focus, and severe pain. As a general group, prescription drugs are only second to marijuana in the rate of use, misuse, abuse, and addiction.

Most people start using these drugs legitimately. However, over time, they progress to abuse before sinking to addiction. Others try out prescriptions at parties, work, and in school and become hooked to the effect the drugs cause. However it occurs, the rates of overdose and abuse are both on the rise.

Causes Of Prescription Drug Abuse

Unlike over the counter medications, prescription drugs are highly controlled. As such, you can only buy them if you have a prescription. In general, only veterinarians, optometrists, dentists, and licensed medical doctors can write out a prescription. Social workers, psychologists, emergency medical technicians, nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists, medical assistants, and registered nurses are not allowed to prescribe medications.

As mentioned above, most people only take drugs as prescribed by their doctors. However, some are predisposed to get hooked on these drugs, especially if they start abusing them after legitimate prescriptions were issued to help them deal with their illnesses, including but not limited to depression, surgery, injury, or chronic pain.

That said, most prescription drug addicts do not start taking the medications with the intention of abusing them. Whereas some use the drugs to relieve pain, they soon discover that the drug provides innate pleasure.

While trying to resolve their physical and psychological problems even further, as well as derive the pleasurable feelings, the patient starts taking more of the medication. With time, they develop tolerance to the drugs, which means that they have to take more of it to replicate the initial effect.

Most of the prescription drugs on the market have a high potential for psychological and physical addiction. If you discontinue use abruptly, you will suffer serious medical complications, including convulsions and seizures.

As such, you should only try to withdraw from prescription drug addiction under constant medical supervision. In particular, sedative withdrawal puts your life at risk, especially if you don't receive the required medical monitoring and help.

Prescription Drugs And Mental Illness

If you suffer from a serious mental illness (an emotional, behavioral, or mental disorder that can seriously impair your functionality or substantially limit or interfere with your major life activities), there are higher chances that you might end up suffering from substance abuse disorders. Consider, for instance, that 35.3% of adults between the ages of 18 and 25 suffering from serious mental illnesses also displayed co-occurring prescription drug use disorders in 2014.

When substance use disorder and mental health issues co-occur, there is a heightened right that you will also end up using prescription drugs illicitly. This use will most likely be in conjunction with such substances as cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol.

Most people abuse these drugs to deal with the signs and symptoms of their mental disorders. However, turning to prescription pills such as benzodiazepines and opioids will only provide temporary relief from your depression, anxiety, and any other mental health problem you are suffering from. With time, the abuse will progress to a serious addiction after you become dependent on the drugs.

Prescription Drugs And Chronic Pain

Drug abuse has been ravaging people of every socioeconomic demographic and race in the United States. In fact, the effects have not been limited to any given segment of the population.

Whereas opioids are typically prescribed for treating chronic pain, long term use tends to lead to:

  1. Tolerance

    Opioid users will eventually develop tolerance to the drugs and need higher doses of the medication for it to be as effective as it was in the first stages of use.

  2. Hyperalgesia

    Those who use prescription drugs to treat chronic pain will eventually become more sensitive to the pain.

  3. Substance Use Disorder

    Although you might be using your opioid prescription properly, you might still end up developing a disorder related to such use.

In fact, the University of Tennessee researchers found that 3-5% of people trying to manage pain using prescription opioids eventually developed a drug use disorder over time.

To this end, it is imperative that you talk to your doctor and consider the various risk factors associated with addictive prescription drugs. For instance, you could discuss your family or personal history of mental illness and substance abuse, the ability of the drug to become addictive, as well as any other behavior that might be indicative of substance abuse.

Once you develop a prescription drug use disorder, the treatment of the condition you are suffering from will become complicated. After the drugs run out, you might be compelled to turn to illicit opioids and other drugs as a suitable and readily accessible alternative.

In most cases, the cost of prescription pills on the streets is so high that the drugs won't sustain your abuse over the long term. As such, addiction might force you to self-medicate with alcohol, heroin, and similarly-addictive substances.

