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Article Summary

Prescription Drug Addiction

In spite of the fact that drugs can be prescribed by a medical doctor, rather than purchased from an illegal drug dealer, addiction to them can still occur potentially. Usually the drugs that are habit forming and that can eventually lead to addiction, are those that are prescribed for medical conditions that cause significant pain or those that offer a degree of sedation for those who suffer from chronic stress, anxiety disorders or types of depression (i.e. bipolar depression with manic episodes, etc...). In these cases, patients may begin to seek increasing levels of the pain-relief or sedation, that these medications provide by taking unauthorized higher doses of them and by taking them more frequently than allowed by their prescriptions. These are signs that addiction has begun and that the patient may be facing serious problems if it is not brought under control.

The fact is that medications that are prescribed, have set dosing instructions and refill allowances that a patient should not exceed and medical doctors should carefully monitor their medication intake. When a patient runs out of their prescribed drug much sooner than allowed or when they request frequent dose-increases, this should send up a red flag to their doctor. It should also be understood however, that patients do request dose-increases due to a legitimate need for them and so when this occurs regarding pain relievers or with as-needed anti-anxiety drugs, a judgment call must be made by the treating doctor as to whether this indicates a trend toward addiction or if a patient is in sincere need for an increase in their dose to control medical symptoms.

Even when addictive behaviors are suspected by a doctor, they should never abruptly stop a patient's medication but should begin a structured plan to wean them off of it and to start them on a replacement drug trial, that presents less of a danger to them for eventual addiction.

Drugs that can cause addiction

The following two categories of prescription drugs, all have their purposes and many are prescribed for short-term use, while others may be required long-term or even life-long. While there are very large numbers of prescribed medications that patients can become dependent on, those that cause actual addiction most often are the ones that will be listed under the two subheadings below.

Pain Relievers:

  • Vicodin
  • OxyContin
  • Demerol
  • Percocet
  • Darvocet (discontinued in most areas)
  • Lortab


  • Xanax
  • Tranxene
  • Valium
  • Paxipam
  • Ativan
  • Serax
  • Centrax
  • Doral
  • Klonopin

This list is only a sampling of major drug brands within these categories and the actual lists that cover all brands and types is obviously much larger.

Prescription drugs addiction - What signs to look for?

If you suspect that your loved one is abusing prescription pills, but aren't sure, then there are things to look for, indicators which are facets of a prescription pill addict's daily activities. For instance, many people who abuse OxyContin carry around pill crushers so they can break the delayed release coating on the outside of the pill. This lets them feel the effects of 12 hours worth of medication at one time. Many people have died because of this very thing.

If a person has a legitimate prescription for narcotics, and runs out of medication before the projected date, then chances are that they are abusing the medicine. A favorite excuse is to say that they got stolen, or that you are going on vacation and need the next refill early. Many addicts are amazed that other addicts use the same trick! They will also know how to manipulate a doctor into giving them the specific drug that they want. A common lie is to say that they are allergic to drugs other than the one they are after.


Once people are addicted to the drugs, their appearance will start to gradually deteriorate. It is hard to notice the change in someone when you live with them day in and day out. Their overall attention to hygiene often decreases. Their teeth might show signs of deterioration, even if they do their best to take care of them. Opiates change the chemical composition of saliva, which then leads to tooth plaque, cavities, abscesses, and so on.

Another symptom of painkiller addiction is mood swings. When an addict is high, their mood is great, but when they come down, they become extremely irritated and angry. It is the body's reaction to the erratic levels of brain chemicals induced by the abuse of the drug. The addict will exhibit extreme levels of mood at both ends of the spectrum.

Loss of interest in activities that were important to them in the past is another red flag that you should look out for. Sports, hobbies, academics, and other activities are all things that an addict will abandon once their addiction progresses to a certain point. They will lose motivation for just about everything, except for getting drugs, or money for drugs.

Different Types of Treatment

Detoxification (Detox)

Detox serves 2 purposes: 1) it safely, physically withdraws the person from the drug they are addicted to in a clinical setting. They typically use medication such as Methadone or light sedatives to make the patient more comfortable throughout the process. This typically takes about 7 days. 2) it gives the patient a few options to continue treatment in a set of whatever facilities that are located in his area.

Rehabilitation (Rehab)

Rehab is typically 28 days of in-patient treatment or often longer. Sometimes private insurance companies can help defray the costs of such treatment. Other types of payment assistance may also be offered. Check with each specific facility to find out what assistance they may offer.

12 Step Programs

Do meetings like AA and NA really work? Yes, they can. It doesn't work for everyone, but nothing does. The meetings are filled with people who want to help and guide new addicts. It is more of a way of life then it is a program. A person can go to meetings nearly every night of the week if they so choose.

Methadone Maintenance Therapy (MMT)

MMT is a clinic setting where opiate addicts go and receive medication (methadone) daily. Methadone is also a very strong opiate, but when taken in a maintenance role it has shown to reduce harm in severely addicted individuals.

Drug Replacement Therapies

These are the same idea as methadone except they use different drugs and the treatment length is much shorter. Drug replacement therapies involve the use of drugs like Buprenorphine, Suboxone, and Naltrexone to curb the majority of withdrawal symptoms, and then the patient is tapered off the therapy drug itself.

Addiction permeates itself into every aspect of the addict's life, including his family. Conquering the chemical addiction is only one facet of the problem. Learning how to live life on life's terms is altogether something else. It can be done, but it never IS done. The journey of recovery is a lifelong process. Don't expect too much from your loved one too soon. Be thankful for every little accomplishment

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