Most prescription drug use takes place under a doctor’s care and instruction. Drugs are taken as directed in monitored dosage amounts and for a specified period of time. Any prescription medication left over after treatment is then discarded for safety. Prescription drug abuse begins with an increasing number of people because the prescribed drugs are not always being used as directed. This non-medical use occurs among about 52 million Americans at least once during their lifetime.
According to a recent survey run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription drug abuse was so prevalent that 1 out of 12 seniors in high school admitted to the use of Vicodin in 2010, and 1 out of 20 reportedly took the drug Oxycontin. These are only two of the more common drugs undergoing prescription abuse with opioids, stimulants and depressants being widely used as well.
Prescription drug abuse occurs when a prescribed drug is being used for recreational purposes. This use can be by the original patient the drug was prescribed for or by a non-prescribed user. Prescription abuse can include any drug that’s medically prescribed.The most common prescription drugs abused are opioids that are used for the treatment of pain, depressants prescribed for the treatment of sleep disorders and anxiety or stimulants given for the treatment of ADHD in young people. From 1991 to 2010, the number of prescriptions given for opioid rose from 76 million to 210 million, with the number of stimulants prescribed rising from 4 million to 45 million during the same period. The number of people involved with prescription drug abuse has risen as well, due largely to the fact that the number of ailments treated with addictive substances have risen.
Opioid are used primarily for pain relief. The pain treated with opioids, which include oxycodone and hydromorphone, can be anything from that experienced due to a specific injury to the pain resulting from a medical procedure such as surgery. When taken, the opioid reacts by attaching itself to the opioid receptors located in the brain or spinal column. Once in place, the opioid partially blocks pain messages running along the nerves of the body to the brain. This blockage reduces the amount of pain that the user feels. Taken in larger than prescribed doses, opioid cause a sense of euphoria in the user. This euphoric response is so pleasurable that the user often continues to take the drug for the sensation.
Opioid are a prime example of prescription drug abuse and its consequences. As the user continues to take the opioid to feel the connected euphoria, the user’s body begins to build a tolerance to the drug. This tolerance reduces the effect of the dosage taken. In order to receive the same euphoric response, the user must take a larger dosage of the drug. This larger dose only increases the patient’s tolerance to the drug further, creating a cycle of increasing drug use that soon leads the user’s body to develop a dependence on having the drug within the user’s system. There is no precise timeline for how quickly dependence from prescription drug abuse occurs. A dependence on a prescription drug can begin rather quickly once use of the drug expands beyond the occasional casual indulgence. The more of the drug that the user takes or the higher the dosage of the drug taken the faster a physical or psychological dependence can develop.
Prescription drug addiction is slightly different from dependence. The addicted user is compulsive in the need to seek out the drug for use. This compulsion exists regardless of the negative consequences of taking the drug, with the user going to extremes to obtain more of the drug to which that they are addicted.
Heroin Addiction TreatmentAs an opiate, heroin attaches itself to the opiate receptors of the brain. Once the substance binds with these receptors, the opiates begin to activate those portions of the brain that regulate pleasure. Upon activation, the heroin user is flooded with feelings of euphoria, making the drug use an extremely pleasurable experience. Read More
Once dependence due to prescription drug abuse occurs, the user finds that ending the use of the drug can cause painful withdrawal symptoms. As with harder drugs like heroin, many users continue to take the prescription drug, rather than experience the opioid withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can begin soon after the last dose is taken, often within 24 hours. Symptoms of opioid withdrawal may include restlessness, diarrhea, cold flashes, vomiting, restless leg syndrome and muscle pain among others.
Depressants include drugs defined as sedatives or tranquilizers. When taken, a depressant slows down the user’s brain activity enabling restful sleep or the relief from anxiety. The drugs in the depressant class make the user drowsy and calm with prescribed use. When taken in higher than prescribed doses however, depressants can also create a pleasurable sense of euphoria.
