Symptoms and Treatment
Prescription medications are no safer than heroin, meth, or any other illegal drug when misused in any way. Prescription drug abuse occurs when the individual takes more pills at a time than prescribed, for longer than prescribed, for reasons other than prescribed, when shared with friends, or when taken in a different manner than was prescribed (crushed and snorted or injected when it should have been taken as an oral pill). When someone abuses prescription medications, even if they had originally been prescribed by a doctor for a legitimate condition, these medications can turn deadly. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers (American Society of Addiction Medicine).
The prescription medications that are abused are not all opiate painkillers, although this group of medications certainly is the most widely abused. Still, nearly any medication can be dangerous if used incorrectly, and certain drugs that are addicting can be both hazardous to a person’s physical health and can lead to addiction. The most abused prescription medications include opioids, depressants, and stimulants.
Prescription drug addicts struggle with the exact same issues as any other drug addict. Someone who is being controlled by any substance, whether illegal or prescribed, will eventually become desperate to get more drugs before they start feeling withdrawal symptoms. They will crave the feeling of euphoria they get from taking the drugs and will make poor choices in order to get more. Prescription drugs are bought and sold on the black market but because so many people have access to these medications, it has been easier in recent years for addicts to borrow or steal from loved ones or lie to doctors to get more pills.
Commonly Abused Types of Prescription Drugs
These are prescription painkillers and come from the same family as heroin and morphine. These medications are used to manage pain due to injury, accident, and illness and are considered one of the best options for pain relief. When abused, however, prescription painkillers lead to extreme drowsiness, confusion, decreased respiration, low blood pressure, and constipation. If too much is taken, the person can stop breathing and their heart rate can slow or stop, and death can result.
The most commonly prescribed painkillers include:
These medications are sedatives or tranquilizers and are grouped as either Barbiturates or Benzodiazepines. Barbiturates include pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal) and mephobarbital (Mebaral) and are prescribed by doctors to ease tension, sleep disorders, and anxiety. Benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), and chlordiazepoxide HCL (Librium) treat stress, panic attacks, and some sleep disorders. Depressants help the person calm down and relax, but when used in large amounts, they can decrease respiration and heart rate too much, leading to brain damage and death.
Stimulants are medications used to increase a person’s focus and relieve depression. These medications are commonly used to treat ADHD, narcolepsy, and clinical depression. They work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain and can cause a feeling of euphoria, which is one reason these medications are so often abused. Too much of a stimulant causes paranoia, agitation, anxiety, and seizures. The most widely used and abused stimulants are Dextroamphetamine (Adderall and Dexedrine) and Methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta).
Prescription drug addicts struggle with the exact same issues as any other drug addict. Someone who is being controlled by any substance, whether illegal or prescribed, will eventually become desperate to get more drugs before they start feeling withdrawal symptoms. They will crave the feeling of euphoria they get from taking the drugs, and will make poor choices in order to get more. Prescription drugs are bought and sold on the black market but because so many people have access to these mediations, it has been easier in recent years for addicts to borrow or steal from loved ones or lie to doctors to get more pills.
Steps to Recovery
Detox. The first step toward prescription drug addiction recovery is detox. This is the period of time when the individual will cleanse their system of the medication and prepare physically and mentally for sobriety. Signs of prescription drug withdrawal vary by medication and can be different for each person.
In general, withdrawal symptoms associated with prescription painkillers include:
Detoxing from central nervous system depressants in the benzodiazepine family is dangerous and it is not recommended to try this at home. This type of withdrawal causes the following symptoms:
Finally, stimulant withdrawal symptoms include:
Inpatient Treatment. After the person has safely detoxed from prescription medications, they need to participate in treatment sessions in order to help them maintain a healthy, sober lifestyle. Inpatient treatment is the first step after detox, and during this phase, the individual stays in the safety of a treatment facility, where their basic needs are met so they can focus on recovery. Counseling and therapy sessions are held throughout the day, allowing the individual to process their issues and build skills needed to avoid relapse.
Outpatient Treatment. Outpatient treatment offers much of the same options for therapy as inpatient rehab, but during this phase of treatment, the individual is stable enough to live at home or another location and travel to the rehab facility for therapy during the day. Individuals in this level of recovery will have already participated in inpatient treatment, or are reliable enough to return to rehab for sessions and remain sober when on their own.
After Care and Support. Once a person has graduated from a treatment program, they will still need support and encouragement from family, friends, and the recovery community. Many treatment programs offer after care or alumni programming. These sessions help newly recovered individuals connect with others, stay in touch with therapists, and help others in recovery. The longer an individual stay involved with after care, the better their chances are at avoiding relapse.
Therapies Used During Treatment
There are a variety of therapies that can be used to help a person address the underlying causes of their addiction and help them learn how to deal with triggers and avoid relapse. Some of the most common therapy types include: