When you use a prescription medication in a way other than that directed by a prescribing physician, then you are abusing that medication. This misuse can easily become an addiction with negative effects. People abuse prescription drugs for many reasons. Some of these include social pressure, experimenting with effects, to relieve stress, to feel high, or to increase alertness or concentration for work school. Because these drugs activate the reward center of the brain, you can become addicted to them and continue to use them even if the consequences for your life are serious.
The types of drugs that people commonly misuse include painkillers, stimulants, and sedatives. In fact, prescription drugs, after marijuana and alcohol, are the most commonly abused substances in the U.S. An estimated 52 million people have taken prescription drugs for a nonmedical reason at least once.
Everyone is susceptible, but prescription drug abuse is particularly common among young people. Risks also include having a mental illness, having past or present substance abuse problems, being exposed to peer pressure, and having access to prescription drugs. Though young people tend to abuse more commonly, older people who take multiple medications are also at risk.
Prescription Drugs Commonly Abused
Opioids (painkillers) such as oxycodone (Oxycontin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin).
- If a person is abusing opiods, they might experience sweating, confusion, slowed breathing, lower blood pressure, poor coordination, and depression. A person abusing opiods is at risk for choking, dangerously low blood pressure and breathing rate, and even could fall into a coma.
Anti-anxiety medications and sedatives used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, such as alprazolam (Xanax) or zolpidem (Ambien).
- If a person is abusing sedatives, they may experience restlessness, irregular heartbeat, insomnia, high blood pressure, irritability, and weight loss. A person is at risk for memory loss, and overdose can lead to a coma or death.
Stimulants used to treat ADHD and sleep disorders like methylphenidate (Ritalin)
- If a person is abusing these medications, they may experience dizziness, poor judgment, lack of balance, drowsiness, and rapid eye movement. A person is at risk for heart problems, seizures, paranoia, and hallucinations.
Other symptoms of prescription drug abuse might include:
- Obtaining prescriptions from multiple doctors
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Pretending to misplace prescriptions
- Sudden changes in mood
- Appearing high or sedated
The consequences of prescription drug abuse, in addition to the physical symptoms, include illegal drug use, car accidents, criminal actions, decreased performance at school and work, relationship problems, and other instances of poor judgment.
Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention
To lower the risk of prescription drug abuse, follow directions on your medication. Never change the dosage without consulting with your doctor. Also take steps to understand your medication. You should know what effects to expect and which would be abnormal. Be sure to only take your medication. Never use another person’s medication, even if you have similar medical conditions. Whenever you’re prescribed a medication, you should communicate with your doctor. He or she should know your symptoms and what other medications you are taking to ensure you are prescribed what’s best for you. Also be sure to limit access to prescriptions for children and teens. If your child is taking medication, they should know it’s not okay to share it with others or to take without your supervision. You should also talk to them about the dangers of abusing the medication.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a major part of prescription drug abuse treatment. Therapy can address mental health and relationship issues that contributed to the addiction. It also provides psychoeducation about addiction and how to prevent it from reoccurring. Your doctor or a mental health professional may also recommend peer support groups, which can be a valuable resource for those struggling with addiction. Other supports include friends and family, religious organizations or churches, and employee assistance programs.
When detoxing from prescription drugs, you should consult with a doctor. Side effects of withdrawal can be serious and not overlooked. Sometimes medication may be used to reduce symptoms, such as buprenorphine for opioid withdrawal. Even if you don’t need medication for withdrawals, it’s important to consult with physician to keep track of symptoms and to ensure you are getting proper sleep and nutrition.
Remember, you have a prescription drug abuse problem, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. You might feel embarrassed, but they are there to help, and the sooner you can deal with the problem, the more you can prevent serious consequences. Before your appointment, make a list of all the medications you take, your symptoms, and key stressors in your life.
What steps can you take today to prevent and address prescription drug abuse? You’re never alone, and the first step starts with asking for help.