Avoid Prescription Drug Abuse by Asking These Questions
Every year, roughly 15 million Americans use prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons. Data shows that prescription drugs are abused and misused more than any other substance with the exception of alcohol and marijuana. Regardless of whether prescription drug abuse is intentional or unintentional, this behavior can lead to serious problems with one’s overall health, and increase the risk for dependency and addiction.
Prescription drug abuse can affect anyone, but nationwide trends show that prescription drug abuse is more common among teens, senior adults, and young women. But knowing what constitutes this behavior can help you and your family stay safe, and avoid prescription drug addiction.
Could you or your loved ones be abusing prescription drugs? Here are facts about prescription drug abuse, along with tips on how to avoid becoming dependent on these substances.
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How Common is Prescription Drug Abuse?
Prescription drug abuse is defined as using prescription drugs differently from how they were originally prescribed by a doctor. This may involve using drugs that were prescribed to someone else, taking higher doses than directed, or using the drugs for recreation. Crushing, snorting, injecting, or using the drugs in ways other than directed is also defined as prescription drug abuse.
While 15 million Americans abuse prescription drugs yearly, roughly 6.5 million Americans abuse prescription drugs every month. Evidence shows that prescription drug abuse affects young adults more than any other age group. Young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 are the biggest abusers of painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs, and ADHD medications like Adderall and Ritalin.
Prescription drug abuse is on the rise across the U.S. on behalf of increasing availability, and misperceptions surrounding the safety of prescription drug use. The U.S. opioid crisis is also contributing to a rise in prescription drug abuse and vice versa, since between 21 and 29 percent of all patients who use painkillers are shown to misuse their medications. Painkillers including methadone and synthetic opioids like fentanyl caused more than 37,000 overdose deaths in 2016.
Why Do People Abuse Prescription Drugs?
The most commonly abused prescription drugs are opioids, central nervous system depressants, and stimulants.
People abuse prescription drugs for all kinds of reasons, such as to achieve a euphoric high, or to self-treat for certain health conditions without having to visit the doctor. Many people even abuse prescription drugs under the assumption it’s safe to do so since these drugs are legally prescribed by doctors.
Here are common reasons people abuse prescription drugs.
- Chronic pain. Those who suffer long-term, chronic pain may take higher doses of painkillers with the intent of achieving better pain relief.
- Euphoria. Misusing prescription drugs can cause euphoric effects including pleasure, happiness, and excitement.
- Cognitive boost. High-school and university students commonly abuse ADHD stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin to improve focus, memory, and concentration, and to boost their grades
- Weight loss. Loss of appetite is a side effect of many prescription stimulants, which can lead to weight loss when misused.
- Peer pressure. Teens and young adults may abuse prescription drugs to fit in and be more social with peers.
- To be safer. Many are under the false belief that prescription drugs are safer to use than illicit drugs because of their legality — even when used recreationally.
- Carelessness. Some may accidentally double up on doses if they misread bottle labels, or forget when they took their last dose.
- Tolerance and dependence. People may abuse prescription drugs if they’ve become tolerant and require higher doses, which can lead to physical dependence and cravings for more drugs.
Regardless of one’s reasons for misusing prescription drugs, this behavior can be deadly and increase the risk for serious long-term health problems. Prescription drugs should always be used as directed to lower the risk for an accidental overdose and serious health effects.
Avoid Prescription Drug Abuse by Asking These Questions
If you or a loved one currently uses prescription drugs for any reason, here are tips that can help you avoid the onset of dependence and addiction. Ask yourself these questions to stay safe, and to lower your risk for drug abuse.
Question #1: What Medications Should I Avoid Taking While on This Prescription?
It’s not unusual for some people to take multiple medications for the treatment of multiple health conditions. But sometimes your doctor may not be aware you’re using drugs prescribed by another doctor, such as a dentist or oncologist. Certain drug combinations can increase the risk for prescription drug abuse, and may even be deadly.
When using two or more medications, ask your doctor to confirm whether your medications are safe to use at the same time. This helps prevent prescription drug abuse, along with serious related side effects and complications.
Drug combinations to avoid:
- Opioids and benzodiazepines. This deadly combo depresses the central nervous system and can cause respiratory failure, coma, and death.
- Alcohol and opioids. These substances slow down the central nervous system and can lead to impaired brain activity, slowed organ function, coma, and death.
- Alcohol and benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are also central nervous system depressants that can heighten the effects of alcohol, and vice versa.
Most prescription drug labels advise against drinking alcohol while using medication, since alcohol can negate or magnify the drug’s effects, or interfere adversely with most prescription drugs. Plus, prescription drugs in the form of cough syrups and cold medications may already contain alcohol, and can increase the risk for intoxication when combined with more alcohol.
Question #2: Should I Use This Medication if I Have a History of Addiction?
Some medications carry a high risk for abuse and dependence, and could lead to addiction in those who already have a history of drug or alcohol addiction. Opioids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants are among the most highly addictive prescription drugs. Doctors are often urged to prescribe these drugs for short-term use to prevent dependence and addiction.
Opioids cause the brain to release higher amounts of dopamine — a feel-good chemical that regulates feelings of reward and pleasure. A person who abuses opioids may continue using the drug to experience its euphoric effects, which increases their risk for addiction.
Research shows that benzodiazepines affect the brain’s dopamine production in a way similar to opioids. Those who abuse benzodiazepines will experience a surge in dopamine levels and face a higher risk for addiction.
