Prescription Drugs

Prescription drugs are typically strong medications that require careful usage in order to prevent any negative side effects. This is why the legal purchase and use of such drugs requires a prescription from your GP. Before a doctor decides to prescribe you a medication, they will first weigh up the potential risks and benefits of you using that specific drug. When prescription medication is abused, this is considered potentially as dangerous as abusing illegal drugs.

One of the greatest dangers of abusing prescription medication is the risk of developing a physical dependence or an addiction to the drug in question. Prescription medications that carry the most risk of addiction include sedatives, stimulants, opioids, and benzodiazepines. Although not all prescription drugs are addictive, you should never use them in a manner other than what is prescribed by your doctor. Doing otherwise can be injurious to your physical and mental health, and could even prove fatal in worst case scenarios.

Prescription medication’s potential for addiction is greatly increased when used alongside alcohol or other drugs to enhance its effects. Globally, prescription medication is the third most commonly abused type of drugs. Slang terms are used to describe a variety of commonly abused prescription medication. For instance, opioids are typically referred to on the street as happy pills, oxy, percs, and vikes. Depressants are nicknamed barbs, downers, candy, reds, tranks, yellow jackets, and zombie pills. Meanwhile, stimulants are also known as bennies, speed, or uppers.

Why do people abuse prescription drugs?

People of different ages from various walks of life abuse prescription drugs for any number of reasons. The most common of which are:

  • To feel ‘high’ or experience euphoria
  • To relieve tension
  • To be accepted by peers
  • To reduce appetite
  • To experiment
  • To feed an addiction

Commonly abused prescription drugs include stimulants, pain relievers, tranquilisers and sedatives.

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Dangers of abusing prescription medication

People abuse prescription drugs for the short term benefits of feeling good. However, continued abuse of such drugs poses a variety of health risks, such as:

Dangers of pain relievers

  • Can slow one’s breathing to dangerous levels
  • Highly addictive
  • Result in an accidental overdose
  • Particularly dangerous when abused alongside alcohol

Dangers of stimulants

  • Risk of physical dependence and addiction
  • Dangerously high body temperature
  • Leads to seizures/irregular heartbeat

Dangers of tranquilisers and sedatives

  • Reduces breathing and heartbeat to dangerous levels, especially when combined with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants
  • Potential seizures after prolonged abuse
  • Can lead to physical dependence, which will result in withdrawal when you try to quit

How to know when someone is abusing prescription medication

People abusing prescription medication over a long period begin to manifest the following symptoms:

  • Doctor shopping (sourcing multiple prescriptions from various doctors)
  • Using drugs at higher doses
  • Increase or decrease in sleep
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Stealing, forging or selling prescriptions
  • Excessive and sudden mood swings
  • Poor decision-making
  • Being unusually energetic or sedated
  • Expressing unusual euphoria

Commonly abused prescription drugs

Popularly abused prescription medication can be generally classified into opioids, which are prescribed to treat pain; stimulants, which are prescribed for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; and Central Nervous System (CNS) depressants, prescribed to treat sleep orders, depression or anxiety.

Some of the most popularly abused prescription drugs around the world include:

Pregabalin

Pregabalin is commonly marketed under the brand name, Lyrica. Because of its potential side effects and relatively low potential for abuse, the drug is classified as a Schedule V controlled substance in the US. However, just because Pregabalin is considered to have a low potential for addiction doesn’t make the drug safe to abuse or use recreationally. Prolonged use of Pregabalin contrary to a doctor’s prescription (or without a prescription) can result in a variety of physical and psychological side effects. The level of risk is dependent on how it’s being abused and if it’s being used alongside other drugs.

Pregabalin was initially created for the treatment of seizures. Recently, it’s been discovered that the drug is equally effective for managing certain kinds of nerve pain, such as that experienced with multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, diabetes, or other illnesses that impact the nervous system.

Unlike opioid painkillers, Pregabalin induces a different type of ‘high’. Narcotic painkillers cause relaxation and pain relief, as well as a sense of euphoria. Pregabalin on the other hand induces relaxation alongside pain relief, but without any euphoria. If you continue to abuse Pregabalin to experience these effects, you’ll likely develop an addiction to the drug’s effects eventually.

