While prescription drugs certainly have their place in the treatment of ailments and chronic conditions, they do not come without their potential risks. Most of us intend to take prescription drugs only for the conditions that they are intended to treat. However, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 48 million people ages 12 and up have used prescription drugs for something other than what they were intended to treat. This amounts to a staggering 20% of the population!
In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the number of emergency room visits due to accidental overdose of prescription drugs. Prescription drug use and abuse are at an all-time high; for the first time ever, more people are entering treatment for addiction to prescription drugs than recreational drugs. It is clear that something must be done to change how we view these substances and how we choose to use them.
Addiction: A Clear Picture
Addiction is a chronic brain condition that causes someone to become dependent on a substance and its perceived effects on the body and mind. An addicted person seeks a “high”, or an escape from their reality, that makes them feel temporarily better. Over time, the amount of the addictive substance needed grows greater and greater as the body learns to assimilate this substance. Abuse of all drugs, both recreational and prescription, have the capability to become deadly agents of overdose due to the larger quantities needed to produce the same high. When it becomes known that a substance has made daily life functions difficult or impossible to perform, then intervention and treatment are needed.
Prescription Drugs Prone to Abuse
Three types of prescription drugs that are commonly abused are:
- Opioids which are used to treat pain
- Central nervous system depressants such as Xanax, Valium and Antivan
- Stimulants and amphetamines that provide a high, euphoric feeling
Opioids have increased in popularity due to the increasing numbers of people reporting widespread or chronic pain. Drugs in this class to watch for are Fentanyl, Oxycodone, and Hydrocodone. When taken appropriately, they can provide some much-needed relief for people trying to improve their quality of life, though they live with chronic pain. Opioids are intended for short-term relief, however, as long-term use can quickly become addictive. Mixing opioids with depressants such as alcohol and barbiturates is a recipe for disaster, as this mixture is deadly.
Central Nervous System depressants are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, as they have a calming, relaxing effect on the nervous system. They also lower brain activity, which can make you drowsy or calm. The danger of CNS depressants is that, over time, you need larger and larger quantities of the drug to produce the same calming effect. Use of these drugs in combination with other sedatives can slow your breathing and heart rate, causing dangerous drops in vitals and ultimately, death.
Stimulants have the opposite effect on the body; they speed up all systems, especially affecting the respiratory system and heart. They are effective in treating asthma, obesity, ADD, ADHD, and a number of other conditions. When abused, stimulants can cause the heart to race as blood vessels constrict, causing cardiovascular distress. Higher and higher doses are needed to achieve that high, and cardiac arrest can result.
Why Prescription Drug Use Is on The Rise
It is thought that because prescription drugs are easier to use and obtain, these factors are contributing to their increasing abuse. Doctors are writing more prescriptions for painkillers, stimulants, and depressants now than ever before, and teenagers have easy access to these drugs straight from their parents’ medicine cabinets. A scary trend taking place in teen circles these days is something called the “prescription party”, where teens gather, mix all the prescription drugs they can find in a bowl, and they help themselves to this dangerous cocktail, hoping for a high. The reality is, they have no idea what they are taking or what harmful effects it can have on their bodies; this roulette has contributed to emergency room visits and death quite often. Concerned citizens are now calling for more stringent control standards and laws that can help to regulate and slow the trend of prescription drug abuse.
Why Are Some People More Prone to Addiction?
Biology, social environment, and stage of growth are all factors that can influence addiction. If there is a history of addictive family behavior, it is likely that this is due to genetics; a person who has this history can be more prone to addiction. In addition, if a person has been exposed to a culture of abuse in their social environment, or if they are younger, they are more likely to fall victim to addiction when exposed to opportunities to use and abuse prescription drugs.
When the Line Has Been Crossed
If you find yourself “needing” your prescriptions more frequently than you normally would, or if you are having to take larger and larger doses to achieve the same result, then it is likely that you are forming a dependence on the drug. Talk to your doctor and seek help for dependence; the earlier you recognize and acknowledge that there is a problem, the more likely that you will be able to find the help that you need.
Realizing that you need treatment for prescription drug abuse is a scary time for anyone. If you are one who struggles with addiction and dependence, seek treatment immediately, and be honest and upfront with friends and loved ones. They will stand beside you as you go through the process of withdrawal and recovery, ready to embrace a new and healthy life on the other side.
To learn more about prescription drug addiction, please visit The Recovery Village.