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How to identify prescription drug addiction


ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Most Rx drug problems start when you are using the drug in a way not intended by the prescribing doctor. Prescription drugs most often abused include opioid painkillers, sedatives, anti-anxiety medications, and stimulants. Early identification of prescription drug abuse and intervention is very important. Addiction is a medical condition and responds successfully to medical treatment.


TABLE OF CONTENTS


Common RX Drugs

There are three kinds of prescription drugs that are commonly misused:

  1. Central nervous system depressants including tranquilizers, sedatives, and hypnotics used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders (Ambien, Ativan, Xanax).
  2. Opioids that usually prescribed to treat pain (Vicodin, OxyContin, Fentanyl, Tramadol).
  3. Stimulants, most often prescribed to treat ADHD (Adderall, Ritalin, or amphetamines)

Because commonly misuse or abused prescription drugs activate the brain’s reward center, it is possible to develop physical dependence and addiction. But did you know that taking a medicine to get high can have serious medical consequences? Here are examples of serious consequences of prescription drug addiction:

Sedatives and anti-anxiety medications can cause memory problems, low blood pressure and slowed breathing. Overdose can cause coma or death. Abruptly stopping the medication may cause withdrawal symptoms that can include nervous system hyperactivity and seizures.

Opioids can cause low blood pressure, a slowed breathing rate and potential for breathing to stop, or a coma. Overdose has a significant risk of death.

Stimulants can cause dangerously high body temperature, heart problems, high blood pressure, seizures or tremors, hallucinations, aggressiveness, and paranoia.

How Do People Get Addicted?

Prescription drugs are legal when a legitimate medical provider has prescribed you the medication for the treatment of an illness or condition. However, these drugs still can be addictive when taken as prescribed. How?

Mainly, prescription drugs change the chemistry of the brain. The brain is made up of about 100 billion neurons, also known as nerve cells. Neurons communicate with each other by using chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. There are many types of neurotransmitters, and each one carries a specific message. Neurotransmitters deliver their messages by attaching to special places on nerve cells called receptors.

Drugs are chemicals. When someone puts these chemicals into their body, either by smoking, injecting, inhaling, or eating them, they tap into the brain’s communication system and tamper with the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information. Different drugs, because of their chemical structure, work differently. We know there are at least two ways drugs work in the brain:

  • Imitating the brain’s natural chemical messengers.
  • Overstimulating the reward circuit of the brain.

Dependence Defined

Physical dependence is the body’s response to long-term use of a psychoactive drug. People who are physically dependent on a drug may need higher doses to get the same effects and may (tolerance) experience withdrawal symptoms when cutting back or abruptly stopping the drug. Physical dependence may also become evident if a drug the body becomes adjusted to over time, even without dosage change, is stopped abruptly.

But just because you’re drug-dependent doesn’t mean that you’re addicted! What’s the main difference?

People who are addicted to a drug compulsively seek a drug and continue to use it, even when that drug makes their lives worse. If you’re using a drug even in spite of problems with health, home, work, or social life…that problem goes beyond drug dependence. It is a psychological dependence…that can be treated!

Misuse Defined

Some people misuse drugs because they enjoy the feelings that they provide and thus take more of a drug than is necessary. In fact, people most often become addicted to an RX drug when they use a medication to get high. Misuse of prescription drugs means taking a medication in a manner or dose other than prescribed. It can include:

1. Mixing it with other drugs. In some cases, if you mix your prescription drug with alcohol and certain other drugs, it is considered misuse and it can be dangerous.

2. Taking a prescription medication in a way other than prescribed. Taking your own prescription in a way that it is not meant to be taken is also misuse. This includes taking more of the medication than prescribed or changing its form, for example, breaking or crushing a pill or capsule and then snorting the powder.

3. Taking a prescription medication to get high. Some types of prescription drugs also can produce pleasurable effects. Taking the medication only for the purpose of getting high is considered prescription drug misuse.

4. Taking someone else’s prescription medication. Even when someone takes another person’s medication for its intended purposes (such as to relieve pain, to stay awake, or to fall asleep) it is considered misuse.