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Opioid Painkillers

Painkillers upon use can result in a short-lived euphoria, but can also be addictive. The effects of and risk of addiction are dependent on the specific type of painkiller abused. For instance, opioid painkillers are the most commonly prescribed and have a potent effect on the human body.

If you use painkillers for an extended period of time or in doses contrary to what is prescribed by your doctor, you’re at significant risk of developing a physical dependence; this means your body has adapted to the presence and effects of the drug. You will subsequently experience withdrawal symptoms if you attempt to suddenly stop using the drug once this occurs.

Painkillers don’t actually cure pain. Rather, they suppress or negate the pain. Once the drug’s effects wear off, the pain will resurface, unless you’re healed of the actual cause of the pain. However, if you continuously keep trying to rid yourself of pain – or simply enjoy the effects of painkillers – you’ll eventually find yourself using increasingly higher doses of the drug to achieve the desired effects. This means you will have developed tolerance and are dangerously close to becoming dependent or are already dependent on the drug.

Gabapentin

Gabapentin is prescribed for neuropathic pain management and the treatment of seizures in epileptic individuals. It is classified as an anticonvulsant and is capable of changing how the body senses pain.

The positive uses of Gabapentin are well documented, but if taken contrary to a doctor’s prescription or abused recreationally, the drug has a high risk of abuse and addiction. People typically abuse Gabapentin for its euphoric effects or ‘high’. The risk of Gabapentin addiction is especially significant for individuals with a history of addiction.

Gabapentin’s potential psychotropic effects include euphoria, improved sociability, sense of calmness, and relaxation. However, bear in mind that the effects of the drug can vary from user to user, based on dosage, physiology, experience, and psychiatric history.

Diazepam

Diazepam is more commonly known as Valium (its brand name). The drug is a benzodiazepine, which enhances the effects of neurotransmitters and slows down brain activity. Because of this effect, Diazepam is typically prescribed for the management of seizures, anxiety, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Once swallowed or injected, the drug acts quickly and can induce instant feelings of euphoria. The rapid onset of Diazepam is one of the reasons it has a high rate of abuse.

Due to certain pleasurable effects of the drug, Diazepam is commonly abused recreationally – especially alongside heroine, alcohol or cocaine. Typical symptoms of abuse include using the drug in high doses against or without prescription, and using it alongside alcohol or other drugs to enhance its effects.

Like most other benzodiazepines, Diazepam has a marked risk of addiction and physical dependence – especially if the drug is used for an extended period of time or at high doses. Diazepam’s addiction potential is dependent on the individual and how it’s being abused. For instance, a person with a history of addiction is at greater risk of becoming dependent on the drug.

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Fentanyl (Duragesic)

Fentanyl can be described as a potent opioid narcotic, typically prescribed for the treatment of severe chronic pain. The drug is commonly abused because of its ability to induce intense pleasure when ingested or injected. Fentanyl has a high risk of abuse and can easily result in addiction if abused continuously over a short period of time. Once addiction occurs, you’ll need professional help to wean you off the drug and help you recover.

Fentanyl is legally available in injectable and oral forms, as well as transdermal patches. Doctors prescribe Fentanyl only if a patient’s pain can’t be managed with a less potent medication. While Fentanyl is accessible legally via prescription, accessing it illegally on the streets for recreational purposes is widespread.

Hydrocodone (Vicodin)

Hydrocodone medication are the most popularly prescribed drugs in the US. The drug is an opioid and can be classified as a narcotic analgesic. As an opioid, Hydrocodone interferes with pain signals in the brain and leads to a change in the emotional reaction and brain’s perception of pain.

Hydrocodone is commonly prescribed as a pain reliever and is marketed under the popular brand name, Vicodin (a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen). Due to its potency, Hydrocodone is an easily habit forming drug. Even if used according to prescription, the risk of developing a dependence on Hydrocodone is still significant.

A number of people addicted to Hydrocodone started out using the drug for managing pain, but along the way became addicted to its euphoric effects. Subsequently, using the drug over a period of time will eventually lead to tolerance. In turn, increased tolerance implies your body will require higher doses of the drug in order to feel the desired effects.

