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Prescription Drug Abuse

Recreational prescription drug abuse is a serious problem that affects people of all ages - including but not limited to teens, young adults, and senior citizens. In fact, national statistics show that teenagers are more likely to abuse prescription medications than illicit street drugs. One of the reasons is because many teens assume that these medications are safer since they came with a doctor's prescription.

However, taking any medication in any way that is different from the instructions from a doctor could lead to severe consequences and adverse effects. Additionally, these medications are also as addictive and as dangerous as illegal street drugs.

More particularly, prescription drug abuse comes with a variety of health risks, most of which are quite serious. This is why you should only use these drugs under the express instructions of your doctor. Even then, however, you need to be monitored closely to ensure that you do not develop additional problems, like chemical dependence and addiction.

On the other hand, since many pills look alike, it is dangerous to take any that you are not sure about - or wasn't prescribed to you. This is because people react differently to various drug due to the many differences in body chemistry. To this end, a drug that is good for one person might end up being risky - or even fatal - to you. This is why prescription pills are only safe for the people who got a doctor to write the prescription.

In most cases, however, prescription drug use typically occurs under the instruction and care of a medical doctor. In these situations, the medications are taken as directed and in the correct dosage amounts and time periods. After healing and treatment, any medication that is left over should be discarded.

Still, many people engage in prescription drug abuse when they do not use these medications in the way their doctor direction. According to recent statistics, this non-medical form of use affects more than 52 million Americans.

Additionally, the findings from a 2010 survey by NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) showed that prescription drug abuse was prevalent with 1 in every 12 high school seniors admitting to have abused Vicodin the same year while 1 in every 20 used OxyContin for non-medical reasons. However, these are just two of the popular prescription drugs that are abused. Others include depressants, stimulants, and opioids.

Understanding Prescription Drug Abuse

But what exactly is prescription drug abuse? Essentially, it refers to using prescription medications for recreational and non-medical purposes. This form of abuse can either be by the patient who received the prescription or by anyone else who did not get the prescription.

That said, prescription drug abuse includes a variety of drugs that are prescribed by doctors and licensed medical practitioners. However, the most common of these drugs include the depressants used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, stimulants issued to treat ADHD among the young, as well as opioids prescribed to treat pain.

Studies show that the number of prescriptions written for opioids rose to 210 million from 76 million between 1991 and 2010. In the same period, the total number of prescribed stimulants rose to 45 million from a paltry 4 million. Over time, therefore, the number of people abusing prescription drugs has been rising because of the rising cases of ailments that can only be treated using these addictive medications.

Consider the following sections on the most commonly abused prescription drugs:

Opioid Abuse

Opioid drugs are primarily prescribed for pain relief. These drugs include hydromorphone and oxycodone. The pain that can be treated using these medications can be as a result of a wide variety of factors, such as pain arising from specific injuries to that resulting from invasive medical procedures like surgery.

When you take opioids, the chemicals will attach to the opioid receptors found in the spinal column and the brain. Once this happens, these drugs will partially block the pain sensations and messages that normally run all along the nerves and to the brain. As such, opioids will create a blockage that effectively relieves any pain you are feeling.

However, if you take opioids in larger than the dose your doctor prescribed and directed, it might cause you to experience feelings of happiness, euphoria, and relaxation. This chemical response will be so pleasurable that you might continue taking larger doses of the drug to ensure that you experience the same sensation.

What you might not know is that opioids are among the worst prescription drugs you can abuse. This is because of the adverse and sometimes fatal consequences they are likely to bring about.

As you continue engaging in prescription drug abuse involving opioids, therefore, your body might start building tolerance to the medications. When this happens, you might not feel the pleasurable and euphoric effects that you are looking for from the same dose. As a direct result, you will have to take increasingly larger doses of the drug.

However, the larger doses will only increase your tolerance even further and end up creating cycling and increasing substance abuse. Eventually, this could lead your body to develop chemical dependence on the opioids - meaning that you won't be able to function normally unless the medication is in your body and system.

