Prescription Drug Abuse
Those who struggle with chronic pain, depression, and anxiety, among other conditions, often look to their physicians for help. Being leaders in our communities, and being trusted to have our well-being at heart, doctors are our heroes at times. Unfortunately, at times, some of these medications hold with them qualities of dependency and do not offer a cure. Many of these prescription drugs carry a high risk of chemical dependence and will inevitably require a professional drug detox to sufficiently extricate one’s self from the addiction.
The advancement of pharmaceutical medications have been beneficial in treating many illnesses and providing relief to millions of people across. However, there have also been great consequences for both individuals and our society as a whole due to some of their addictive nature and short reward and payoffs one gets from using or abusing the drug. Opioids, Stimulants, and Sedatives (CNS, or Central Nervous System Depressants) are the three classifications of prescription drugs that are widely abused and extremely addictive.
Below, we will look into and have a deeper understanding of each of these classes of drugs, what they are, and why they are a problem for our society.
These are synthetic drugs derived from the opium poppy plant and they are considered to be in the family of narcotic drugs. Medically, these are used as pain killers. Doctors may prescribe a range of potential opioids to patients who come to them expressing an overwhelming and unmanageable amount of pain, and then for many, the dependence begins to develop. Some prescription opioid drugs include: Methadone, Oxycodone (OxyContin), Percocet (Oxycodone with acetaminophen), Percodan (Oxycodone with aspirin), Hydrocodone (Zohydro ER, Hysingla ER), Hydromorphone (Dilaudid) Meperidine (Demerol), Fentanyl (Duragesic), Hydrocodone with acetaminophen (Lorcet, Lortab, Vicodin). Opiates are a similar form of these drugs where the active ingredient is naturally occurring. These substances include opium, codeine, and morphine, among others.
Medical detox and treatment is often necessary to help those who have been battling this form of addiction. All of these substances are incredibly addictive and create dependency in a matter of days, and contribute to the opioid epidemic that has been crippling America for decades.
Drugs known as stimulants are a class of prescription drugs used to manage conditions associated with one’s attention and focus, such as ADHD. These can greatly benefit people with ADD/ADHD by enhancing their cognitive function and sharpening their focus. However, they work by stimulating the production of dopamine, a naturally occurring hormone responsible for feelings of pleasure and induce a sort of “high” upon entering the bloodstream. The high becomes a sensation that these individuals seek out, as it both instantly and pleasurably rewards the individual who ingests it and often lead to very quick addiction. Common examples of prescription stimulants include: Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, Desoxyn, Dexedrine, Suprenza, and other forms of amphetamines.
Sedatives are a class of drugs that medically sedate the individual. The level of sedation may vary depending on the exact drug, the dosage, and factors related to the individual taking the medication. The sedative effect can vary from simply making an individual relaxed to making them extremely drowsy and produce instant hypnagogic effects. Sedatives, or CNS(Central Nervous System) depressants are prescribed to people who struggle with anxiety, sleeping disorders or other issues with stability. Individuals who are trying to flee feelings such as anxiety, fear, and depression may abuse this drug to avoid these uncomfortable feelings temporarily. Xanax, Ambien, Valium, Klonopin, Mebaral and Nembutal are sedatives commonly seen. Drugs in this class usually have a calming effect on the individual by increasing the presence of GABA, a neurotransmitter that slows activity in the central nervous system.
Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction
If not looking for signs and symptoms directly, identifying early addiction to prescription drugs can be difficult. Day to day activities and routines might not change at all. In fact, the person’s behavior using these substances might seem completely common and normal at first. However, things do eventually start to change and signs and symptoms inevitably begin to present, often times, when they do, it is important that the individual and their loved ones do not brush off the signs as something other than addiction, and treat it as such at once.
