Prescription drug abuse is a serious and growing health concern in the Unites States. It is described as the intentional or unintentional misuse of medication either without a prescription, in a way other than prescribed, or as a means to get high. Recent national surveys suggest that prescription drugs are the second most abused drugs by illicit drug users after marijuana. Unfortunately, the consequences associated with prescription drug abuse are only getting worse as evidenced by the increase in ER visits, treatment admissions and deaths due to overdose.
There are three main categories of prescription drugs. These include:
- Opioids: These highly addictive medications are used to treat moderate to severe pain.
- Depressants: Central nervous system (CNS) depressants are drugs that are prescribed to treat anxiety and sleeping disorders.
- Stimulants: These prescription medications are prescribed mainly to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, and sometimes for depression.
While prescription medications can be purchased illegally for recreational purposes, many become hooked on these drugs through a legitimate prescription. The majority of these drugs are only meant to be taken over a short period of time, but their addictive properties often lead to abuse and addiction.
Opioids are mainly prescribed for pain management. They work by inhibiting pain receptors in the brain, therefore, decreasing the physical pain felt by the person. Apart from reducing pain, opioids also produce drowsiness, nausea, confusion, and slowed breathing, depending on the amount consumed. Some may experience a sens of calm, relaxation, and even euphoria when taking pain killers. These drugs have a high potential for abuse, and can easily cause dependence and addiction, which causes users to need the drug in order to function, as well as withdrawal symptoms when use is discontinued.
Common prescription opioids include:
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
Depressants, also known as sedative, are typically prescribed for the treatment of anxiety disorders, as well as sleeping problems. Much like opioids, sedatives are not meant to be taken for extended length of time as they too can lead to tolerance, dependence and addiction. These drugs essentially work as tranquilizers that help to slow brain activity and produce of sense of calm. Users can easily become tolerant as they take more of the drug and feel the need to continue consuming it in order to feel its original effects. Withdrawal from some of these medications can cause seizures ans other life-threatening complications.
Common prescription sedatives include:
- Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Klonopin)
- Non-benzodiazepine sleep meds (Ambien, Lunesta)
- Barbituates (Mebaral, Luminal Sodium, Nembutal)
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Stimulants are used to increase attention, alertness and energy. They are mainly prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD, narcolepsy, and in some cases, depression. Stimulants increase the production of dopamine in the body, causing many to feel euphoria when they are taken for non-medical reasons. Although these drugs may be beneficial for some, they have a high potential for abuse and dependence, and they can cause elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, blood sugar increase and constricted blood vessels.
Common prescription stimulants include:
Prescription drug abuse can be hard to detect in those who suffer from a preexisting condition or a history of pain they can use as an excuse for their behavior. The common ways people can abuse prescription drugs include: taking larger doses than prescribed, mixing medications, using someone else’s medication, and administering the drug in a different way than it was intended.
Every prescription medication has a different side effect, but some of the common symptoms of prescription drug abuse abuse include:
The danger of prescription drugs is that they can be highly addictive, and change the chemical structure of the brain. As a result, they pose an alarming and serious threat to users, making them vulnerable to addiction and overdose events.
Addiction to prescription drugs, especially painkillers is unfortunately, a growing health crisis in the United States. In order to effectively treat a prescription drug addiction, a comprehensive and customized rehab plan is required. Those who are addicted to prescription drugs are also susceptible to other addictions, and usually require residential rehabilitation.
Addiction often requires a medically supervised detox protocol that will allow the patient to slowly and safely be weaned off the addictive substance. Once detox is complete, both traditional and alternative or holistic therapies are administered in order to help address the root cause of addiction, as well as the behavioral and emotional aspects of the disease. Through relapse prevention and aftercare services, recovering addicts are able to learn new and healthier coping skills they can apply to their daily lives.
- Abuse, N. I. (n.d.). What is the scope of prescription drug misuse? Retrieved August 30, 2016, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/what-scope-prescription-drug-misuse
- Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health [PDF]. (2015, September). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings [PDF]. (2014, September). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Last updated on July 19th, 2017 at 08:00 pm