According to scientific research, there is not specific timeline for the development of dependence as a result of prescription drug abuse involving opioids. What is clear, however, is that dependence on these medications might start rather quickly after you increase your drug use beyond the typically occasional and/or one-time casual indulgence.

To this end, the more of the prescribed drugs you take and the higher the dose you take, the faster you will develop chemical dependence on the medications. This dependence can also be both psychological and physical.

Additionally, you might want to know that prescription drug addiction involving opioids is slightly different from being chemically dependent on the medications. As an addict, you will be compulsive in your need to look for more of the drugs so you can abuse them. This compulsion will continue unabated and unchecked in spite of any negative consequences you might start suffering as a direct result of your substance abuse.

As a direct result, your prescription drug abuse might compel you to go to certain extremes beyond what is normal for you just so that you can get more of your preferred drugs. For instance, you might even start forging prescriptions or engaging in doctor shopping - where you visit many doctors so that you can get prescriptions for more opioids.

But what is the history of prescription drug abuse involving opioids? Over the past few decades - starting in the early 90s, the prescriptions written for opioid drugs like morphine (Oramorph SR, MS Contin, Kadian, Avinza, and Astramorph) and codeine have risen greatly. This rise can be attributed to an increasingly aging population as well as higher incidents of chronic pain.

Other drugs that are classified as opioids include:

  • Oxycodone with acetaminophen (Percocet, Endocet, and Roxicet)
  • Oxycodone and naloxone (Targiniq ER)
  • Oxycodone (Roxicodone, OxyContin, and OxyFast)
  • Methadone (Methadose and Dolophine)
  • Meperidine
  • Hydromorphone (Exalgo and Dilaudid)
  • Hydrocodone with acetaminophen (Vicodin, Lorcet, Norco, and Lortab)
  • Hydrocodone (Hysingla ER and Zohydro ER)
  • Fentanyl (Fentora, Actiq, and Duragesic)

If you take opioids as your doctor prescribed and directed, the drugs can prove effective at managing pain. This is why opioids are considered to be most successful drugs in improving the quality of life for anyone suffering from chronic pain.

To this end, using opioids in the short term and under the express instructions and cautious supervision of your doctor will rarely result in tolerance, chemical dependence, and/or addiction.

However, when you use this class of drugs in the long term, they might cause you to go down the slippery road to prescription drug abuse, physical and psychological dependence, tolerance, and addiction.

These drugs can also prove to be fatal and life-threatening especially if you take them to toxic levels and end overdosing. In the same way, if you combine opioids with depressants (drugs that can depress the CNS (central nervous system)) like benzodiazepines (diazepam, alprazolam, or Klonopin), barbiturates, or alcohol, you will also increase your risk of suffering respiratory depression and/or sudden death.

To this end, you can be sure that although opioids might cause you to experience euphoria and related but mild joyful feelings, abusing them is quite dangerous. This is particularly if you get to a point where you start crushing drugs like OxyContin so that you can snort the resulting powder or mix it with water for later injection directly into your blood stream.

Another common opioid is heroin - which also works by attaching itself to the brain's opiate receptors. Once this happens, it will start activating the parts of your brain that are responsible for regulating feelings of pleasure. After that, your brain will be flood with euphoria - which may potentially cause you to experience extreme pleasure that you will be seeking over and over again.

After you develop tolerance and dependence on opioids as a result of continued prescription drug abuse, you might have a hard time stopping your abuse. This is because trying to do so - either by your own volition or after you are forced to - might cause you to experience adverse withdrawal symptoms.

As with harder opioid drugs like heroin, most people will still continue abusing prescription medications to ensure that they do not suffer the opioid withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms tend to start soon after you take your last dose - typically within 24 hours. They include muscle pain, restless leg syndrome, vomiting, cold flashes, diarrhea, and restlessness - among many others.