Oxycodone (OxyContin)

Oxycodone is a pain reliever, typically prescribed for the management of moderate to severe pain. It can be found in tablet form alone or as a combination with other pain relievers. Oxycodone is commonly marketed under brand names such as OxyContin, OxyIR, OxyFast, Percodan (a combination of oxycodone and aspirin), and Percocet (a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen).

Oxycodone may be a synthetic drug, but its effects on the body are similar to those of other legal and illegal opioids and can induce a powerful ‘high’. This makes the drug a potential substance of abuse and its recreational usage is becoming alarmingly commonplace.

The continued abuse of Oxycodone puts you at significant risk of developing tolerance and eventually dependence. The risk of dependence is high, regardless of whether the drug is used according to prescription or not. Statistics have also shown that people addicted to Oxycodone are 40 times more likely to develop a heroin abuse problem.

Oxymorphone (Darvon).

Oxymorphone is an opioid analgesic/narcotic that’s available legally, only via prescription. The drug is used for managing moderate to severe pain; it accomplishes this function by changing how the body and brain respond to pain signals. Oxymorphone is mostly used when a patient can’t achieve pain relief from using less potent medications.

Aside from being a pain reliever, Oxymorphone is sometimes also administered as a relaxant to alleviate anxiety or fear in patients prior to surgery. Possible adverse side effects of Oxymorphone include vomiting, dizziness, constipation, dry mouth and drowsiness. However, the most dangerous side effect of Oxymorphone is that it is extremely addictive.

Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)

Hydromorphone is a partially synthetic opioid, derived from morphine. On its own, morphine is a highly potent opioid, but as a synthetic opioid, Hydromorphone is even stronger. Hydromorphone is available for sale as extended-release tablets, which can be prescribed for the management of chronic pain.

Hydromorphone addiction can occur very quickly, regardless of whether the drug is being used according to prescription or not. For this reason, doctors are careful to prescribe the drug and only administer it if the patient is already taking another opioid. When Hydromorphone is used to replace another opioid, it is used as a pain management replacement. The drug is mostly prescribed to people with cancer or similar critical health conditions. After continuous use of Hydromorphone, tolerance can develop in as little as two weeks. Once tolerance occurs, physical dependence is just a step away.

Meperidine (Demerol)

Meperidine is a type of morphine that’s used to treat acute episodes of moderate to severe pain. The drug can be referred to as a narcotic analgesic, as it causes a variety of actions that affect both the body and brain. The drug will affect internal organs that consist of smooth muscles, as well as the central nervous system. Meperidine’s therapeutic value as a sedative and analgesic is only clear when used at the appropriate dosage.

Because of its potency (and being a type of morphine), Meperidine is not meant to be used long term. For safety’s sake, it should not be used for more than 12 weeks, as any longer will lead to tolerance and dependence.

People who abuse Meperidine recreationally consume the drug by chewing, snorting or crushing it. An alternative method is to dissolve and inject it. No matter how Meperidine is consumed, the potential for addiction is significant.

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Morphine Sulfate

Morphine Sulfate is a narcotic or opioid analgesic that’s typically prescribed for managing moderate to severe pain. The drug is highly addictive and commonly abused recreationally. Morphine Sulfate affects how the body responds to pain by blocking pain signals and stopping them from reaching the nervous system. This pain-altering effect – while beneficial for managing pain – is also addictive and is the reason why the drug is commonly misused. To use it safely and minimise the risk of addiction, it’s best if Morphine Sulfate is administered as per a doctor’s prescription and without exceeding the dosage or duration of use. Because the risk of Morphine Sulfate misuse and addiction is significant, doctor’s typically prefer not to prescribe the drug unless absolutely necessary.

Pentobarbital Sodium (Nembutal)

Pentobarbital can be described as a short-acting barbiturate that slows down brain activity by influencing the central nervous system. The drug is typically prescribed for the treatment of insomnia, as a sedative prior to surgery, or as emergency treatment for seizures. Pentobarbital Sodium is as addictive as any other barbiturate and should be used only according to a doctor’s instructions.