Signs And Symptoms Of Prescription Drug Addiction

The abuse and addiction to prescription drugs are poorly recognized across the board. At its most basic, prescription drugs are medications regulated by law, meaning that you will only be able to obtain it with a prescription from a licensed doctor.

That said, most of these drugs work because they promote or suppress certain chemical reactions inside the brain. As you can expect, the signs of use, abuse, and addiction vary based on the type of drug as well as the individual abusing these medications.

People who abuse pain relievers (prescription opiates) will not be able to feel pain. Further, they might end up looking confused and drowsy. They will also complain that they are constipated or feeling nauseous.

If you have been abusing prescription opiates, your breathing will slow down when you nod off. At the same time, in case you decide to stop using the drug, you will experience such withdrawal symptoms as chills, vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, as well as bone and muscle pain for a couple of days.

Another one of the commonly abused prescription drugs is benzodiazepines, a drug designed for the treatment of sleeplessness and anxiety. Examples of benzodiazepines include Ativan (lorazepam), Halcyon (triazolam), Xanax (alprazolam), and Valium (diazepam). These types of drugs are addictive. It is also dangerous to try withdrawing from using them without the right medical assistance.

The main classes of prescription drugs that are easily abused include:

  1. Stimulants

    Stimulants are commonly prescribed for treating ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

  2. Opiates

    Opiates are usually prescribed for treating chronic or severe pain.

  3. Sedatives/Tranquilizers

    Doctors frequently prescribe sedatives and tranquilizers to treat sleep and anxiety disorders.

The main warning signs of prescription drug use and addiction revolve around drug-seeking behavior. This is regardless of the medication or its chemical composition. These types of behaviors include, but are not limited to:

  • Frequency of requests for drug refills to doctors and physicians
  • Losing prescriptions
  • Asking for replacements on a regular basis
  • Breaking or crushing pills
  • Borrowing or stealing prescription medications from co-workers, friends, and family members
  • Consuming the prescriptions faster than the doctor indicated
  • Visiting more than one doctor for the same condition
  • Inconsistent, incoherent answers to questions about drug use
  • Forging or stealing prescriptions
  • Consuming over the counter drugs to deal with the same conditions a doctor prescribed another drug
  • Placing orders for prescription medications online

Several behavior patterns will usually accompany the prescription drug use and addiction. These behaviors usually point to progress in the development of the addictive disease. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Noticeable mood swings according to the absence and availability of the prescription drugs
  • Changing sleep patterns
  • Increased irritability, particularly when there are no prescriptions
  • Frequent consumption of alcohol

That said, the symptoms from prescription drug abuse vary from one class of drugs to the next. Consider the following:

1. Opiate Abuse Symptoms

Millions of opiate painkiller prescriptions are written out by licensed medics every year. However, most of the opiate abusers will continue using the drugs after they receive a legal prescription to deal with any given medical condition.

Others, however, will seek the painkillers out for psychiatric or medical relief. As a direct result, addiction and abuse vary significantly from one person to another. However, the common symptoms of abusing prescription painkillers include:

  • Depression
  • Decrease in blood pressure, which cannot be easily explained by another medical condition
  • Confusion and disorientation, even while in familiar surroundings
  • Digestive irregularities
  • Constipation
  • Shortness of breath

Abusing painkillers and opiates can easily be distinguished by the common withdrawal symptoms most of the addicts suffer when they try to stop using these drugs. These withdrawal symptoms are potentially harmful and medically complication. As such, they need to be dealt with immediately.

These withdrawal symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Cold flashes, irrespective of the environment you find yourself in
  • Involuntary kicking and leg movement
  • Restlessness
  • Sharp bone pain
  • Sharp muscle pains
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Seizures

Addiction to alcohol and other drugs might also co-occur with prescription drug addiction. Most people mix alcohol with their prescriptions to enhance euphoric feelings. This mixture is commonly referred to as a cocktail, and it carries an unusually high risk of overdose.