Depressant Abuse

At times, prescription drug abuse might also be tied to depressant medications like tranquilizers and sedatives. When you take a depressant, it will slow your brain activity to relieve anxiety and enable more restful and peaceful sleep.

To this end, the depressant class of drugs tend to make users feel calm and drowsy - particularly if they are taken as directed and prescribed by a trained and licensed medical practitioner. However, if you take them in doses that are higher than was prescribed, you might experience pleasurable sensations of euphoria and happiness.

Still, depressants are similar to other substances in the prescription class of drugs. This is because abusing them for some time might cause you to develop tolerance in your body - which is quickly followed by chemical dependence.

After you become dependent, reducing or completely cutting out your normal dose of the drugs might cause you to experience unpleasant and adverse withdrawal symptoms because your body will require the medications to continue functioning normally.

Apart from the danger of withdrawal, however, the differences between safe doses and toxic doses that could lead to an overdose tends to be quite small with several depressants. To this end, if you reach the overdose level, you might end up experience adverse consequences to your health and wellness.

But exactly how do these CNS depressant drugs work on the body and brain? Among these substances are benzodiazepines (or benzos) that will depress the CNS. Today, millions of Americans take benzos for the treatment of sleep disorders like insomnia as well as to treat anxiety.

These drugs work on the GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) neurotransmitters in the brain. Since these neurotransmitters effectively lower brain activity, taking benzodiazepines according to your doctor's prescription will make you calm and/or drowsy.

Another class of depressant drugs that is commonly abused is barbiturates. Examples of barbiturates include Secondly (secobarbital), Luminal (phenobarbital), and Nembutal (pentobarbital) - which also act as CNS depressants.

These drugs are sometimes prescribed for the treatment of seizures and as anesthesia. In the past, they were also used in the treatment of anxiety and insomnia in the short term. However, the risk of overdose as well as the dangers attached to it slowly led to barbiturates giving way to benzos for the treatment of the same conditions.

When you take any of these CNS depressants anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks, you might feel sleepy and calm. After a while, however, you might start requiring larger and larger doses to experience the same sleepy and calm effects. On the other hand, if you use these prescriptions and drink alcohol at the same time, your heart rate and breathing can slow down to such an extent that you will experience sudden death.

Additionally, if you suddenly stop engaging in prescription drug abuse involving these CNS depressants - especially if you have been using them for a long time - you might experience a variety of life-threatening effects - such as but not limited to withdrawal seizures.

Stimulant Abuse

Stimulant drugs are prescribed for very few medical conditions. These conditions include ADHD, some forms of depressive conditions, and narcolepsy. If you take them as your doctor prescribed, the drugs might increase your attentiveness and energy levels. However, if you abuse them by taking larger doses than your doctor directed, stimulants can cause euphoria.

Similar to abusing depressants and opioids, prescription drug abuse involving stimulants can lead to tolerance, chemical dependence, and addiction. Once you are dependent on the class of drugs - which also includes amphetamines - you might suffer extreme withdrawal if you reduce your normal dose or cut the drugs out completely. Some of the withdrawal symptoms arising from stimulant drug abuse include but are not limited to fatigue, insomnia, and depression.

On the other hand, if you continue increasing the amounts you use to a point where the drug becomes toxic, you might suffer overdose - which is symptomized by seizures and high body temperatures.

That said, stimulant drugs work by giving the body a fast jump-start by causing a boost in the levels of attention, energy, and alertness. These medications also cause a rise in blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and heart rate while opening the respiratory system's pathways and constricting blood vessels.

When they first came on the market, they were medically used for the treatment of obesity and asthma. Today, however, they are prescribed for the treatment of a variety of problems - including narcolepsy, depression, ADD, and ADHD among others.

Examples of the commonly prescribed stimulants include combinations of detroamphetamine and amphetamine (known as Adderall), methylphenidate (Ritalin, Methylin, Daytrana, and Concerta), lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse), and detroamphetamine (ProCentra, Dextrostat, and Dexedrine).

