Do You Have An Addiction To Prescription Drugs? Signs & Facts You Need To Know
According to recent research, anti-anxiety medications and painkillers are among the purchased prescription drugs in the U.S. However, these drugs can cause tolerance and dependency, and addiction can develop if used for long periods of time.
When tolerance occurs, more and more of the drug is needed to achieve the same effect. This can lead to people taking more of the drug than they can safely be prescribed, and can result in an overdose. When dependency occurs, terrible withdrawal effects discourage people from discontinuing or reducing dosage, even if they want to.
Painkillers, especially, can be very hard to kick once you are addicted. They were not originally intended to be used for chronic pain in most cases – only acute pain, for short periods of time after an injury or surgery. Exceptions include special circumstances, such as cancer and palliative care.
If you’ve developed an addiction to prescription drugs, however, you are by far not alone. It can happen to anyone, even people who have never before struggled with substance abuse or addiction.
Prescription drugs are the third most commonly abused category, right behind alcohol and marijuana. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 20 persons in the U.S. reported abusing prescription drugs in the past year.
Do you think that you or someone close to you might have an addiction to prescription drugs? Here are some signs to watch out for.
Changes in Behavior
Changes in behavior will occur with any type of addiction. It’s different for everyone, but is usually noticeable to someone. New behaviors may include excessive sleeping, sudden over-activity, and neglecting usual social activities or hobbies. The new behavior is simply different and unusual from past behavior, and often feels as if it’s a negative change in some way.
Attempts To Wean or Stop Have Failed
Often, an early sign of addiction is seen when the person using the prescription drug tries to wean themselves off (or quit entirely) and are unable to do so. This usually occurs with medication that has the potential for dependency.
Daily use of prescription drugs that leave you unable to function without them is a huge sign of dependency. Many people recognize this fact, and try to quit. When they do, they are bombarded with withdrawal effects that discourage them from keeping on that track.
Overuse of the Drug
This is one effect of tolerance that I mentioned earlier – the person begins using more and more of the drug, more so that is actually prescribed to them. They end up running out early, and then try to obtain the drug using other methods.
This includes buying prescription or illicit drugs from someone else, or using manipulative tactics to get their doctor to prescribe more medication. Some people resort to doctor-shopping, in which they try to obtain the similar or the same prescription from more than one physician.
Myths and Facts
Myth #1 – Prescription drug addition is not harmful, or is not as dangerous as other addictions.
This is incredibly false. Thousands of people die every year from prescription drug overdoses – more so than any other drugs, except for perhaps heroin and related opioids. In addition, many prescription drugs are not abuse-resistant, and can be crushed, snorted, and injected for faster, more intense effects.
Painkillers themselves may also contribute to chronic conditions, such as hyperalgesia and constipation. Hyperalgesia is a condition in which the person becomes more sensitive to pain, and thus, feels more pain.
Make no mistake, an addiction to opioids and/or benzodiazepines can be very dangerous – especially when these drugs are prescribed and used in combination with each other. The effects of each can be amplified by the other.
Myth #2 – Painkillers are the only really addictive drugs.
Also false. Benzodiazepines, or anti-anxiety drugs can be highly addictive and have a high potential for abuse. In addition, ADHD medications, such as Adderall or Ritalin can be abused dangerously. Even antidepressants, such as SSRIs can cause dependence, and be dangerous if used in combination with certain drugs, namely other central nervous system depressants.
Myth #3 – You can trust your doctor to just inform you about the facts and risks.
Again, false. You have to ask questions. Many doctors and psychiatrists have over-prescribed medications, especially painkillers. In addition, they’ve been known to prescribe patients with multiple central nervous system depressants, such as a combination of opioids, benzodiazepines, and tranquilizers.
Sometimes doctors don’t even know all of the risks involved. Currently, most are not required to update their education on opioid painkillers and other addictive drugs. Talking to pharmacists and/or doing your own armchair research is highly recommended.
The good news is, if you are suffering from an addiction to prescription drugs, there is help available. While addiction tends to be a chronic condition, it can be treated in a similar manner as other addictions, such as illicit drug abuse and alcoholism – through interventions such counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and medication-assisted treatment.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology