Prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic levels not only in the United States but in…
Prescription Drug Addiction
Prescription drug addiction is a growing problem in the United States. Recent surveys suggest that the number of individuals abusing drugs prescribed by a doctor is greater than those using any kind of illegal drug, with the exception of marijuana. And while prescription (also known as Rx) drugs are intended to treat illness or to help manage pain following an injury or surgery, when used in the wrong way or in excess, the consequences can be extremely serious.
What Is Prescription Drug Abuse and Why are They Abused?
Prescription drug abuse is the use of any prescription medication for a purpose other than for which it was prescribed, for the feelings or experience that result from the medication. Use of a medication without a prescription can also be considered prescription drug abuse.
Prescription drugs can be as addictive as illicit drugs, and people who begin to use prescription medication recreationally may develop a dependency. Occasionally, individuals who began taking drugs for legitimate medical purposes may also develop addictions. Although physicians may do their best to prevent addiction and drug-seeking behavior, it does happen. Former First Lady Betty Ford and actress Jamie Lee Curtis are two famous examples of individuals who developed pain-killer addictions following surgery and legitimate prescriptions.
Many people believe prescription drugs to be benign, and do not understand the risk for addiction or complications. As a result, many people who would never consider using illicit drugs are still at risk for prescription drug addiction.
What Kinds of Prescription Drugs are Abused?
The most commonly abused Rx drugs are stimulants, opioids, and central nervous system (CNS) depressants. Stimulants are medications used to treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), opioids are used for pain treatment, and depressants are generally prescribed to treat sleep or anxiety disorders.
Stimulants animate the circulatory and respiratory systems of the human body, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. This stimulation has the result of increasing energy and alertness, and helping the brain to focus. Stimulants are most frequently used to treat ADHD or narcolepsy, although in the past they have been used to treat everything from obesity to asthma.
When the abuse and addiction potential of stimulants became apparent, doctors began to prescribe them for a more limited range of disorders. Even so, stimulant abuse has become as significant a problem as the short-term physical and cognitive benefits of stimulants became common knowledge.
When no medical condition is present, stimulant use can lead to feelings of euphoria due to an increase in dopamine. Stimulants have also become popular with athletes, students, academics, doctors, and other individuals to take advantage of the increase in energy and focus that the drugs can produce.
Any potentially addictive drug can lead to painful withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking the drug. Addiction can also lead to financial and legal complications as dependents are compelled to pursue their drug at all costs. In addition, stimulant abuse can lead to hostility, paranoia, psychosis, elevated body temperature, or an irregular heartbeat. Nonmedical use of stimulants can even lead to seizures or cardiovascular failure.
Opioids are a class of drugs that are generally prescribed to treat pain. Examples of opioids are hydrocodone (best-known by the brand name Vicodin), oxycodone, and morphine. Opioids are commonly prescribed to alleviate severe pain connected with surgery, but generally not prescribed for less severe long-term pain management because of the potential for addiction.
In addiction to pain relief, some people experience feelings of euphoria from taking opioid medications. Some attempt to intensify those feelings or pain relief by increasing their intake, or by snorting or injecting the drug. These behaviors greatly increase an individual’s risk of an overdose. If opioids are used incorrectly with other medications, they may also trigger potentially fatal respiratory depression.
CNS Depressant Abuse
As the name suggests, CNS depressants depress the nervous system, leading to a slowing of brain activity. These medications are useful for treating anxiety and sleep disorders, and the most common types of drugs in this category are benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine sleep aids, and barbiturates. CNS depressants are also commonly referred to as tranquilizers or sedatives for their effects on the nervous system.
Barbiturates and benzodiazepines can cause drowsiness and lack of physical coordination when patients first begin to take them. The body also grows accustomed to the effects of these medications over time, necessitating higher and higher doses in order to achieve the same results. As a result, physical dependency is a real risk. Rebound effects or withdrawal from these medications, particularly barbiturates, can be very serious and potentially even life-threatening.
If you (or someone you love) have/has developed an addiction to prescription drugs, or are uncertain if you have, it is imperative that you seek professional help immediately.