Risk Factors

As with any other disease, vulnerability to addiction differs from person to person, and no single factor determines whether a person will become addicted to drugs. In general, the more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that taking drugs will lead to abuse and addiction.

Environment. The influence of the home environment, especially during childhood, is a very important factor. Parents or older family members who abuse alcohol or drugs, or who engage in criminal behavior, can increase children’s risks of developing their own drug problems.

Peer pressure. Friends and acquaintances can have an increasingly strong influence during adolescence. Drug-using peers can sway even those without risk factors to try drugs for the first time.

Social isolation. Academic failure or poor social skills can put a child at further risk for using or becoming addicted to drugs.

Early initiation of use and a habit. Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, research shows that the earlier a person begins to use drugs, the more likely he or she is to develop serious problems. This may reflect the harmful effect that drugs can have on the developing brain; it also may result from a mix of early social and biological vulnerability factors, including unstable family relationships, exposure to physical or sexual abuse, genetic susceptibility, or mental illness. The fact remains that early use is a strong indicator of problems ahead, including addiction.

Genes. Scientists estimate that genetic factors account for between 40 and 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to addiction; this includes the effects of environmental factors on the function and expression of a person’s genes. A person’s stage of development and other medical conditions they may have are also factors. Adolescents and people with mental disorders are at greater risk of drug abuse and addiction than the general population.

Am I Addicted?

There are questions people can ask themselves to gauge whether, or not, they have a prescription drug problem. Answering yes to any of these questions may suggest a developing problem, which could require follow up with a professional drug treatment specialist. The main questions to ask yourself include:

  • Do family or friends ever tell you to cut down on your use of any prescription drug?
  • Do you ever forget things you did while using any prescription drug?
  • Do you ever use any prescription drug to relax, to feel better about yourself, or to fit in?
  • Do you ever use any prescription drug when you are alone?
  • Have you ever gotten into trouble while you were using any prescription drug?
  • Have you ever ridden in a car driven by someone (including yourself) who had been using any prescription drug?

The two main categories of drug addiction treatment are behavioral treatments and medications.


Main Treatments

Years of research have shown that substance use disorders are brain disorders that can be treated effectively. Treatment must take into account the type of drug used and the needs of the person. Successful treatment may need to incorporate several components, including detoxification, counseling, and medications, when available. The two main categories of drug addiction treatment are behavioral treatments and medications.

Behavioral and Psychotherapy Treatments. These treatments help persons stop drug use by changing unhealthy patterns of thinking and behavior; teaching strategies to manage cravings and avoid cues and situations that could lead to relapse; or, in some cases, providing incentives for abstinence. Talk therapy which may take the form of person, family, or group counseling, also can help persons improve their personal relationships and their ability to function at work and in the community.

Medications. Addiction to prescription drugs, like opioids, can additionally be treated with medications including buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. These drugs can counter the effects of opioids on the brain or relieve withdrawal symptoms and cravings, helping the person avoid relapse.

Treatment with Medications

Medications for the treatment of prescription drug addiction are administered in combination with psychosocial supports or behavioral treatments, known as medication-assisted treatment. The most commonly used medicines in addiction treatment are used to treat opioid addiction. This is because the medicines have had much research and investment.

Research on treating addiction to central nervous system depressants and stimulants are sparse; however, persons who are dependent on these medications should undergo medically supervised detox because the dosage they take should be tapered gradually. There are no FDA-approved medications for treating addiction to these drugs.

Main addiction medicines for opiate/opioid addiction include:

  • Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, it binds to the opioid receptor but only partially activates it. Like methadone, it can reduce cravings and is well tolerated by persons.
  • Methadone is a synthetic opioid agonist that prevents withdrawal symptoms and relieves drug cravings by acting on the same brain targets as other opioids such as heroin, morphine, and opioid pain medications.
  • Naltrexone is an antagonist medication that prevents other opioids from binding to and activating opioid receptors. It is used to treat overdose and addiction.

There has been a popular misconception that medications with agonist activity, such as methadone or buprenorphine, replace one addiction with another. This is not the case. Opioid use disorder is associated with imbalances in brain circuits that mediate reward, decision-making, impulse control, learning, and other functions. These medications restore balance to these brain circuits, preventing opioid withdrawal and restoring the person to a normal affective state to allow for effective psychosocial treatment and social functioning.