If you take them the right way - that is under the express direction of your doctor) - stimulants are quite safe and will create the right effects in your body to treat the condition your doctor prescribed them for. However, if you abuse the drugs by taking them in higher than usual doses or crushing them into powder for snorting or intravenous use, you might end up engaging in prescription drug abuse and suffering the adverse effects of addiction.

On the other hand, if you combine stimulants with decongestants, you might experience irregular heart rhythms while taking these drugs in high doses could cause your body temperatures to raise to above normal levels.

Prescription Drug Addiction

Addiction to prescription drugs is primarily described as the compulsive and uncontrollable need you might have to get more of these medications and abuse them. Since doctors and hospitals are the best sources of these drugs, you might start seeking doctors out so that you can get more of them to give you a prescription.

This is one of the problems most doctors face when they are treating new patients. In fact, some doctors might have a problem determining whether the new patient who just walked into their office actually needs the medication.

You might also start engaging in doctor shopping to get new prescriptions for the same drugs and increase your already growing storage of these mind altering and intoxicating medications.

However, most addiction treatment experts are not yet sure about the main reasons behind the rising cases of prescription drug abuse. However, the common thought is that the increase has been as a direct result of the rising cases of people who are receiving prescriptions for a variety of medical conditions - which makes it easier for them and others around them to start abusing these drugs.

Doctors have also reported that they are issuing more prescriptions than they have done in the past. This increase has affected a variety of prescription medications, including stimulants, CNS depressants, and opioids.

Similarly, there are many online pharmacies today that you can just go to if you are looking to buy highly addictive prescription medications. These pharmacies are making it easier for people - including teens and children - to get their hands on these drugs.

On the other hand, some people steal medications from the medicine cabinets at home or at neighboring houses. Instead of abusing the illicit substances sold on the street, for instance, many teenagers steal from their parents and have prescription parties to experience the euphoria attached to these drugs.

However, most of the people who engage in prescription drug abuse have absolutely no idea what could happen when they take these medications and the ones that might cause serious problems. Mixing some, for instance, with alcohol could even lead to death.

But not everyone who abuses prescriptions will become addicted. In most cases, your stage of growth and development, age, social environment, and biology will all affect your likelihood of becoming chemically dependent on these drugs.

To this end, the greater the number of risks you have, the greater the opportunity for your prescription drug abuse to eventually turn into tolerance, dependence, and addiction. For instance, some families with strong genetic links to intoxicating and mind altering substances have higher risks of becoming addicted to prescription medications.

On the other hand, your social environment - that includes colleagues and friends - might also influence your risk of addiction. Of equal importance are your age and stage of growth and development. This is because the earlier you start engaging in prescription drug abuse, the higher the risk of becoming addicted.

But exactly how can you tell if you are abusing your prescription? In most cases, prescription drug abuse involves taking doses of the drugs that are larger than your doctor directed and instructed or using these drugs for any reason other than was prescribed.

For instance, if the prescription you got from your doctor should be taken two times a day and you start taking it more often and/or twice or thrice as many pills, you could be said to be engaging in drug abuse. On the other hand, if you use the same medication for any other reason - such as when you are bored or you are feeling unwell - this could also be classified as prescription drug abuse.

Over time, your doctor might notice that you have been asking for refills more frequently or that you have started asking to receive a larger prescription. This may alert them that you have start abusing the drugs. Additionally, your pharmacist might notice the trend as a result of altered and false prescription forms or when you start coming to them with multiple prescriptions from different doctors.

Dangers Of Prescription Drug Abuse

Whether you abuse street drugs or prescription medications, you are highly likely to start noticing the negative effects and consequences of such abuse in your personal life and health as well as at work, school, home, with your friends and colleagues as well as with the law.

Additionally, such substance abuse will increase the likelihood of your committing crimes, being a victim of criminals, and being involved in an accident - irrespective of your drugs of preferences.