2. Prescription Stimulant Symptoms

Abusing prescription stimulants carries the following signs and symptoms:

  • Extreme agitation
  • Extreme irritability
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated body temperatures that cannot be explained by physical activity or environment
  • Seizures
  • Cardiovascular failure
  • Increased hostility
  • Feelings of paranoia
  • Insomnia, which will persist for several days at any given time
  • Unexplained weight loss, which might also be an indicator for such eating disorders as bulimia, and anorexia nervosa
3. Symptoms of Tranquilizer and Sedative Addiction

Most people who are addicted to sedatives and tranquilizers might not understand how these prescription drugs will affect their behavior and appearance. That said, the most visible symptoms and signs of such addiction include:

  • Drowsy appearance
  • Intoxicated appearance
  • Confusion about time and surroundings
  • Unsteady movements
  • Unsteady mannerisms
  • Involuntary tics, movements, and gestures
  • Rapid, often involuntary, eye movements
  • Poor judgment
  • Poor decision-making
  • Difficulties with memory

Effects Of Prescription Drug Addiction

When you decide to take prescription drugs to deal with emotional problems - with or without the express permission of a medical expert - the drugs will only numb or mask the problem.

Although you might not experience the emotional difficulties for a given period, or you might temporary halt your obsession, the problem will only worsen because you will stop learning how to cope with your issues and feelings.

Abusing prescription drugs, to this end, will often cause negative effects on your job, financial strength, family, and personal relationships. You might, for instance, lose your job, face financial difficulties, and suffer from psychological problems.

To this end, prescription drug addiction is a serious medical condition that should be treated by professionals specialized in chemical dependency. When you reduce your use of these medications, you will simultaneously increase your medical complications, or even die.

In the same way, you should never try to detoxify yourself from these drugs at home, or without the supervision and direction of a medical doctor.

The Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

The most widely abused prescription drugs, including stimulants, CNS depressants, and opioids, also provide users with euphoric and intense effects. Many people become addicted while using these drugs to legitimately treat such medical conditions as mental health problems and pain.

From people trying to deal with pain after accidents to stressed college students, many use prescription drugs as the ultimate quick fix. The CDC also reports that the United States is facing an epidemic where these drugs are concerned.

Some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs, to this end, include the following:

1. Morphine

Morphine is a prescription painkiller. It is sold under such brand names as Avinza, Duramorph, DepoDur, Astramorph, and Kadian. All these medications contain morphine - a synthetic narcotic drug - as an active ingredient.

Doctors prescribe morphine to people suffering from moderate to severe pain. The dosing directions and the strength of the drug vary depending on the prescription that the medics write.

According to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), morphine has a short half-life and clocks in at around 1.5 to 7 hours. As a result, people who are addicted to this drug tend to binge on it, taking more to stay high.

2. Fentanyl

Fentanyl is another prescription painkiller that carries an addiction risk. It is sold under such brand names as Fentora, Actiq, and Duragesic, with Fentanyl being the most active ingredient in these types of medications.

Among other prescription narcotics, Fentanyl is quite powerful. As a result, doctors only prescribe it for patients suffering from the severe pain that hasn't responded to therapy. For instance, if you suffer from cancerous pain and Oxycontin doesn't work, it is highly likely that your medical team will transition you to Fentanyl.

The drug is also prescribed in the form of a patch or shot. However, abusers tend to take Fentanyl in the prescribed format, whereas some alter the dose to suit their requirements.

As a direct result, Fentanyl addicts tend to break the patches apart although they were designed for transdermal application. After that, they swallow or inject the get found inside.

NIDA reports that some dealers own clandestine laboratories where they manufacture Fentanyl so that they don't have to steal it or get it from official chemists.

3. Oxycontin

Oxycontin is also used to treat moderate to severe pain although there's no analgesic in it. The drug is purely made of oxycodone, which makes it a pure narcotic painkiller.