Like other prescription drug classes, long-term depressant use can lead to a tolerance in the user’s body followed by dependence. Also like other prescription drugs, once the user becomes dependent due to prescription drug abuse, any slowdown or stoppage in the use of any depressant may cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. In addition to withdrawal dangers, the difference between a safe dosage and an overdose amount can be small with certain prescribed depressants. If the overdose level is reached, then the consequences to the user’s health can be serious. Increased use can also lead to dependence and addiction to the drug.
Stimulants have few medical conditions for which they’re prescribed. These conditions include narcolepsy, some forms of depression and ADHD, the most commonly prescribed for condition.When taken as directed, the drugs, which include amphetamines, increase the user’s energy levels and attentiveness. When taken in larger doses however, the stimulant can create the euphoria enjoyed by many of the patients who participate in prescription drug abuse.
Like users of opioid and depressants, stimulant users can become dependent or addicted to the drug. This dependence will lead to withdrawal symptoms once the drug use is ended or reduced. Withdrawal symptoms from stimulant abuse include depression, insomnia and fatigue. If increased use is continued, an overdose may occur. Overdose symptoms include high body temperatures and seizures.
A national drug use survey run in 2010 found that 2.4 million Americans tried recreational use of prescription drugs for the first time that year. The majority of these first-time users were women, with fully a third of the new users between the ages of 12 to 17. These young people are at the greatest risk of becoming addicted to prescription drugs. During the same survey, it was revealed that 5.9% of young respondents aged 18 to 25 reported some form of prescription drug abuse during the month prior to the survey. Of children aged 12 to 17, 3 percent reported the same level of use. Prescription drug abuse is also often indicative of the use of other drugs, with studies showing that those engaged in the prescription abuse having a higher incidence of other drug use than those respondents primarily using illegal drugs.
Older patients are also in danger of developing a prescription drug addiction. This is due primarily to the comparably large amount of drugs regularly prescribed to them for long-term use, combined with cognitive issues that can affect the patient’s short-term memory of the amount of the drugs taken.
The dangers of prescription drug abuse and addiction are tangible ones. Users accounted for 1 million visits to emergency rooms in 2009 with the majority of visits due to stimulant and opioid use.
Prescription Drug Addiction
Prescription drug addiction is categorized primarily by the compulsive need of the user to obtain more of the drug. Since the best source of prescription drugs are doctors, addicted users become adept in seeking out doctors who will prescribe them the drug of their choice. This can be a difficult issue for doctors in treating patients. Determining whether a patient is in real need of medication or merely doctor shopping in an attempt to get a new prescription can add to the complexity of making a diagnosis. This additional complexity can place the user in jeopardy if a real condition exists.
A user’s life doesn’t end with addiction. Prescription drug abuse and addiction can be treated just as any other drug addiction is treated. The user can enter into a drug treatment facility and receive the help needed to get past the withdrawal symptoms from the drug and begin a new drug-free life.
Treatment is not a short-term process. It consists of two primary phases, detoxification and rehabilitation. The detoxification is a treatment meant to wean the patient slowly off the drugs. Decreasing amounts of the drug or a substitute drug from the same class with less addictive qualities is given to the patient daily until the dose is so low that complete stoppage no longer causes painful withdrawal symptoms to occur.
Once the detoxification period is completed, the patient enters into a prescription drug abuse rehabilitation facility. The facility is geared toward keeping the patient clear of drugs while the patient undergoes intensive one-on-one and group therapy sessions with a certified medical professional.
Medication may also be used during the treatment process to lower the effects of any withdrawal symptom experienced, or to help stabilize the patient’s body chemistry back to normal levels.
During the counseling process, the patient is taught to recognize those events in his or her life that serve as a trigger for the prescription drug abuse. These triggers can be anything from certain people in the patient’s life to situations the patient may find him or herself in. Even particular places can serve as a trigger for drug use in a patient. Through the counseling sessions, each of these triggers is sought out. Once these triggers are found, the personnel at the center help the patient deal with each one. The personnel teach coping skills to the patient to replace the drug taking behaviors. These coping skills serve as new behavioral responses, developed to replace the older response that eventually led to the drug use.