Primary signs of prescription drug abuse include:
- Abusing dosage not prescribed by doctor
- Mimicking harsher symptoms to acquire more of the drug
- Isolation and withdrawal from friends, family and professional circles
- Noticeable mood swings and other irregular behaviors
- Angrily or naively defending their drug use and claiming it’s necessary
- Financial issues that may be the result of excessive drug purchases and use
- An increased tolerance that leads to higher consumption to achieve desired effect
- A desire to continue using the drug even after the original symptoms subside
- Taking other people’s prescription medication or suspicious behavior to obtain medication
Symptoms of Withdrawal
- Drowsiness, lethargy and/or random sleeping habits
- Nausea and headaches
- Poor hygiene
- Compromised judgement
- Ignoring responsibilities
- Difficulty with personal and professional relationships
- Weight loss, or other issues around eating
- Lack of desire to exercise
- Shallow or poor breathing
- Decreased or nonexistent libido
- Cold and/or flu-like symptoms
- Jumpy or over-energetic
- High body temperature
- Delusions and paranoia
- Chest pain
- Fast and excessive speech
- Erratic heart beat
- Random sleep patterns
- High blood pressure
- Constant hyperactivity
- Poor memory
- Pupil dilation
- Agitation or aggression
- Slurred speech
- Poor coordination
In addition to being highly unnerved and uncomfortable, one’s drug detox can be extremely dangerous. Depending on numerous factors, the process may take days or upwards of a week or two. In some cases, the withdrawal symptoms can even turn deadly. Medications can be prescribed to ease the detox process, but this must be done so with professional care and close monitoring. These are all reasons why it is important to see the help of a professional medical detox facility.
Effects of Prescription Drug Detox
- High blood pressure
- Muscle cramps; discomfort
- Chills and sweats
- Agitation or aggression
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Depression or isolation
- Muscle Pain and Discomfort
- Suicidal Thoughts
- Moderate to violent mood Swings
- Loss of Appetite
- Hallucinations, visual or auditory
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heart rate
- Increased body temperature
Risks of Prescription Drug Addiction
The psychological dependency is paramount to the individual with addiction, and makes it a near impossibility to stop using the drug without professional help, even if the desire is there. The longer an individual uses a prescription medication, the greater a tolerance they develop. This increased tolerance leads to increased dosages and almost inevitably dependence. Once this dependence is established and the drug is not available, the withdrawal symptoms discussed earlier will begin with cravings and other uncomfortable conditions.
Going undetected, addiction presents health risks that are astronomically high, and its reach extends far beyond the person using the drug. For many prescription drugs, the risk of overdose is very real. Due to these factors, identifying and treating this disease is vital to one’s well being.
The drugs that fall under this umbrella also act as depressants which cause drowsiness and impaired decision making skills. An overdose is triggered when the user consumes too much of the opioid and heart-rate and function, blood pressure, and breathing are compromised. They may do this thinking that more will improve the pain relieving effects, unaware of the real risk. In reality, an increased dosage does not always increase the efficacy but it does however always increase the risk of fatal health complications, especially if in combination with other drugs. One of the side effects of opioids is slowed breathing, which often leads to an individual’s death. Another potentially fatal side effect is that of an irregular heart rhythm, causing palpitations or lethally low blood pressure.
If an individual makes the mistake due to their compromised judgment of ingesting an extremely high dose of amphetamines, they are at serious risk of overdose which may lead to seizure, coma, and often death. As a person increases the quantity and frequency of their amphetamine habit, they fall into a cycle of self-medicating and then crashing, causing violent mood swings. Coming down from these drugs will often result in long episodes of depression, fatigue, anxiety and ultimately a craving for more, resulting in the cycle repeating and exacerbating.
Sedative/CNS Depressant Risks
There is a fine line between the amount that allows one to sleep and the amount that can push someone over the edge towards death. We have seen that sedatives present an extremely high risk of accidental overdose. This occurs when a person ingests a first dosage, and then in a drowsy and confused state of mind, mistakenly takes another dose, or mixes it with another drug, such as opioids or alcohol. Mixing sedatives with other substances like alcohol other meds or heroin increases the risk of fatalities due to the compounding effects mixing these drugs have on the human body and mind. This idea, though common, results in an extreme medical health emergency, and is often responsible for overdose and death.