Prescription medications are any drug regulated by law to require a doctor’s prescription before it can be obtained. The danger with prescription drugs is that many people believe that if a substance is legally prescribed by a physician, they can’t become addicted and the medication won’t cause serious harm. When someone uses medication in a way not intended by a doctor or they do not have a valid prescription for the medication, this is considered prescription drug abuse. Prescription addiction can come about in a variety of different ways. Some individuals use to achieve pleasurable sensations, while others may have been taking a medication for legitimate conditions and no longer believe that they can function without it, even though it is no longer needed.
While most individuals take their medications – even highly addictive ones – in the manner in which the physician intended, there are a subset of individuals who abuse prescription medications. This has, unfortunately, deterred a number of individuals who would have otherwise sought treatment to fear medications and physicians have become afraid to prescribe prescription medication for even valid medical reasons. Prescription drug abuse can be extremely difficult to overcome without proper professional treatment, and is a growing problem in the United States.
Benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Ativan are some of the most highly addicted and abused substances that require a prescription to obtain. These drugs are intended to act for a set amount time on certain chemicals in the brain to reduce feelings of anxiety and manage seizure disorders. Unfortunately, many individuals find that the pleasure-inducing effects of the drug addictive and begin to take more and more benzos to feel better and better.
Opiate narcotics are used primarily to manage pain in individuals suffering from both acute and chronic pain. While the formulations of opioids do differ, in addition to analgesic properties, these narcotics provide users with an all-over feeling of euphoria and happiness, making them highly addictive and easily diverted.
Stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin have been used to manage ADHD and narcolepsy. Certain individuals enjoy the sense of energy and increased self-esteem these drugs provide and use them for nonmedical purposes.
The prevalence rate for prescription drug abuse in adults in the U.S. are estimated to be over 2.7%. The most commonly abused prescription drugs are stimulants, tranquilizers/sedatives, and opiates. Over 8% of high school seniors reported taking Vicodin while over 5% reported using Oxycodone for nonmedical purposes.
Some common co-occurring disorders found with prescription addiction:
- Depressive disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Somatization Disorders
- Additional substance abuse disorders
- Conduct disorder
A high number of prescription medications are diverted for nonmedical purposes. Determining an exact cause for addiction development is difficult, if not impossible. There are certain factors that may shed light on the development of addiction and it is likely that these factors do work together to create an atmosphere of addiction. These factors include:
Genetic: It has been shown that individuals who have relatives with addiction problems are more likely to develop addictions themselves. This may be the result of temperament passed down through family members or specific genes working together.
Brain Chemistry: Substance abuse disorders are the result of the drugs effect on the reward system of the brain. Prescription drugs mimic the actions of naturally-occurring neurotransmitters in the brain, creating a false sense of energy, happiness, or wellbeing. The longer substances are abused the more it interferes with our body’s ability to create these chemicals on its own. When we are no longer able to natural produce these chemicals, prescription abuse is continued to achieve those pleasurable feelings.
Environmental: Many times individuals use prescription medications to deal with the daily stressors of life. They have turned to substance abuse because this is the only coping mechanism they know. Additionally, they may have grown up in an environment where substance abuse was an acceptable behavior and an appropriate means of handling emotional pain.
Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse
There are a variety of signs and symptoms that may indicate the use and abuse of prescription medication. However, the actual symptoms will depend upon the type of medication used. Some symptoms that are common to all abused substances include:
- Stealing medications
- “Doctor shopping”
- Frequent trips to the ER with various somatic complaints
- Selling medication for money
- Mood swings
- Irritability and hostility
- Anger or angry outbursts
- Forging prescriptions
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Poor judgment
- Difficulty making decisions
- Reporting prescriptions lost or stolen
- Stealing or other illegal behavior
- Inconsistent answers to questions posed by physicians and family members about prescription usage
The effects of prescription drug vary depending on the type of medication, however there are some common effects for all types of substance abuse. These effects include:
- Legal problems
- Relationship problems
- Employment problems or loss of job
- Psychological issues
- Negative health consequences
Physical withdrawal symptoms differ significantly by type of prescription medication that is used, how much is consumed, the period of time used, and the degree to which an individual is addicted. Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Decreased self-esteem
- Decreased self-confidence
- Shakes and tremors
- Bone and muscle pain
- Vomiting and nausea
- Racing thoughts