Stimulants prescribed to treat ADHD including Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin are defined as Schedule II drugs that carry a high risk for abuse, dependence, and addiction.
If you or your loved one has a history of addiction, ask your doctor about alternative treatments that can help you avoid relapse.
Question #3: Is This Medication Safe for Long-Term Use?
Many prescription drugs are designed to treat just the symptoms of health conditions, and often do not treat the root cause. Long-term use of certain drugs can cause lasting changes to the brain and body that can take years to treat and reverse.
Before starting a new medication, find out whether the medication is intended for short-term use or long-term use. Then, work with your doctor on finding treatments that can treat the root cause of your health condition so you do not have to stay on medication for a long period of time. Using most types of prescription drugs long-term can significantly heighten the risk for addiction — even with drugs considered mildly addictive.
Question #4: Can I Use Other People’s Medication?
Doctors will often tailor medications and doses to each individual patient based on their unique health status. Sometimes, a patient’s medication can be far too strong or potent for other individuals. For instance, opioids prescribed to someone who is tolerant to high doses may be deadly to someone who has never used an opioid before.
In the U.S., using other people’s medications is illegal. Never take prescription drugs without having a valid prescription, since doing so can cause legal problems and increase the risk for overdose, coma, and death.
Question #5: What Can Be Done to Curb Prescription Drug Abuse Rates?
In wake of the U.S. opioid epidemic, changes have been made nationwide to reduce prescription drug abuse rates. Doctors and pharmacists have been issued new opioid prescribing guidelines, and are being encouraged to prescribe safer medications that carry a lower risk for abuse. Meanwhile, many states are improving their prescription drug monitoring programs, or PDMPs.
PDMPs allow prescribers to track prescriptions by patient so they can avoid issuing unneeded prescriptions that may lead to drug abuse. Many who suffer prescription drug abuse practice the illegal act of doctor shopping, which involves visiting several doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions.
Manufacturers of prescription drugs are also developing abuse-deterrent formulations, or ADFs — technologies that prevent patients from misusing prescription drugs. For example, some pills are being manufactured with physical or chemical barriers that prevent patients from misusing pills through crushing, dissolving, or grinding. Some medications are even starting to contain added substances that cause unpleasant side effects when the drugs are misused.
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Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse
Many who abuse prescription drugs are often unaware of the effects this behavior can have on their overall well-being, and on their physical and psychological health. Each drug produces its own unique effects on the body and brain.
Here are common effects of prescription drug abuse.
- Liver disease. The liver is responsible for removing chemicals and drugs from the bloodstream. Abusing prescription drugs can overload the liver, and increase the risk for liver disease.
- Respiratory disease. Those who crush and smoke prescription drugs are at increased risk for respiratory disease.
- Heart disease. Abusing prescription stimulants and anesthetics like ketamine can lead to heart disease.
- Cancer. Prescription drug abuse can interfere with normal bodily processes and increase the risk for inflammation and cancer — especially anabolic steroids.
- HIV and hepatitis C. Injecting prescription drugs and sharing needles can expose one to serious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.
- Mental health disorders. Prescription drug abuse causes long-term changes to the brain that increase the risk for depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.
- Cognitive decline. Misusing prescription drugs increases the risk for cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Hallucinations. Prescription drugs like antipsychotics and benzodiazepines have been linked to a high risk for hallucinations when abused.
- Birth defects. Abusing certain drugs like opioids and anti-seizure medications can lead to birth defects in babies — including neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS, when babies are born with addiction.
- Addiction. Prescription drug abuse can lead to tolerance, which is when someone requires higher amounts to achieve the drug’s effects. Tolerance can lead to physical dependence, followed by psychological addiction.
Addiction is a behavior that can completely alter one’s lifestyle, and cause problems with relationships, career, and education. Those who suffer from addiction often prioritize drug use above all else, and may run into problems with finances or the law. Fortunately, you and your loved ones can avoid prescription drug abuse by learning how to use prescription drugs safely and correctly.
Getting Help for Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction
Prescription drug abuse and addiction can be safely and effectively treated at drug detox centers— regardless of the type of drug being misused. Detox centers use treatments designed to help people overcome prescription drug dependency without enduring pain, discomfort, and adverse effects that can occur when quitting cold turkey. Many times, the drug of abuse is replaced with other medications that allow patients to safely and comfortably withdraw and recover from drug abuse.
Opioid detox is commonly conducted using medication-assisted treatment, or MAT. Those recovering from opioid use disorder can be prescribed medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone to relieve opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and block the effects of other opioids.
Those recovering from addiction to stimulants and central nervous system depressants like benzodiazepines and barbiturates usually detox from these drugs using a tapering schedule. Tapering is when doctors reduce their patients’ doses gradually over time until they’re no longer using the medication. The tapering method is one of the safest detox methods used to help patients overcome dependence without suffering severe, adverse side effects and complications.
Following prescription drug detox, patients can receive behavioral therapies that help them modify negative behaviors and thought-processes, and that teach them new strategies for managing cravings and avoiding relapse. Group and family counseling are also included in most drug detox programs to help patients improve their relationships with friends, family, and other community members.
If you or someone you love needs help recovering from prescription drug abuse, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) . Our caring staff members will discuss your drug detox options, and help you find a nearby treatment center devoted to helping you achieve an addiction-free lifestyle.