People who take medications in ways in which they were not intended to be used may develop addictions, and those addictions can be truly devastating. In a prescription medication advertisement on television, a woman with arthritis clutches her swollen and puffy fingers to her chest and grimaces in pain. The music swells, and the woman takes a tiny pill. In the following frames, she’s seen watering her plants and even playing the piano, all while smiling and showing no signs of pain whatsoever.
Advertisements like this make it easier for consumers to believe that prescription medications have the power to do amazingly good things. It can be difficult to think of these same medications having the potential to do harm. The fact is, however, that prescription medications can and do harm hundreds of thousands of people every day.
From Prescription Use to Prescription Addiction
The prescription drug addiction issue in the United States has been called an epidemic. The evidence seems to suggest that this term might not be an exaggeration. In fact, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, about 20 percent of the US population has abused prescription medications at some point in their lives.
Prescription medication abuse is defined as using medications in ways in which a doctor never intended. This abuse could take many forms, including:
- Taking higher doses
- Taking doses close together
- Snorting, chewing or injecting medications to make them work faster
- Taking medications in combination with alcohol, to increase the effect
- Taking medications without any prescription at all
Addiction is an insidious process that can happen slowly in small, tiny steps. It’s rare for someone to go from complete sobriety to abuse to intense addiction in just a few days. Instead, the addiction tends to come on slowly with tiny adjustments that tend to build and build. Experimentation starts the process, abuse soon follows, and addiction completes the cycle.
Someone with a prescription drug addiction might be given a prescription for medications and begin taking the drugs exactly as they are prescribed. Slowly, the person might take higher doses. Then, the person might start snorting the medication. The use becomes compulsive, and it’s also recreational.
The person is no longer using the medication for a specific illness or condition. The person is using the medication to feed an addiction.
Prescription Drug Addiction in Teens and Young Adults
While addictions to prescription drugs can strike anyone at almost any time, there are some specific portions of the population that are more vulnerable to addiction. Most experts agree that teenagers are particularly at risk for prescription drug addiction, mainly because they are one segment of the population at high risk to abuse prescriptions in the first place.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states that an estimated2.1 million Americans between the ages of 12 to 17 reported personal misuse of prescription drugs, and among children ages 12 to 13, prescription drugs were considered the drugs of choice.
Perhaps adolescents prefer to abuse prescription medications among all available drugs, as they mistakenly believe the drugs are safe. Since teens can find drugs in the family medicine cabinet, or they know people who take the drugs and they don’t see adverse consequences due to that use, they may believe that they can also take the drugs and experience no side effects. Teens might also find the drugs appealing because they are so prevalent and easy to find. While teens might have difficulty finding hard drugs like heroin or cocaine, they might find it easy to obtain painkillers or stimulants.
The adolescent mind is particularly susceptible to addiction. Many prescription medications work on the same receptors used by hard drugs, and evidence suggests that the adolescent mind responds with more vigor when these receptors are stimulated. Teens might feel such a strong response to drug abuse, and they might experience such profound damage due to that abuse, that the addiction is quick to form and hard to dislodge.
Young adults under an extreme amount of academic pressure might also turn to drug use to help them succeed. The National Council on Patient Information and Education reports that college students sometimes take medications developed for ADHD, even though these students do not have ADHD.
These stimulant medications are designed to improve focus and calm the mind. Students who take these medications may find that they’re able to stay awake for long periods of time and excel in their classes. They may not see their abuse as problematic, as they are doing well in class and likely receiving compliments and other reinforcements for the good work they’re doing. Over time, however, these students may find that they’re unable to go to class or think clearly without taking medications. They may develop symptoms of compulsive use, in short, and this is one of the hallmarks of addiction.
Prescription Drug Addiction in Adults
Many people who take prescription medications for long periods of time in order to treat a chronic condition fear that they will develop an addiction in response. This fear is certainly understandable, but it’s important to note that not everyone who takes medication for long periods of time develops an addiction. As long as people take the drugs exactly as they are prescribed and do not move to taking the drugs compulsively, they are not considered addicted to the drugs they take. Those who have a family history of addiction, or who have struggled with their own addictions in the past, might be at a higher risk for addiction, however, and they should monitor their use quite closely with the support of their doctors. They might quickly move from simply taking medications to abusing, and then becoming addicted, to their medications.
When a Loved One is Addicted to Prescription Drugs
People who are addicted may go to great lengths to keep their addictions a secret, but they may have changes in behaviors their loved ones will be certain to see. Addictions can look different in different people, as the behaviors the person exhibits surrounding the addiction are often dependent on personality, age, and class. Some changes can also vary depending on the specific type of drug the person is abusing. There are some behaviors, however, that most people who abuse prescription drugs share.
These behaviors should be considered red flags for addiction:
- Getting prescriptions for the same drug from multiple doctors
- Filling prescriptions at multiple pharmacies
- Faking illnesses or injuries in order to get new prescriptions
- Hiding or storing pills
- Borrowing money or stealing money to buy drugs
People with addictions may also find that they are constantly thinking about drugs, and they may begin to schedule their days around buying and using drugs. They may stop going to work or class in order to use drugs, and they may choose to spend time only with other people who use drugs. People who abuse prescription drugs may also engage in illegal activities in order to get the drugs they crave.
According to a study published in the Journal of Pain and Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy, 91 percent of people studied who had entered a treatment program for prescription painkiller addiction admitted that they had bought their drugs from a street dealer at least once. This sort of behavior can land a person in jail. It can also have other unintended consequences. Drugs sold by street dealers sometimes contain inert ingredients that can cause infections or unexpected problems. Some dealers even sell medications tainted with other drugs or with poisons. This can lead to death.
Addiction Treatment Can Help
Prescription drug addictions can be frightening to watch, and they can be difficult to live with, but effective treatments do exist. In a rehabilitation program for addiction, medical professionals provide treatments to help addicts recover from the physical and chemical damage caused by addiction, and therapy can help addicts learn how to control their cravings and their behaviors related to drug use.
At Michael’s House, we offer a comprehensive program to help people recover from prescription drug addictions. Many of our clients have come to us for help with longstanding prescription drug addictions, and we’ve developed an innovative set of measures to help them improve.
If you’d like to know more about the help we offer, please contact us today at 760.548.4032.