Treatment with Psychotherapy

Treatment options for prescription drug abuse vary, depending on the type of drug used and your needs. However, counseling, or sometimes psychotherapy, is typically a key part of treatment.

A licensed drug counselor or other addiction specialist can provide person, group or family counseling. This can help you:

  • Determine what factors may have led to the prescription drug abuse, such as an underlying mental health problem or relationship problems.
  • Identify ways to become involved in healthy activities that are not related to drugs.
  • Learn strategies for developing positive relationships.
  • Learn the skills needed to resist cravings, avoid abuse of drugs and help prevent recurrence of prescription drug problems.
  • Learn the steps to take if a relapse happens.

Rehab

Rehabilitation programs are an important part of the treatment for prescription drug addiction; the directors of these programs understand the things that motivated people to abuse prescription drugs and generate established programs to address these problems. Most programs are designed to promote the healing of the mind and body as part of the recovery process.

Outpatient clinics can provide some degree of assistance in your recovery efforts. However, a prescription drug rehabilitation program for inpatients is more likely to provide long-term success. The longer you stay in the program, the greater the chances of success.

The choice of one type of rehabilitation over the other will depend on the degree of addiction that the person has and the drug that is abusing.

Cost

The economic consequences of prescription drug abuse are substantial. It is estimated that opioid analgesic abuse results in over $72 billion in medical costs each year. Other studies estimate the cost of opioid abuse to be $53 to $56 billion annually, accounting for medical and substance abuse treatment costs, lost work productivity, and criminal justice costs. This is comparable to the costs related to other diseases such as asthma and HIV. In many instances, public payers are responsible for covering the costs of prescription drug abuse.

For the user, the cost of addiction treatment varies between each center. Some programs are free, while some cost hundreds of dollars a day. No matter how much money you have, there is an ideal center for you from every point of view. The opportunity to heal is accessible to everyone if they know what resources can help them.

Average costs for addiction treatment are around:

  • $135 per day for outpatient treatment.
  • $700+ per day for inpatient treatment.
  • $3-6,000 for detox.
  • Free to $150 per hour for counseling.

Insurance is one of the most common ways to pay for rehabilitation. However, not everyone has insurance, but there are still options, one way is to find a free or low-income center. The other is to look for programs that offer financing options.

The cost of rehabilitation will depend on the type of rehabilitation you choose: detoxification services ($300 to $500 per day), outpatient rehabilitation ($100 to $300 per day) or inpatient rehabilitation ($300 to $1,000) per day); the time you spend in the rehabilitation program and the state in which you seek help.

There will always be options that you can count on to find the best prescription rehabilitation for you.

Who to Ask for Help?

Finding yourself with a problem of prescription drug addiction and not knowing what to do is very stressful and overwhelming. Keep in mind that there are many people, in addition to family and friends, who are willing to help you. Here is where you can look for help:

  • Your doctor, who may be able to recommend resources.
  • A medical doctor trained in addiction medicine.
  • A licensed clinical psychologist.
  • A psychiatrist.
  • A licensed clinical social works.
  • Self-help groups.
  • Your church or faith group.
  • School counselor or nurse.
  • Support groups, either in person or from a trustworthy website.
  • Your employee assistance program, which may offer counseling services for substance abuse problems.

You are not alone; do not face this problem without help.

Statistics

Prescription drug abuse is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic. While there has been a marked decrease in the use of some illegal drugs like cocaine, data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that nearly an estimated 54 million people over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons in their lifetime.

  • Painkillers 3.3 million users.
  • Tranquilizers 2 million users.
  • Stimulants 1.7 million users.
  • Sedatives 0.5 million users.

Prescription opioid drugs contribute to 40% of all United States opioid overdose deaths. In 2016, more than 46 people died each day from overdoses involving prescription opioids. Prescription opioid overdose rates are highest among people ages 25 to 54 years.

The number of adults filling a benzodiazepine prescription increased 67%(from 8.1 million to 13.5 million) between 1996 and 2013, while the total quantity filled more than tripled. During this same period, the overdose death rate for benzodiazepines more than quadrupled.

