Pill addiction can develop after a person has become physically or emotionally dependent on prescription drugs. This condition can happen unexpectedly, gradually over time, due to regular use, or it can occur due to misuse. Taking too much of the drug too often or using it illicitly without a prescription is considered abuse.
The continual use of certain drugs over a prolonged period or increasing the dosage often results in the development of tolerance. Tolerance is a physical condition characterized by diminishing effects following repeated exposure to a psychoactive substance and the person gradually needing ever-increasing amounts to achieve the sought-after experience.
In addition to tolerance, drug dependence can develop as the body adapts to a drug’s presence over time and eventually becomes unable to function normally without it. When the person attempts to quit, highly unpleasant and sometimes painful withdrawal symptoms manifest as a consequence.
Once a prescription drug addiction has fully developed, abuse becomes compulsive and challenging to overcome. Pill addiction can lead to adverse long-term consequences, including physical injury and mental health conditions, and it can also negatively impact interpersonal and professional relationships.
What Are Prescription Drugs?
Pill addiction can result from the abuse or misuse of any medication that cannot be legally sold without a licensed health provider’s written approval. Although prescription drugs require a doctor’s prescription to obtain, they can be misused and abused in several different ways, including the following:
- Obtaining them from family or friends who have a legitimate prescription
- Purchasing them illicitly from a dealer or online
- Taking excessive doses or more frequently than directed
- Doctor shopping—visiting multiple prescribers or pharmacies in an attempt to obtain more drugs
Commonly Abused Prescription Medications
Some prescription drugs are not misused as frequently as others due to the sought-after effects of each drug. Medications that relieve pain or anxiety or induce euphoria are more likely to be abused than most others. Psychoactive prescription medications are classified into specific categories based on their properties.
Opioids are prescription painkillers that attach to opioid receptors in the brain and body’s central nervous system (CNS) and work to alter the individual’s perception of pain positively.
Opioids are known to have a high potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction. For this reason and others, they require a prescription to use and are not included in over-the-counter products. Also, in response to the opioid crisis and pressure to restrict opioid prescriptions, prescribers tend to limit many of these drugs and dosages to just a few days, if possible.
Some of the most commonly prescribed opioid medications include the following:
- Hydrocodone (Norco, Lortab, Vicodin)
- Morphine (MS Contin)
- Fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic)
- Codeine (Tylenol 3 and 4)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
- Methadone (Dolphine)
- Meperidine (Demerol)
- Propoxyphene (Darvon)
- Diphenoxylate (Lomotil)
When used as directed by a health provider, opioids can be highly effective at relieving pain. Their use can improve the quality of life for those who suffer from acute or chronic pain, including following injury, surgery, and during cancer treatment or for end-of-life care.
However, tolerance and dependence on opioids can develop rapidly, and pill addiction can emerge within just a couple of weeks of regular use. If an individual increases a dose too much, they may experience severe complications and be at high risk for profound respiratory depression, overdose, and death.
Stimulant drugs are usually prescribed to patients who have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) or stubborn obesity. In individuals who have a legitimate medical need, these medications can increase energy and promote concentration and alertness. They can also increase blood pressure and suppress appetite.
These medications are usually ingested orally in pill form, but some can be consumed orally as a liquid or administered through a transdermal patch. Stimulants vary on the duration of time they are effective and include three broad categories: short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting.
Among the most common short-acting stimulant prescription medications include Adderall, Ritalin, Dexedrine, Focalin, and ProCentra.
Intermediate-acting stimulants last longer than short-acting stimulants but still require a regular dosage to work correctly. The most common of these include Metalin ER (extended-release), Methylin ER, and Ritalin SR.
Long-acting stimulants do not typically require a regular dosage and can remain effective for hours or even days while improving a patient’s alertness and attention capabilities. Some of the most common of these include Adderall XR, Concerta, Focalin XR, Metadate CD, Ritalin LA (long-acting), and Vyvanse.
Central nervous system (CNS) depressants depress activity in the brain and body and include prescription medications in categories such as hypnotics, sedatives, or tranquilizers. Most depressants work to reduce CNS activity by upregulating the release of the brain neurochemical GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).
As a result, individuals will experience pleasant feelings of relaxation and drowsiness. CNS Depressants are frequently prescribed to persons suffering from acute anxiety and panic disorders or insomnia.
The most commonly prescribed CNS depressants include benzodiazepines (benzos), barbiturates, and non-benzo sleep aids.
Benzos include name-brand drugs, such as Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, and Xanax. These medications are often prescribed to treat severe anxiety and panic attacks. If used long-term, however, many individuals will develop dependence and addiction.
Non-benzodiazepine insomnia medications include the brand names Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata. These medications affect the same receptors as benzos but have a lower potential for abuse and dependence.
Barbiturates include less-commonly prescribed, such as phenobarbital sodium (Luminal) and pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal). These drugs have been shown to have a much higher potential for overdose and are therefore not often a prescriber’s go-to for sleep issues or anxiety.
Antipsychotics are prescription drugs that treat psychological conditions, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or Tourette’s syndrome. Common antipsychotics include haloperidol (Haldol), quetiapine (Seroquel), and risperidone (Risperdal).
Other Pain Medications
There have been multiple reports of patients developing addictions to non-opioid pain medications, such as Lyrica and Neurontin. These drugs are usually prescribed to treat specific pain-relieving conditions, such as neuropathy, epilepsy, and fibromyalgia.
Prescription Drug Abuse
Most pill addiction results from misuse or abuse of opioids, benzos, or stimulants. Some are more vulnerable than others to developing an addiction, and this is related to several factors, such as the following:
- Height, weight, and sex
- ]Having a family history of drug or alcohol abuse
- The drug in which they are currently using or abusing
- If the person is treating a psychiatric disorder or acute or chronic pain
- Past or current dependencies or addictions to other substances
- The incurrence of peer pressure or living in an environment where drug use or alcohol use is accepted or encouraged
- Having easy access to prescription drugs, such as having prescription medications in the home
- Route of administration (e.g., crushing pills and snorting the remainder can accelerate addiction)
It is important to note that regardless of an individual’s risk factors, anyone can become dependent on habit-forming prescription drugs over time if they misuse or even use them as directed for a prolonged period.
Getting Treatment for Pill Addiction
Prescription drug addiction can be detrimental to an individual’s health and well-being to the point of becoming life-threatening. Those who are suffering should seek treatment as soon as possible on an inpatient or intensive outpatient basis.
Just Believe Recovery offers a comprehensive, research-based approach to addiction, comprised of vital therapeutic services, such as psychotherapy, counseling, psychoeducation, relapse prevention, and group support. We provide those we treat with the education, tools, resources, and support they need to achieve sobriety and experience the health and and happiness they deserve.