The time spent treating prescription drug abuse in a patient is not set prior to entry into a program. The period spent tapering off the use of a drug in detox varies with each patient. Those who have been drug users longer than others, or who entered into the program after taking larger doses of medication than others will usually take longer to taper off from the drug than those with lessor use issues. The process can be further extended by the patient’s response to the dosage levels. Additional time may need to be spent at dosage plateaus as the patient takes time to adjust to smaller amounts of drug in his or her system. The prescription drug abuse treatment process generally takes a few weeks to complete for opiates like codeine and fentanyl, but may take up to several months for sedative withdrawal.
There is no tapering off process available for stimulants due to a lack of approved withdrawal drugs. The only treatment available is medical observation during the withdrawal period. During this time, efforts are made to lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms through the provision of a restful environment.
The detoxification process is followed immediately by a medical observation period of 24 to 48 hours. During the observation period, the patient is observed for signs of withdrawal and treated accordingly by on-site medical personnel.
Addiction RehabEach prescription drug abuse rehabilitation program is customized for the individual going through the process. Depending on patient’s need, this modification can shorten or lengthen the amount of time spent in rehab significantly. Most rehab programs begin with a 30-day period though, with extensions available to increase the rehabilitation to 60 or 90 days.
The rehabilitation period after detox isn’t of a set duration either. Each prescription drug abuse rehabilitation program is customized for the individual going through the process. Depending on patient’s need, this modification can shorten or lengthen the amount of time spent in rehab significantly. Most rehab programs begin with a 30-day period though, with extensions available to increase the rehabilitation to 60 or 90 days. Sometimes rehab is extended even further. Rehab lasts as long as is necessary to allow the patient the time he or she needs to end the physical dependence on the drug through detoxification, and then to lessen the psychological dependence through the cognitive behavioral therapy.
After completion of a prescription drug abuse rehabilitation program, the patient continues to work towards a drug-free lifestyle. This work does not have to be done alone. Support groups exist throughout the country to provide the patient with peer support during the recovery process. The prescription drug abuse support groups are an extension of the same groups put together within the rehab treatment facilities for group therapy sessions. The groups meet regularly to discuss problems group members have related to dependence recovery. Members also share success stories about the methods used to remain drug-free.
A mentor can even be found for the patient among the peers in a support group to provide more individualized help throughout the recovery process. This mentor is someone who has been recovering long enough to recognize the pitfalls that the patient is likely to encounter. The mentor can then use that recognition to help guide the patient around recovery trouble spots. The mentor is also there to recognize early signs of relapse such as mood swings or vague medical complaints to allow for doctor shopping. The mentor can then attempt to get the patient back into a prescription drug abuse recovery facility to become clean of drug use once again.
Relapse PreventionRelapse prevention planning is a critical element in ensuring that a person who is recovering from drug or alcohol addiction does not return to using drugs or alcohol. Read More
Along with support groups, the patient can continue with the therapy sessions begun within the facility. This continued treatment can address any lingering psychological dependence issues. If the counselor is available, then the patient can choose to continue with the same drug counselor from the treatment facility. If the counselor is not available, then the patient can choose another qualified therapist with experience in treating patients with drug abuse issues. Family therapy is also a good choice for the recovering user. Through the involvement of family members, the former user can ensure that his or her family members understand the issues of addiction that the patient faces. The patient can also begin to mend any fences broken during the addiction period.
Prescription drug abuse is a problem that continues to grow as the number of prescriptions grows. This is no need for a user of prescription drugs to remain addicted to their use however.
Did You Know?
- Only marijuana is more commonly abused than prescription drugs.
- A study of Wisconsin and Minnesota students found that 34% of children prescribed ADHD drugs were solicited for the sell or trade of the drugs.
- The most commonly abused prescription drugs according to a 2010 NSDUH survey in order of use were:
- Pain relievers
- The primary method of obtaining prescription narcotics among 12th graders was through a family member or friend, with 70% of drugs obtained in this manner according to a study conducted in 2011 by the University of Michigan.