Many people assume that only illegal drugs are addictive. Prescription drugs are given out by doctors—that means they’re safe, right?
While prescription drugs have safeguards in place and are safe to use if you follow directions, they’re the third most commonly abused category of drugs, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. They’re right there behind alcohol and marijuana and abused more than cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.
What makes prescription drugs addictive?
Prescription drugs can have similar chemical makeups to illegal drugs; the difference is that they’re heavily regulated and designed to release the drug slowly so that they’re not addictive when the rules are followed.
But of course, when prescription drugs are abused, they can cause addiction. There are three types of drugs most associated with drug abuse:
- Opioid pain relievers attach to proteins called opioid receptors throughout the body and reduces the perception of pain. It can also create a sense of euphoria since this process is involved in the brain’s reward pathways.
- Depressants relax you. They affect a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Depressants decrease brain activity and produce a calming, even drowsy effect. Alcohol affects the GABA system as well, which is why taking depressants with alcohol can decrease your brain activity and slow your breathing to deadly levels.
- Stimulants create a euphoria by enhancing the effects of certain chemicals in the brain like norepinephrine and dopamine.
The drugs are addictive because the good feelings they give you have diminishing returns. In other words, over time, you’ll need more and more of the drug to reach the same high. On top of that, the body becomes used to having the drug in the body. When the person stops taking them, they go through intense cravings and withdrawals.
How dangerous are prescription drugs?
Prescription drugs are safe when used under a doctor’s guidance and when you follow all directions. But when you abuse the drug, such as by taking someone else’s prescription or taking too much of your own, the drug can have some serious effects. For example, opioids and depressants can slow your breathing to the point of going into a coma, and overdose can be deadly. Stimulants can cause heart problems, seizures, and paranoia.
What prescription drugs have the highest chance of becoming addictive?
This isn’t a complete addictive prescription drugs list, but these are some of the prescription drugs with the highest potential for abuse:
- Barbiturates (AmyTal, Menbutal, Seconal, Phenobarbital).
- Codeine (Empirin with Codeine, Fiorinal with Codeine, Robitussin A-C, Tylenol with Codeine).
- Fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, Sublimaze).
- Morphine (Roxanol, Duramorph).
- Opium (Laudanum, Paregoric).
- Others: OxyContin, Tylox, Percodan, Percocet, Vicodin, Darvocet.
- Amphetamines (Biphetamine, Dexedrine).
- Methamphetamine (Desoxyn).
- Methylphenidate (Ritalin).
Recognizing the symptoms of prescription drug addiction
Prescription drug abuse is often assumed to be the realm of teenage rebellion. But while it’s true that some teenagers steal prescription drugs from their parents to use and share with their friends, the reality is that prescription drug abuse comes in many forms. For example, many seniors are at risk for drug abuse because they’re often given many pills without enough oversight, and their bodies are not as prepared to handle the effects.
Signs of prescription abuse in yourself
You might take a larger dose than prescribed, take the drug more often, or take it for reasons other than what it was prescribed for (such as taking pain medication because you feel “off”). All of these are drug abuse.
Signs of prescription abuse in others
If you are worried that someone you love is abusing prescription drugs, here are some signs to look out for:
- Excessive mood swings.
- Change in sleeping habits.
- Stealing or selling prescriptions.
- Taking more of the drug than prescribed.
- Going to multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions.
- Often “losing” prescriptions and requesting new ones.
Preventing prescription drug abuse
Prescription drugs are safe if used in the correct context. The vast majority of people who take prescription drugs never get addicted. Here are the steps you can take to stay safe:
Research your medication
What does it do? What side effects can it have? Are there any medications or foods you should avoid while you’re taking it? These are things that ideally your doctor should go over with you, but they might not cover all of the details. You can easily find this information with a Google search.
Follow your prescription exactly
Not following directions is where many people get into trouble. Don’t be tempted to take more because you feel your doctor isn’t giving you enough to really treat your symptoms.
Talk with your doctor regularly
Let them know how you’re doing and if you’ve noticed any changes in your behavior. Also, don’t be afraid to tell them if the medication has stopped working. This means they may need to change the dosage or try a new solution.
Always talk to your doctor before stopping a medication
Some prescription drugs, even when used exactly as recommended, can cause physical dependence. This is not an addiction, but it does mean that your doctor will need to help wean you off of the medication when the time comes.
Are you addicted to a prescription medication?
You’re not alone. As of 2010, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that 2.4 million Americans had started abusing prescription medications in the past year. We’ve seen the harm that prescription drug addiction can cause, but we’ve also seen the transformation of patients in recovery.
At Orlando Recovery, we offer a full range of treatment so you can get personalized care from day one. Learn about our treatment programs and what you can expect, and when you’re ready, give us a call at 844-229-1004. We’re ready to help.
“How do opioids affect the brain and body?” National Institute on Drug Abuse. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Nov 2014. Web. 8 Aug 2016. <https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-drugs/opioids/how-do-opioids-affect-brain-body>.
“How do CNS depressants affect the brain and body?” National Institute on Drug Abuse. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Nov 2014. Web. 8 Aug 2016. <https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-drugs/cns-depressants/how-do-cns-depressants-affect-brain-body>.
“How do stimulants affect the brain and body?” National Institute on Drug Abuse. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Nov 2014. Web. 8 Aug 2016. <https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-drugs/stimulants/how-do-stimulants-affect-brain-body>.
“Selected Prescription Drugs with Potential for Abuse.” NCADD. NCADD. Web. 8 Aug 2016. <https://www.ncadd.org/images/stories/PDF/selectedprescriptiondrugs.pdf>.