Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction: An Overview

Prescription drug abuse and addiction is a growing problem in the United States, yet it often goes unnoticed or unaddressed. Unlike other forms of substance abuse and addiction, prescription drug misuse can easily go undetected as these medications are legally obtained and commonly prescribed by doctors. However, the consequences of this addiction are just as serious as any other form of drug addiction.

The Difference Between Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction

The abuse or misuse of prescription drugs refers to using prescription medications in ways that are not recommended by the prescribing physician. Misuse can range from taking more of the medication than prescribed or taking it more often, borrowing a painkiller from a friend, crushing pills and snorting the powder, or diluting the powder with water and injecting it in an attempt to achieve a rush or high. 

This kind of substance abuse often develops into a chronic, obsessive habit and addiction. Prescription drug addiction occurs when an individual becomes dependent on prescribed medication. They feel an uncontrollable urge to use the drug despite negative consequences and experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using it.

Which Prescription Medications Are Most Commonly Misused?

According to WebMD, three classes of prescription drugs are frequently abused: opioids, central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and stimulants.

  1. Opioids are the most commonly abused prescription medication. While opioids can effectively manage pain and improve quality of life when used as prescribed, long-term use can lead to dependence and addiction. The euphoric feeling produced by opioids leads some people to misuse them by taking excess medication, snorting it, or injecting it. Opioid overdose can also be life-threatening, especially when opioids are combined with alcohol or other medications.

Opioid painkillers include oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine (Astramorph, Kadian, MS Contin, Avinza, Oramorph SR), Oxymorphone (Opana), fentanyl, and oxymorphone (Opana).

  1. Central nervous system (CNS) depressants are medications or substances that can slow down brain activity to induce relaxation, sedation, or anesthesia. They are often used to treat anxiety, panic, acute stress reactions, and sleep disorders. While using CNS depressants for a short period may result in feelings of relaxation and sleepiness, long-term use may require higher doses to achieve the same effect. 

Overuse or misuse of these substances can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Mixing a CNS with alcohol may lead to a slow heartbeat, breathing problems, and even death. Examples of CNS depressants include benzodiazepines (Ativan, Valium, Restoril, Klonopin, and Xanax) and non-benzodiazepine sleep medications such as Lunesta, Sonata, and Ambien.

  1. Stimulants provide the body with an instantaneous boost in alertness and attention by increasing heart rate, blood sugar, and blood pressure while narrowing blood vessels and opening airways. Originally used to treat asthma and obesity, stimulants are now prescribed for conditions including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention-deficit disorder (ADD), depression, and narcolepsy. Abusing these drugs by taking them in higher doses or crushing pills and snorting them can lead to addiction.

Examples of stimulants include Dexedrine, Dextrostat, ProCentra, Vyvanse, Concerta, Daytrana, Methylin, Ritalin, and Adderall. 

The Signs of Prescription Medication Addiction

Individuals develop an increased tolerance to the medication. They may need higher doses to achieve the same effect as before, or they may start taking the medication more frequently than prescribed. This is often accompanied by withdrawal symptoms when the medication is not taken, such as irritability, anxiety, or flu-like symptoms.

People struggling with prescription drug addiction may go to great lengths to hide their drug use. They may start hoarding medications, visiting multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions, or even stealing medication from others. They may also become defensive or evasive when questioned about their medication use.

Changes in mood, behavior, and personality can also be signs of addiction. Individuals may become more isolated, neglecting once-enjoyed activities or relationships. They may also exhibit drastic changes in appetite or sleep patterns and neglect personal hygiene. Additionally, they may experience difficulties with concentration, memory, or decision-making.

Do You Need Help?

If you or someone you care about struggles with a drug or alcohol addiction, help is available. At English Mountain Recovery in eastern Tennessee, our skilled professionals will provide you with the care you need so addiction does not continue to ruin your life. Take the first step toward sobriety and reclaiming your life.