Doctors prescribe Oxycontin for patients suffering from serious pain that other medications and therapies have failed to address. Since the drug is designed for such severe pain, many manufacturing companies have developed extended release formats to ensure that the drug works to alleviate pain over a longer period.

According to the CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health), Oxycontin pills deliver relief for close to 12 hours. This is a great benefit for people suffering from such painful illnesses as cancer.

However, people who are addicted to Oxycontin will end up exploiting this function. They will either inject or sniff crushed pills to get the high they are looking for. This ensures that the full power of the drug hits them at a go, thereby overwhelming the brain with intense pleasure.

4. Percocet

Percocet is another opioid painkiller. It contains oxycodone as the main active ingredient. People who are addicted to this drug use in the same way as they would Oxycontin - by crushing it, and snorting or injecting it. Of course, this mode of application greatly raises the risk of an overdose.

The most common street names for Percocet are percs or Percodan.

5. Lortab

Lortab contains hydrocodone - an addictive opioid - and acetaminophen. The opioid formulation causes constipation and drowsiness among users. When a high dose of Lortab is taken, it can lead to dangerous breathing problems.

6. Vicodin

Vicodin is a prescription narcotic designed for treating moderate to severe pain. It contains both acetaminophen and hydrocodone. According to the IMS Health, Lortab is quite popular among other addictive prescription drugs. In fact, 131 million plus prescriptions are written out for the drug every year.

When it is taken orally, Vicodin changes will hit the brain slowly but surely. However, to get high, some users will crush the pills so that they can snort the powder. Others crush this drug and mix its powder with water before taking it intravenously. These methods of intake are dangerous, mostly because they allow Vicodin to enter the brain within minutes.

Although the acetaminophen component in Vicodin is not addictive, it is quite dangerous because it needs to be processed through the liver. As a direct result, people who take large doses on Vicodin on the regular end up damaging their livers - damage that sometimes causes death.

7. Ritalin

Ritalin is a prescription drug designed to treat ADHD. It contains amphetamine in different forms. According to CESAR, Ritalin is available in 20mg, 10mg, and 5mg tablets that dissolve easily in water for faster oral consumption. However, people who abuse Ritalin will usually crush the tablets and either snort or swallow the powder.

This prescription medication has a high potential for abuse. It delivers feelings of euphoria and improved focus. As a direct result, college students are highly prone to abusing Ritalin, because the drug is usually prescribed for young adults.

To this end, students abuse it when they need to work through the night or deal with highly focused tasks. Although the young adults assume that the drug is working for them, Ritalin is quite addictive. The addiction eventually zaps the user's ability to handle everyday tasks or even succeed in school.

Ritalin stimulates the central nervous system. It increases the levels of dopamine in the system, a hormone that improves attention in the brain. Like with any other stimulant, Ritalin is addictive and habit forming.

Ritalin - among other ADHD medications - are easily abused because they are widely available. In fact, doctors prescribed this and similar drugs over 29 million times in 2009. Today, these prescriptions have gone up.

8. Adderall

Adderall is a CNS stimulant used for the treatment of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). The drug contains amphetamine mixed with a couple of variants. As a direct result, people taking this drug to treat ADHD have a low tendency of abusing the drug. When they follow the instructions in the prescription to the latter, Adderall will deliver fast, effective relief.

However, Adderall is also seen as a cognitive enhancer among people who do not have ADHD. As a result, it is highly in demand which can be tempting for ADHD patients to sell their drugs.

Addicts typically crush Adderall to ensure that they get all of the benefits from the drug at a go. In the process, they get high faster and more effectively. However, pills with smaller doses are also valuable among addicts because users can easily take more pills to achieve the same effect.

9. Hydromorphone

Examples of brands that use Hydromorphone include Mallinckrodt and Johnson and Johnson. The drug is also available in the form of Hydromorphone hydrochloride ER and Hydromorphone hydrochloride (Pfizer, Allergan, and Hospira).

