Prescription Drug Abuse

Overview

Prescription drug abuse is any use of a prescription medication that is not prescribed by a doctor. This includes taking medicine that is not prescribed to you, taking a higher dose than prescribed, taking pills by crushing them for snorting or injections, and more.

There is a false sense of security surrounding the abuse of prescription drugs because the drugs are legal. But prescription drugs are every bit as dangerous and addictive as street drugs like heroin or cocaine, and should only be taken exactly as prescribed by a doctor.

Symptoms

Symptoms of prescription drug abuse vary based on the drug. The most commonly abused prescription drugs include opioids containing oxycodone or hydrocodone (such as Percocet and Oxycontin), anti-anxiety medicine (such as Valium and Xanax), hypnotics or sleep medication (such as Ambien), and stimulants used to treat ADHD (such as Adderall and Ritalin).

Symptoms of prescription drug abuse include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, euphoria, slowed or rapid breathing, drowsiness or lack of sleep, confusion, poor coordination, slurred speech, inability to concentrate or remember things, rapid or slowed heartbeat, skipping heartbeat, hot or cold flashes, irritability, anxiety

Warning signs of prescription drugs abuse include: taking more and more of a substance to achieve the desired effects, stealing medications, lying to doctors to get medications, getting prescriptions from more than one doctor, forging prescriptions, seeming sedated or unusually energetic, and requesting frequent or early refills.

Causes

There are many reasons why people abuse prescription drugs, depending both on the circumstances of the person and the type of drug. Common reasons for drug abuse include: to get high (feel euphoric or numb), to distress, to suppress appetite, to stay awake, to go to sleep, to prevent withdrawals, to avoid physical or emotional pain, to be accepted by others in social settings, and to improve work, school, or athletic performance.

Risk factors

Many addicts report becoming addicted to prescription medications after being prescribed medication for a legitimate medical condition. This does not mean that everybody who takes prescription medicine will become addicted. If you follow your doctor’s directions, you will most likely be safe and not develop an addiction.

Risk factors for prescription drug abuse include history of addiction or current addiction to any other substances (such as alcohol and tobacco), genetic predisposition to addiction, seeing addictive behaviors at home, certain mental health disorders, peer pressure, and easy access to prescription medicine.

Complications

Prescription drug abuse can lead to many physical and mental health problems or even death. This risk increases when prescription drugs are taken in higher dosages or combined with other substances. Opioids and anti-anxiety medications can slow breathing and heartbeat to a dangerously slow rate that can cause you to stop receiving oxygen to the brain. This can cause a coma that could result in brain damage or death.

Stimulant drugs can cause dangerously high body temperature, rapid or irregular heartbeat, seizures, audio or visual hallucinations, aggression, and paranoia. Once a person is addicted and physically dependent on a drug, quitting cold turkey instead of weaning safely off drugs can also have severe risks and be fatal.

There are other consequences of prescription drug addiction besides physical dependency or overdose. These include legal troubles, involvement in a dangerous crime, driving accidents, poor judgment, difficulty with relationships, financial troubles, and problems at work.

Prevention

There may come a time when you are prescribed any of the above prescription medications and fear to become addicted. Talk to your doctor honestly about your concerns. If a medication isn’t working for you, speak to your doctor instead of taking more. Only take it as prescribed and do not get refills that are not recommended. Ask for over the counter or natural alternatives. Never use someone else’s or an expired prescription, and never give your prescription medicine to someone else. Do not mix prescription drugs with other substances.