Alprazolam (Xanax)

Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine, prescribed for the management of anxiety, physical tension, heart palpitation, restlessness, fear and panic. The drug is commonly marketed under the brand name, Xanax. As a depressant medication, Alprazolam can slow down activity in your body and mind, leading to increased relaxation.

Alprazolam has a variety of clinical benefits when used appropriately. On the downside, the drug is capable of inducing an addictive ‘high’, regardless if it’s used according to prescription or not. This addictive ‘high’ can lead to abuse of the drug and eventually, physical dependence.

Zolpidem Tartrate (Ambien)

Zolpidem Tartrate is a sedative and hypnotic that influences brain chemicals responsible for sleep problems such as insomnia. The drug is typically prescribed for the treatment of insomnia and other sleep related disorders and is commonly marketed under the brand name, Ambien. Usage will result in feelings of extreme relaxation and drowsiness, which can be pleasurable, but subsequently lead to substance abuse. In turn, abuse of Zolpidem can eventually lead to physical dependence and addiction.

Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)

Dextroamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant that’s administered for the treatment of narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The extended-release formulation of Dextroamphetamine is marketed under the brand name, Dexedrine. Dextroamphetamine can also be found in Adderall as an active component.

Dexedrine’s effect on the body is similar to cocaine, but longer-lasting. This makes the drug a target for recreational abuse. It can induce a euphoric ‘high’ and boost both energy and confidence. These effects are why the drug is most abused by teenagers and young adults.

Methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta)

Methylphenidate is a psycho-stimulant whose effect on the central nervous system makes it suitable for the treatment of ADHD and ADD. The drug can be found being marketed under the brand names, Ritalin and Concerta.

For clinical use, Methylphenidate is available in pill form and is generally considered to be safe for use, but nonetheless has a significant potential for abuse. This means improper use of the drug (such as recreational use) can easily result in dependency and addiction.

Street names commonly used to refer to Methylphenidate include Vitamin R, Skittles, Kiddie coke, Smarties and Diet coke. A significant number of those abusing Methylphenidate are young adults, who use the drug to aid studying. This is because Ritalin and Concerta are believed to be ‘smart drugs’ or ‘study drugs’ due to how they improve focus. Methylphenidate addiction can occur when the drug is used in any way contrary to prescription.

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Amphetamines (Adderall)

Amphetamines are a class of synthetic drugs that stimulate the central nervous system (CNS). They are prescribed for legitimate use in the management of ADHD, narcolepsy and in rare cases, extreme obesity.

Adderall, Vyvanse, and Dexedrine are all types of commonly prescribed Amphetamines. Even though a controlled substance, amphetamines are commonly abused for their potent effect, which is similar to that of cocaine (also a stimulant). Amphetamines induce a rewarding ‘high’, which results in a feeling of enhanced focus, energy, confidence – and to a degree, euphoria. These effects make the use or abuse of amphetamines to be potentially addictive – both physiologically and psychologically.

Treatment of Prescription Medication Abuse and Addiction

Substance addiction (whether to an illegal or prescription drug) is a disease that negatively impacts you on an emotional, physical, and psychological level. Fortunately, like many other diseases, addiction is treatable. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach; instead, treatment will depend on the unique circumstances of your addiction and the type of prescription drug to which you’re addicted. Generally, addiction treatment for prescription medication will consist of detoxification, rehabilitation, counselling, recovery support, and pharmacological therapies (if necessary).

The care you require can be provided either via inpatient or outpatient programmes, depending on the severity of your addiction and your unique circumstances.

For instance, outpatient treatment will be sufficient if your prescription medication addiction isn’t severe and doesn’t require round-the-clock care. On the other hand, inpatient treatment will be ideal if your addiction is considered severe and you’re experiencing intense withdrawal symptoms. This is because an inpatient facility provides round-the-clock nursing care, as well as a safe and conducive environment to facilitate recovery.

If you or a loved one have been abusing prescription medication, get help today by visiting a rehab centre, or call a confidential helpline for professional guidance with regards your treatment options.

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