According to Evaluate, Hydromorphone achieved sales going over and beyond the $368 mark. This shows that the drug is readily available, making it easier for addicts to find someone to sell them their prescriptions.

That said, the drug was designed for use in the management of pain among patients who require an opioid analgesic.

10. Hydrocodone

Hydrocodone is another narcotic opioid painkiller. Extended release forms of the drug include Hysingla ER and Zohydro ER, which are used among patients to treat severe pain around the clock. These forms of Hydrocodone are not designed for use when and as required.

However, Hydrocodone is addictive as it is dangerous. When used excessively, it can slow down your breathing or stop it altogether. As such, users should never take the medication in large doses or longer than the doctor prescribed.

It is also dangerous to open, break, or crush the pill - which is what most addicts do while looking for a faster, more prolonged high. This exposes them to potentially fatal overdoses.

11. Roxicodone

Otherwise referred to as Roxycodone, Roxicodone is a popular narcotic painkiller. It works effectively because it dulls the pain perception centers in the brain. However, at higher doses, it also affects other body systems - including the circulatory and respiratory systems.

Used for the treatment of moderate to severe pain, Roxicodone is popular as a pre-surgery drug to sedate the patient as well as reduce their fear. The drug should, however, not be used to treat pain immediately after surgery unless the patient was already on Roxicodone before surgery.

The typical adult dose of this drug is 10 to 30mg administered every 4 hours. If you decide to crush and take Roxicodone, however, you will feel high faster and for longer. Still, this comes with the risk of a quick overdose - which might prove to be fatal.

12. Ambien

Ambien is a CNS depressant drug used to help patients suffering from short term insomnia. Zolpidem is the active ingredient in the drug, and it works by soothing electrical activity in the brain, which creates a sense of amnesia allowing the user to nod off and enter a dreamless and restful sleep.

However, some patients who have been prescribed Ambien will only feel euphoric after taking the drug, without the accompanying sleepiness or sedation. These patients carry a high risk of abusing the drug and becoming dependent on and addicted to it. Most abusers like Ambien because it allows them to feel relaxed and happy.

As a fast acting drug, Ambien is also relatively long lasting. This means that abusers are highly likely to overdose on it - especially if they take a new dose before the old one is out of the system.

13. Ultram

Last but not least is Ultram, a narcotic-like painkiller. This drug is used in the treatment of moderate to severe pain around the clock. However, Ultram should never be used as needed for treating pain.

Doctors also advise using Ultram if you recently used narcotic medications, MAO inhibitors, tranquilizers, sedatives, or alcohol. The drug is also dangerous for people with blocked intestines or stomach, or with severe breathing problems.

The tramadol in Ultram can slow down or stop your breathing. It is also quite addictive, and abuse might lead to overdose or even death - especially when used by people who do not have a prescription.

Treating Prescription Drug Addiction

As mentioned above, prescription drugs are commonly abused. In fact, they are only behind marijuana and alcohol and ahead of methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine in the chain of abuse.

However, since most addictions to prescription drugs start innocently, you need to be careful if you feel drawn to a particular medication. The earlier you act, the easier it will be for you to kick the habit before it destroys your life.

Where possible, you should be sure to follow the labeling on your prescription drugs. In the same way, you might want to only take the drugs in the prescribed dosage and manner. This is one of the best ways to prevent yourself from getting hooked to these medications.

The best solution for addiction is long term treatment. By undergoing rehabilitation and detoxification, you will return on the path to recovery faster and with fewer dangers to your health and well being.

More particularly, you will have to undergo medical detoxification to purge the drug from your system. Detoxification will also allow your mind to start thinking clearly so that you can redefine your life goals and start looking forward to a life free of prescription drug addiction.

After detoxification, you will receive the proper care based on the highly detailed assessment provided by the therapists and medical doctors at the rehabilitation facility you checked into. At the end of the day, you will be in a better position to recover from prescription drug addiction because your condition will be monitored by a qualified medical team.

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