Prescription drugs and the fact that they can cause addiction have been thrust into the spotlight in recent weeks because of the death of pop superstar Prince. The fact that the singer was secretly struggling with an opioid medication addiction suddenly became news, which has highlighted the fact that there are many people around the world suffering from all sorts of prescription dependencies, including benzodiazepine addiction and opiate addiction.
Prince was allegedly abusing opioids for the past twenty-five years. It is believed he started taking strong painkillers to treat a hip problem, but like many others, he developed a dependency on the drugs. Indeed, a former drug dealer has spoken of how he was selling the star up to $40,000 worth of the drugs every six months.
Prescription Drug Addiction
Drug addiction is an illness that occurs gradually and it begins when a person starts to develop a tolerance to a particular substance. Prescription medication is generally administered to those with severe or chronic pain or those recovering from a surgical procedure. It is widely recognised that these medications should only be used over a short period as many of these pills are highly addictive and dangerous when abused.
The problem with prescription medication is that many people believe them to be entirely safe. While these medications are safe when taken as prescribed, they can be harmful if not taken in the correct manner. Those who take more of the drug than they are advised to will quickly build up a tolerance and will then need to take the drug more often or more of it to get the same effect. When they feel a ‘need’ for the drug, or when they experience withdrawal symptoms when they do not take it, they have crossed the line into addiction.
A recent report showed that the number of deaths due to opioid medication overdose in the US has risen by almost four hundred per cent in the past fifteen years; it is a problem here in the UK, too. Addiction specialist Joshua Lee has warned that while abusing any chemical substance can be dangerous, it is just as dangerous to try to wean yourself off them. He said, “Withdrawal can kill you. “Alcohol withdrawal is the classic example, where you can have autonomic instability, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, your heart’s working overtime, your circulatory system is going haywire, your brain freaks out, and you can have seizures that are unstoppable without treatment.”
He also warned that those suffering from benzodiazepine addiction also face unpleasant side effects when going through withdrawal; and unfortunately, at times, these can be fatal.
To overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it will first be necessary to get rid of all traces of the chemical substance from the body. This process is known as detoxification and is best carried out under the medical supervision of a qualified professional. The reason for this is that many individuals undergoing a programme of detox will experience withdrawal symptoms, which can range from mild to severe. Most symptoms will be mild though and will pass after a period of a few days to a couple of weeks. Nevertheless, some people may experience persistent symptoms that can linger for up to a year.
Lee explained the reason for withdrawal symptoms; he said the body has learned to function in an alcohol or drug induced state and when these substances are removed, the body responds. He said, “It’s kind of the opposite of what you are getting when you’re intoxicated. In part, it is because the brain was doing all this work behind the scenes to basically make you functional while you were [intoxicated], and without these drugs you are overcompensating.”
Side Effects of Addiction Withdrawal
It is not just those who abuse chemical substances at risk of withdrawal symptoms. According to Lee, any substance taken regularly by individuals have the potential to cause withdrawal symptoms. He said that the body can become physically dependent on prescription drugs even if the patient is not misusing the drugs.
Those who take drugs regularly over an extended period are at risk of addiction; once the body has started to expect this medication, it can be difficult to stop. The brain becomes used to the drugs and will anticipate it. When it does not arrive, the body must adapt, and it is this that causes the unpleasant symptoms such as headaches, nausea, irritation, agitation, muscle aches, vomiting and mood swings. Severe symptoms include hallucinations, paranoid delusions, and seizures.
Those suffering alcohol or benzodiazepine addiction are at most risk of severe symptoms. In fact, it is these two substances that pose a risk of fatal complications during withdrawal. Lee said that most people detoxing from addiction will not be in danger of death despite the symptoms being ‘awful’, adding, “With the right medical care, all of these withdrawal symptoms are completely manageable. But there are hurdles, which is why people have a hard time on their own.”