Prescription drugs, classified as controlled substances, are widely accepted as an essential medical necessity in treating a variety of health conditions. However, many prescription medications have highly addictive side effects that can attract patients for purposes other than medical necessity.
In recent years, there has been a worrying increase in the number of people administering inappropriate or unnecessary over-the-counter medications, among both adults and children. They often arrive in hospital emergency wards due to overdose or complications arising from the use of prescribed medication with other illicit drugs or dangerous substances (alcohol or other illicit drugs). Incorrect or abusive use of prescription drugs can lead to serious addictive behaviours, serious health risks, and possibly death.
Drug addiction, whether prescribed or not, is a brain condition characterised by the urgent compulsion to use certain substances.
Prescription drug addiction usually occurs gradually over time as the patient likes the side effects of the drug they begin to want more and more in a shorter time span. As the drugs are administered on a regular and long-term basis, the brain can be damaged, impacting the person’s ability to make responsible decisions. This leads to an almost impossible pattern to break as they consume the prescription drugs faster than they can refill them; they often turn to illicit and cheaper street drugs as a substitute.
Prescription drugs abuse or addiction
People who abuse prescription drugs have a high risk level for developing addiction. Doctors warn of several risk factors that can predispose to prescription drugs abuse. Sometimes, the predisposition for drug abuse depends on the biological, social and psychological structure of each person.
There is also a genetic predisposition to this behaviour. People with substance abuse cases in the family are more prone to develop addictive behaviour. Social factors also influence addictive behaviour. Vulnerable people can be influenced by the entourage which encourages the use of prescription drugs and illicit substances thus developing dependency.
What are Prescription Drugs?
When purchasing a prescription drug it is legally necessary to show a medical prescription, as opposed to over-the-counter drugs that can be purchased without a prescription.
Prescription drugs are recommended by a physician in the treatment of many illnesses. Those with high potential for abuse can be categorised into several groups:
- Opioids (analgesics)
Opioids are part of the category of powerful analgesics, related to morphine and codeine, which can only be acquired with a prescription. Opioids are prescribed only in case of severe chronic pain when other drugs do not provide relief. These are strong painkillers that can lead to drug addiction, but not if taken over a short period of time and under the strict supervision of a doctor. Taken long-term and in combination with substances that negatively impact the central nervous system – alcohol, antidepressants – opioids can be fatal and can cause death. A person can develop opioid dependence when they become addicted to the euphoric sensation that occurs immediately after taking the pills.
- CNS (Central Nervous System) Depressants
Sedative-hypnotic-tranquilizer drugs, often prescribed to treat depression, anxiety and sleep disorders are part of the category of CNS depressants that can lead to problem use, known as a substance use disorder. They induce drowsiness and a soothing effect through the action they have on the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), causing a decrease in brain activity. Sedative drugs have the greatest addictive potential, due to their fast calming and euphoric effect.
- Stimulant medications
Stimulants are used to treat many ailments and are some of the most popular over-the-counter medications. Stimulants are designed to energise and restore functioning all body systems. Stimulates alertness, attention and concentration, contracts blood vessels, increases heart rate, blood sugar and blood pressure and helps open the airways.
Signs of prescription drug addiction
The symptoms vary depending on each category of potentially addictive drugs separately.
People who abuse or are dependent on opioid analgesics category experience symptoms such as:
- accentuated sadness (depression)
- excessive sweating
- lack of coordination or loss of balance
- low pulse heart rate
People living with a dependence on the central nervous system (CNS) depressants have manifestations characterised by:
- unsteady walk
- involuntary eye movements
- accentuated drowsiness
Stimulant drug addicts experience symptoms such as:
- weight loss
- irregular pulse (often very high)
- impulsive, uncontrollable behaviour
- accentuated state of irritability
Behaviours that indicate prescription drug abuse:
- risky behaviours (stealing, violent acts)
- sudden mood swings
- hostile behaviour
- social isolation
- sleeping disorders
- hallucinations or delusions
- irresponsible decisions or inability to make decisions
- manipulative behaviours: frequenting different doctors and frequent “loss” of prescriptions
Prescription drugs addiction treatment
Addiction to prescription drugs is a serious condition but can be treated successfully. The multidisciplinary approach to addiction provides better and long-term results, helping people living with an addiction to completely give up drug addiction and stay away from other addictive behaviours. Many drug rehab centres in the UK offer treatment programs for prescription drug addiction.
If you or someone close is struggling with addiction, on Guide to Rehab you can find treatment centres specialised in helping people overcome prescription drug addiction.