Abusing Prescription Drugs

Prescription Drugs: Why Worry?

Someone who begins abusing prescription drugs are no different than those who are addicted to heroin, cocaine or any other illegal drug. Anyone, particularly those with a history of addiction, that uses prescription drugs may become dependent on them which can result in negative consequences. When someone is abusing prescription drugs, the medication can change the brain chemistry, making it less effective at producing other chemicals in the brain. Once this occurs, the brain will need the drug to maintain homeostasis. At this point the addict now has a physical dependence on the medication.

The initial decision to take prescription drugs may be by choice, but over time this may change. The ability to make sound decisions may change and the impulse to take more than prescribed could increase. There are a few different classes of prescription drugs that are often abused. Opioids like oxycontin, Percocet, or Vicodin, which are used to treat pain. Central nervous system depressants or benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, which are commonly used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.  Stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin, which are used to treat attention deficit disorder.  These are among the most prescribed, and consequently abused, medications around.

Some consequences of abusing prescription drugs may include anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, and a loss of interest in relationships with friends or family. Withdrawal symptoms may develop if the user attempts to stop the medication on their own. Signs that someone is becoming dependent on prescription drugs could include mood swings, lack of interest in treatment options other than more medication, complaints of vague symptoms to get more medication, ‘doctor-shopping’ to get more pills, on and off relief from anxiety, and using more than the recommended dose of the medication. The best way to treat someone who has been abusing prescription drugs and is now addicted to them is through a residential detox facility.

A commonly abused class of prescription drugs that are often mixed with other medications, sometimes producing fatal results, are benzodiazepines or ‘benzos’.  These are psychoactive drugs that enhance the effect of brain receptors resulting in sedative, hypnotic, and muscle-relaxing effects. Benzos are widely prescribed for a variety of conditions, chief among them, anxiety and insomnia. Used chronically, benzos are addicting. Caution must be used when prescribing benzos to patients with a history of substance abuse. Benzodiazepines are widely prescribed and generally produce almost immediate effects and may be prescribed for short-term “as-needed” use.

An association between benzo use, depressive symptoms, and in some cases, the emergence of suicidal ideation, has been seen. People rarely abuse benzos as a solo drug. They are commonly used with opioids. As a possible drug of abuse, benzos are preferred among addicts because of the rapid onset of action. Many people seek out drug detox and drug rehab in order to titrate safely off of benzodiazepine. Discontinuation of benzos or a quick reduction of the dose, even if only taking for a short period of time, can result in withdrawal symptoms.  This is a major sign of physical dependence. Whether you are seeking treatment for benzo addiction, pain killer abuse, or any other prescription drug, it is important to research and find a treatment center that can safely detox you, while providing the education and skills needed to obtain lasting sobriety.

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