Most individuals who go to the doctor and are prescribed a medication follow the directions of the physician, use the medication as directed, and stop the medication at the appropriate time. Some people, however, discover that the prescription medication they were prescribed causes them to experience pleasant feelings that they do not want to give up. These individuals may find that they crave the effects of the prescription drug and begin to use it in a manner in which it was not prescribed. This is called prescription drug abuse. The most common prescription drugs of abuse include opioid painkillers, anti-anxiety agents, sedatives, as well as stimulants.
Opioid painkillers (narcotics) like OxyContin – which contain oxycodone, and those containing hydrocodone (Norco) are used to manage chronic pain and may be abused in order to obtain the high caused by these drugs.
Anti-anxiety agents and sedatives such as benzodiazepines and hypnotics such as Ambien are used to manage anxiety and promote sleep. These medications can also induce feelings of pleasure in the user, leading to abuse and addiction.
Stimulants such as Ritalin are used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy and provide the user with increased energy and concentration. Abuse of stimulants is especially prevalent among the younger generation to succeed academically.
Prescription drugs are abused for a variety of reasons such as intense well-being, relaxation and stress relief, to lose weight, to increase alertness, peer pressure, prevention of withdrawal, and increased work or scholastic performance. Unfortunately, abusing prescription drugs can cause an incredible amount of interpersonal and health-related problems for the addict. This is only compounded when prescription drugs are combined with other drugs of abuse, such as alcohol and street drugs.
Many individuals operate on the erroneous assumption that because these medications are prescribed by a doctor and approved by the FDA, they are safer than street drugs. This could not be further from the truth, especially as tolerance develops and individuals must take more of the medication to obtain the same high.
Prescription drug abuse is an increasing problem in the United States. While prescription drug abuse affects all age groups, it is most common among younger individuals. Early identification and intervention of prescription drug addiction may prevent more problematic behaviors.
Many individuals who struggle with prescription drug addiction have an underlying mental illness. These mental illnesses include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Conduct disorders
- Antisocial personality disorder
- Other substance abuse
It’s estimated that 20% of individuals in the United States have used prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes, thereby engaging in prescription drug abuse. Prescription drug addiction is a very serious and growing problem in the US.
Researchers thus far have been unable to determine an exact reason for the development of addiction. It’s generally considered to be a multifactorial disorder with multiple factors interplaying to create the addiction. These factors include:
Genetic: Individuals who are born into a family in which a first-degree relative struggles with addiction to prescription drug or other substances are at higher risks for developing an addiction later in their lives.
Biological: Individuals who become addicted to prescription drugs are often prescribed medication for a biological condition – such as pain disorders – and become addicted to the pleasant side effects.
Environmental: Children who grow up in unruly households where addiction runs rampant may be at greater risk for developing an addiction later in life. Additionally, individuals who begin to abuse drugs at an earlier age run the risk of developing full-blown addiction at some point in their lifetime.
Psychological: Many individuals who struggle with untreated mental illnesses attempt to manage the symptomatology through “self-medication” with drugs or alcohol. This can clearly lead to addiction.
The symptoms of prescription drug addiction will vary among those who abuse these drugs. Symptoms of abuse of each type of widely abused prescription medication include:
- Impaired coordination
- Respiratory depression
Sedatives and Anxiolytics:
- Unsteady gait
- Impaired judgment
- Weight loss
- Irritability and agitation
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- Impulsive and reckless behaviors
Other common symptoms of prescription drug abuse include:
- Mood swings
- Forging prescriptions for the drug of choice
- Increased or decreased need for sleep
- Poor decision-making abilities
- Appearing to be high – unusually energetic or lethargic
- Stealing or borrowing prescription medication from loved ones and friends
- Stealing prescription drugs from the pharmacy
- Various trips to the hospital for vague ailments seeking more of the drug
- Strained interpersonal relationships
- Buying prescription drugs off the internet
- “Doctor shopping” or going to many doctors for additional prescriptions
- Becoming irate when the prescription medication runs out
- Buying prescription drugs from the street
- Financial problems
- Poor scholastic or occupational functioning
- Legal problems – DUI, DWI, prescription forgery
- Taking the drug in higher and higher quantities
- Taking a medication to get high
- Taking a drug for a nonmedical purpose
- Excessive sweating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tolerance – needing more and more of the drug than prescribed initially to obtain the same effects
- Dependence – body goes into withdrawal when prescription medication is abruptly ceased
- Panic attacks
The long-term effects of prescription drug addiction can lead to devastating consequences in every aspect of an individual’s life. Some of the effects of prescription drug abuse include the following:
- Hyper or hypotension
- Respiratory depression
- Extremely dangerous fevers
- Consequences of risky behaviors
- Crumbled interpersonal relationships
- Liver damage
- Brain damage
- Kidney damage
- Circulatory system irregularities
Effects of Withdrawal
The effects of withdrawal from prescription drug addiction will vary according to the drug of abuse. Withdrawal from addiction to prescription drugs should always be performed under the careful guidance of a trained physician to avoid the risks for serious complications. The most common side effects for the most commonly abused drugs are:
- Agitation and anxiety
- Runny eyes and nose
- Muscle aches
- Chills and goosebumps
- Abdominal cramping
- Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
Anxiolytic and Sedatives: Anti-anxiety agents should never be abruptly discontinued without the supervision of a medical doctor to prevent serious complications. Common withdrawal effects include:
- Increased anxiety
- Shaking and tremors
- Confusion and “brain fog”
- Excessive sweating
- Extremely high body core temperatures
- Extreme moods
- Personality and behavioral changes
- Health-related complications
- Anxiety and irritability