Between 2006 and 2011, nonmedical use of stimulants and emergency room visits involving the drug increased significantly, while treatment visits stayed the same. Stimulants misuse rose 67%, and emergency room visits went up 156%. Young adults (age 18-25) made up 60% of those using stimulants for nonmedical reasons.

Many teens believe that prescription drugs are much safer than illegal street drugs because a doctor prescribes them. The top three prescription drugs used by high school seniors in 2017 were stimulants (5.5%), tranquilizers (4.7%) and prescription opioids (4.2%).

As you can see, you are not the only one who has a prescription drug problem…

Your Questions

Do you have any questions? Story to share? Any feelings about prescription drug addiction?  Do that here… write your comments below and will be posted and answered as soon as possible. We are here to help you.

Reference Sources: CDC: Addressing prescription drug abuse in the United States
CDC: Prescription overdose data
MAYO CLINIC: Prescription drug abuse
MEDLINE PLUS: Prescription drug abuse
NIDA: Prescription drug misuse
NIDA: Seeking drug abuse treatment
NIDA: Vaping popular among teens; opioid misuse at historic lows
NIDA FOR TEENS: Brain and addiction
NIDA FOR TEENS: Prescription drugs
ONDCP: Prescription drug abuse
SAMHSA: Efforts to fight prescription drug misuse and abuse
SAMHSA: Prescription drug misuse and abuse
SAMHSA: Results from the 2016 national survey on drug use and health

Leave a Reply

23 Responses to “How to identify prescription drug addiction
Monica
10:02 pm January 23rd, 2009

Sometimes, it’s hard to see addiction in the people that are closest to us. It seems normal. Thanks for sharing this powerful story.

Truby
6:42 am January 27th, 2009

Prescription drug abuse is very popular today especially amongst our young children. The sooner they quit, the better off they will be. They must first change their mind set before they attemp to get off of these prescription drugs. The battle will be hard but it can be done, no doubt.

Truby

nntrdr
7:46 pm February 4th, 2009

Thank you for sharing that powerful story. The information you provided is very informative and helpful. Prescription drug use is becoming more and more of a problem in today’s society. I would also like to recommend another website with useful information on prescription drug use.

SARA
4:40 am April 10th, 2009

I was addicted to vicodin for 3 years and my life was a living hell. Constantly worrying about getting enough to stop the withdrawal, risking life and limb to keep supplied ,,not to mention the money. I lucked out and found a program locally that got me off that shit FOREVER..and I wish that everyone in my situation could find this kind of help. I went to Recovered Life and was treated with respect and total professional attitude–nobody was judgmental. I live in the Midwest US and the clinic is in Chicago. It seemed expensive at first but I researched it and they were the best deal. The nurse was with me by phone every step of the way but I never really suffered! I only missed one day of work. Suboxone is a miracle and Recovered Life has my vote for best treatment around.

Mike
7:46 pm April 17th, 2009

thanks for the post. Yes, I agree how difficult it is to figure out if someone is addicted to pain killers or other scripts. Explaining you are concerned for them is always the first step. It can a helpful seed for them to ask their doctor if this the right medication. It could be a great eye openner.

Jessica Steinberg
9:05 pm May 4th, 2009

When you grow up around an addict, their behavior may not seem unusual. Alternatively, I have found that many parents ignore the signs in their teenagers, taking their changed behavior as something that just comes with the difficult age.
Thank you for posting such a thorough article, it was a pleasure to read.

michele
9:41 pm June 16th, 2009

My sister is an addict so i know how hard it is and now she is recieveing perscribeed suboxon in order to help her with the craving of the drugs she wants. so having this information can help alot of people to understand and see that this happens more then you think.

GinaBee1
5:18 am November 10th, 2009

It is very hard to see drug addiction in the family when U do not want to.

Bill Blake
12:25 am November 12th, 2009

Addiction drug prescription is a deceptive and deadly disease. I wish you all the best of luck in your recovery.

Bobby Deerfield
12:16 am November 16th, 2009

Addiction drug prescription can be a deceptive and wanton beast. If you have a problem with pills, get help now!

