Prescription medication dependence stems from not using a prescription drug the way it was intended and prescribed. Prescriptions are meant to be used for specific purposes, but people often take them for other reasons or do things with them that were never intended. This can lead to overdose, dependence on the drugs, withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them, and even death if not used properly.
The most common types of medications abused include pain relievers like:
Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet. Other commonly abused prescriptions include antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, sleeping pills, muscle relaxers, ADHD stimulants, cough syrup, cold medicine, antibiotics, etc.
How Do I Know If My Drug Use Is Abusive Or Not?
If your drug use has become abusive, there will likely be signs that something isn’t right. These may include:
- You’re abusing more than one type of drug at once.
- Your tolerance level has increased so much that you need higher doses of the same drug every day.
- You’ve started missing work because of how high you feel all the time.
- You have trouble getting up in the morning without feeling sick.
- You’re having difficulty stopping after just a few days of abstinence.
- You’re spending money faster than usual.
- You’re experiencing mood swings.
- You’re becoming irritable and angry toward those around you.
- You’re making poor decisions about friends, family members, jobs, etc.
- You’re drinking alcohol excessively.
- You’re doing things that could harm yourself or someone.
What’s more, these behaviors aren’t normal for you. They don’t make sense. And they definitely shouldn’t happen while you’re trying to get better.
Medical consequences of prescription medication dependence
When you misuse prescription drugs, you put yourself at risk for many serious health issues, including:
Overdose – Taking too much of any substance, whether it’s food, water, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, illegal substances, or prescription drugs, puts you at greater risk for an adverse reaction. In some cases, overdosing leads to coma or death. Overdoses also increase the likelihood of developing liver disease, kidney damage, heart failure, seizures, brain injury, stroke, respiratory arrest, and sudden cardiac death.
Physical dependence and addiction – Physical dependence occurs when repeated exposure causes changes in the body. Withdrawal symptoms occur when you suddenly stop taking a drug. The effects of physical dependence vary depending upon which drug you took and why you took it. Some drugs cause euphoria, sedation, or anxiety.
Withdrawal Symptoms – An abrupt ending of opioid use results in severe physical discomfort called “withdrawal syndrome.” Withdrawal usually begins within hours to several days following discontinuation of long-term use. Then, over the next 24–48 hours, patients experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, chills, sweating, yawning, goosebumps, restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, depression, hallucinations, delusions, confusion, agitation, tremors, headaches, dizziness, tachycardia, diaphoresis, and myalgia.
How misuse of prescription drugs affects your brain
In addition to causing withdrawal symptoms, opioids can change the structure and function of some regions of the brain. The process is known as neuroplasticity, which is the nervous system’s ability to reorganize itself based on new experiences. This allows each of us to learn from our mistakes and adapt to changing circumstances.
However, suppose we repeatedly expose ourselves to addictive substances such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, tobacco, alcohol, and other illicit drugs. In that case, we are less able to cope with stress and trauma. We lose control over our emotions and behavior. Our brains develop abnormal patterns of activity that lead to problems with memory, judgment, impulse control, decision-making skills, concentration, and attention span.
What Can Be Done To Help Me Get Better?
There are many different ways to help you recover from an opioid dependency. Some options include:
- Talk therapy – Talking through what happened and why it made you continue using opioids enables you to understand where you went wrong. It also allows you to see the situation clearly and learn new coping skills. • Cognitive behavioral therapy – CBT teaches you to recognize negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. By changing your thinking patterns, you’ll find it easier to change your behavior.
- Support groups – Opioid recovery support groups provide peer counseling and encouragement. In addition, they offer information about treatment centers and rehab facilities near you.
- Self-help books – Reading self-help books will give you ideas for dealing with life situations that might trigger cravings. The goal here is to identify triggers before they cause you to relapse.
- Twelve-step programs – A twelve-step program provides tools to deal with issues related to medication dependence.
Spotting and Preventing Potential Prescription Medication Dependence in Someone You Love
Children – Parents should teach their children to always ask for their permission before taking their medicine. Parents should check pill bottles regularly to prevent accidental overdoses. When children start school, talk to teachers about keeping prescriptions away from kids until after lunchtime, when everyone eats together.
Teens – Teens may be more likely than adults to take their parents’ prescriptions without asking permission first. They often don’t realize how much harm this could do to them. If someone else has access to your medicine cabinet, make sure they don’t have any reason to get into it. Keep all prescriptions out of sight. Don’t leave pills lying around. Also, keep track of who gets what medicines so you know what is going on.
Adults – Adults should never share their pain meds with anyone else unless told otherwise by their physician. Never give another person your prescription without checking with them first. Make sure there aren’t any side effects associated with the prescriptions.
Older Adults – Older people need to carefully weigh the pros and cons of taking multiple medications at once. Your primary care provider or your pharmacist can discuss with you which combination would work best for you. Discuss potential interactions between various types of medications.
If you suspect someone close to you is suffering from prescription medication dependence
abusing prescription medication, call 1-800-662-HELP. Your local poison center can tell you what to look for and what steps to take next.