On the other hand, prescription drug abuse might negatively affect your health and wellness. Abusing opioids, for instance, can cause coma, decreased respiratory function, decreased cognitive function, adverse mood changes, vomiting, and even sudden death. These risks will be higher when you combine opioids with other intoxicating and mind altering substances like CNS depressants, antihistamines, and alcohol.

CNS depressants also come with their own adverse risks. Reducing your normal dose or abruptly stopping it altogether may lead to seizures. On the other hand, if you mix depressants with substances like alcohol, some over the counter allergy and cold medications, and other prescription drugs, you might experience slowed breathing and heartbeat and even death.

Similarly, if you abuse stimulants, they may cause seizures and heart failure. All these adverse health risks will increase when you mix stimulants with other medications - even those bought over the counter.

Taking stimulants in excessive doses could also lead to irregular heartbeat and dangerously high temperatures. On the other hand, if you take several of these drugs in high doses over a short time period, they may increase your paranoia and aggressiveness.

Even though abusing stimulant drugs typically does not lead to dependence and withdrawal, you may find yourself using more of more of these drugs over time such that it will eventually be difficult for you to break the habit.

You might worsen the dangers attached to your prescription drug abuse if you use these medications in any way other than a doctor prescribed. When you take Ritalin, for instance, you might crush the pills to create a powder before snorting it or mixing it with water and injecting it directly into your bloodstream. When this happens, the risk of Ritalin toxicity will be heightened.

Additionally, you should remember that there are many different variations of the same prescription medications. As a direct result, the dose of these drugs as well as their duration and effects on the body vary greatly. Therefore, unless you legally got the prescription from a doctor, it might be difficult for you to know exactly what you are just about to abuse.

That said, the most common adverse effect of prescription drug abuse revolves around tolerance, dependence, and eventual addiction. If you abuse these substances, your risk of addiction is just as high as it would be if you were using street drugs.

In fact, one of the main reasons why prescription substances are only issued by doctors and can't be bought over the counter is due to their addictive nature and risk of chemical dependence. This is why most doctors will refuse to renew your prescription until you show yourself in their office.

But exactly how can you tell that you are addicted after a period of prescription drug abuse? There are many different signs and symptoms that point to such an addiction. For starters, you might increasingly feel the need to abuse a certain substance or drug. Additionally, you may experience adverse changes in interests, weight, and mood.

Using Prescription Medications

If your doctor prescribed any medications, you might worry that it could cause you to develop dependence and addiction. However, as long as you use the drug as your doctor recommended and according to their express instructions, the risk of addiction is quite low.

Other ways you can protect yourself while using prescriptions include:

  • Always ask your doctor/pharmacist about the drugs and whether they will affect your performance of certain daily tasks like driving
  • Always inform your doctor if you have a history of drug/substance abuse
  • Always note every effect the drugs have on your emotions, mood, and body and inform your doctor about any changes
  • Always steer clear of the activities and drugs your pharmacist warns you about when you are on certain prescriptions
  • Don't stop taking the drugs unless your doctor recommends that you do
  • Keep every appointment with your doctor to ensure that they can monitor your vital signs and get you a replacement drug or adjust your usual dose if you start developing tolerance
  • Never break or crush the pills - particularly if they are of the time-release variety
  • Never decrease or increase the dose your doctor recommended without first checking with them
  • Never let anyone else access your prescription medications

In case you suspect that you might be addicted to these medications, the best thing you can do is talk to a doctor, nurse, or counselor. They might point you in the right direction where you can get the help you require to overcome your prescription drug abuse. In particular, if you go through withdrawal as a result of abusing CNS depressants, it is imperative that you seek medical treatment as soon as possible because such withdrawal might prove dangerous and adverse unless it is closely monitored and medically managed. Overall, detox and addiction treatment and rehabilitation are among the best ways to manage and overcome prescription drug abuse.