Maria
11:47 am February 8th, 2010

I find that doctors nowadays easily prescribe medicines that can lead to addictions. That’s a terrible thing since people often don’t have any idea that they have become addicts.

kitdetox
1:07 pm February 18th, 2010

Big Pharma likes drugs that treat the symptoms but don’t cure the disease. And the side effects are almost always worse than the disease: one on that list is Purple Glove Syndrome…

sasha pearl
9:01 pm March 17th, 2010

These symptoms are correct. I myself am an addict and about 70% applied to me. I have not gone to a Dr for help yet but am considering it.

Her Broken Wing
5:31 am May 4th, 2010

Thank you…

I have posted your article on my blog.. Her Broken Wing… I am a recovering Nurse… addicted to Prescribed Pain meds…

good article..

thank you,
Beautifully Awkward…

Veritas Villa
7:42 pm June 7th, 2010

Prescription drug addiction seems to be a growing epidemic. The line can be particularly blurry, especially when the drug use has the endorsement of a medical professional. Just recently, Intervention featured a young woman who became addicted to pain killers after they were prescribed for her for Rheumatoid Arthritis. Although she was addicted to the painkillers, she was also in legitimate pain, which needed to be treated. Prescription drug addiction is a very complicated, often confusing situation.

Gabrielle
8:45 pm June 16th, 2010

Excellent article. Ruth Sanchez-Way, of the US Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), has coined substance abuse issues among older adults the “Silent Epidemic”. CSAP reports that about 17% of older Americans 60 years of age and older misuse prescription drugs, alcohol or both. At a recent National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) forum, US officials reported that they expected the number of older adults with alcohol and drug issues to increase by 150% by 2020.

Keneth Howat
9:41 am October 27th, 2010

im on day 3 of the most difficult journey of my life so far and was looking for a little help along the way found this site . just reading that there are people out their in a similar situation to me but just that little bit further on gives me the strength to carry on.

2:38 pm October 27th, 2010

Keneth – Please email me if you need help finding treatment resources in your local area. I can help refer you to prescription pill addiction treatment if you like.

Slow Fade
4:19 pm January 30th, 2011

My husband has been addicted to xanax and now due to a knee injury, loratab as well. There is such a stigma of shame attached to addiction. I have found such great support through my church family. Unfortunately, while my husband has an opportunity to attend a 6 week inpatient Christian Rehab (Penfield Christian Homes) he has found one excuse after another to go.He has been to a medical rehab twice and we have found that all they do is exchange one drug for another.
After 15 years of enabling him I have finally decided to exhibit “tough love” and have left my home, the most difficult thing I have ever done. Prescription drugs tear families apart. I can only pray that my husband gets help so that our family can be reconciled.

Steve
9:52 pm January 31st, 2011

Dear Slow Fade,

You have probably done the best thing possible in leaving the home. I’m sure it’s very difficult, so please lean on your church family for support.
My suggestion to you would be to educate yourself and focus on why you were willing to do endure this for so long.

There is life after addiction, with or without your husband. Now is the time to become empowered by healthy behaviors that can restore your life to sanity.
Find material on Codependency and hopefully a workbook that will help you address the family behaviors. Melodie Beattie has a great book called ‘Codependency No More’, You can Google here name and book and find many resources.

I will keep you in my prayers!
Dr. Steve

Chiropractic Lover
7:26 pm January 7th, 2012

Addiction for any kind of drugs or specially pain killers are very bad habits. Thank you for your valuable information. nice article.

Sean
7:38 pm August 30th, 2012

The only option for A full physical and mental recovery is a 12 step program. It doesn’t matter what drug you’re addicticted to because all addiction is the same. I chose to use alcoholics anonymous in my recovery even though opiates are my drug of choice simply because AA is much greater in numbers, strength, and success in my area. Some of you may believe you have the power to live a sober life using will power but those of you who think this way will be miserable and will not stay sober forever until you fully commit to a 12 step program. The drugs and alcohol are not the issue however your thinking is.

Colton
3:12 pm July 10th, 2014

I’ve been through this. I’m only 19. Ive gotten over this and I can tell you first hand that the craving will never ever go away but hope will always be there.

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