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Prescription Drug Abuse: Common Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Wednesday, 27 December 2017 13:51  by Taylor S.

If you or a loved one are struggling with prescription drug abuse, you are not alone. In 2015, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found 18.9 million people misused psychotherapeutic drugs in the past year, such as pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives. The number of prescriptions doctors are writing has skyrocketed in the past decade by as much as 400 percent.

400 percent increase in prescriptions written

Prescription drug abuse often begins as a result of physical pain. An individual receives a pain medication for surgery or injury, but when they no longer need the medication for the pain they may find that they have become dependent on it. Their brain has become addicted to the substance and the resulting “high” and they may begin to take it even when they no longer need it for its intended purpose.

Others may experiment with prescription medication to relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety or another mental condition. They may take more than the prescribed amount as they build a tolerance to the drug, increasing the risk of an overdose. Sometimes, they steal medications from friends or family. They not only struggle with cravings and the need to obtain more of the drug, but feelings of guilt and shame for their behavior.

The most abused prescription drugs include:

  • Opioid pain relievers
  • Central nervous system (CNS) depressants
  • Stimulants

You may feel discouraged by prescription drug abuse statistics, but as with any addiction, there is hope. The first step to getting the help you need for you or your loved one is to recognize prescription drug abuse symptoms and causes, and then consider the different treatment options available to you.

What Causes Prescription Drug Abuse?

People abuse prescription drugs for a variety of reasons, and there is no one specific cause. Some reasons people abuse prescription medications may include:

  • To feel good
  • To get high
  • To relax
  • To relieve pain
  • To lose weight
  • To prevent withdrawal symptoms from the drug
  • As a result of peer pressure
  • To cope with anxiety in social situations
  • To self-medicate other physical or mental conditions
  • To increase performance in school or work

Many people turn to prescription drugs because they often have a reputation for being safer than other drugs, but this is not the case.

Causes of Prescription Drug Abuse

Perhaps you have recently lost a loved one or are going through a divorce. Maybe you feel trapped in an abusive relationship, or recently lost your job. If life events or circumstances have overwhelmed you, it can be tough to manage your emotions. You may have turned to drugs to help you cope with feelings of loneliness or emptiness, and this is nothing to be ashamed of.

We understand how hard it can be to make it through difficult times on your own, especially if a dual diagnosis of depression or anxiety is present. Some risk factors make individuals more vulnerable to drug abuse too, such as:

  • Past or present drug, tobacco or alcohol addiction
  • Family history of substance abuse disorders
  • Co-existing mental conditions
  • Spending a lot of time around others who abuse drugs
  • Easy access to prescription drugs
  • Not knowing the harm of prescription drugs and the potential for overdose or addiction

Prescription drug abuse most common ages 18 to 25

Although prescription drug abuse affects people of all ages and genders, research has shown certain trends. For example:

  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported prescription drug abuse is highest among young adults aged 18 to 25.
  • Older adults are at greater risk of prescription drug abuse because they typically take more medications than any other age group. They may take more than their prescribed amount of medication without realizing it. They may take too much with the intention to eliminate pain, too.
  • Overall, males are more likely to abuse prescription drugs than females. However, in the 12 to 17 age range, NIDA found females exceeded males in prescription drug abuse.

There are various effects of prescription drug abuse. It is natural to look for ways to ease emotional or physical pain, but if you are dependent on a substance to avoid or relieve pain, there is likely a deeper issue that needs attention. You have a right to live a life that is authentic, positive and addiction-free.

Prescription Opioid Addiction

Opioid abuse in America is so severe that our government has declared it a national crisis. In 2002, prescription opioids were killing 5,000 Americans a year. Now, experts predict opioids will kill half a million Americans within the next decade. There are almost 100 opioid-related deaths a day.

Combining opioids with other drugs or alcohol is dangerous

Users often combine opioids with other drugs or alcohol, which is especially dangerous. With the right treatment and a strong support system, there is hope for recovery from opioid addiction. You can enjoy a healthy body and mind after you get the help you need.

In short, opioids are medications that relieve physical pain. While opioid prescriptions are intended to benefit the user, people commonly abuse opioids because they create feelings of euphoria. Opioids are highly addictive because users continue drug use to avoid withdrawal symptoms and to feel the pleasure of an opioid high.

Sometimes, prescription opioid abuse takes the user down the path to heroin use and addiction. In fact, 4 to 6 percent of prescription painkiller abusers will switch to heroin use.

Many opioid abusers switch to heroin

Examples of prescription opioids include:

  • Morphine
  • Methadone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Fentanyl

Common brand names of opioids include:

  • Vicodin
  • OxyContin
  • Percocet
  • Demerol

1. How Opioids Affect the Body

Opioids reduce the perception of pain by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain and blocking the electrical impulses that signal pain. Opioids also trigger the release of dopamine, creating a flood of happiness in the brain and decreasing stress levels. With a chemical makeup similar to heroin, opioids create an addictive, blissful sensation all over the body and throughout the mind.

Besides affecting the brain, opioid users also typically experience slowed breathing, constipation and lower blood pressure.

2. Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Abuse

If you are struggling with an opioid addiction, you may be experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Slowed breathing
  • Impaired coordination
  • Itchy skin
  • Overwhelming desire to use opioids
  • Inability to discontinue or reduce use
  • Tolerance to opioids, requiring a larger dose day by day to feel the desired effects

Maybe you suspect a loved one is abusing opioids. If this is the case, look for the following warning signs of opioid abuse:

  • Small pupils
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty maintaining work or school responsibilities
  • Spending lots of time, energy and money obtaining more opioids
  • Displaying or experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using opioids or decreasing their dose, such as:
    • Depression
    • Physical aches
    • Insomnia
    • Anxiety
    • Irritability
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Abdominal cramps
    • Sweating
    • Tremors
    • Goosebumps

You may feel overcoming a dependence on opioid is impossible. Know that you can be treated for this addiction and it is never too late to recover. No matter what caused you to seek relief in opioids in the first place, you can break free of these patterns of thinking and behavior.

Addiction to Antidepressants and Other Types of Prescription CNS Depressants

CNS depressants slow down brain activity. They are often prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia and alcohol withdrawal. CNS depressants are usually intended for temporary use, as they pose a high risk for addiction. Considering anxiety disorders affect 40 million American adults, or 18.1 percent of the population, it is easy to see why addictive medications are regularly prescribed.

Commonly abused CNS depressants include:

  • Benzodiazepines to treat anxiety, such as Valium, Klonopin and Xanax
  • Barbiturates, frequently used before surgery or to treat seizure disorders
  • Non-benzodiazepine sleep medications, such as Ambien and Lunesta

Like opioids, CNS depressants help relax the body and mind. Individuals may learn to depend on these drugs to help them cope with stress. They may find they are unable to sleep or function in social situations without them.

1. How Prescription CNS Depressants Affect the Body

In general, CNS depressants slow brain activity by increasing the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid. This effect helps individuals who suffer from sleep issues or anxiety by producing a calming effect on their mind.

Because these drugs relax brain activity, they also slow down breathing and heart rate. This makes them potentially dangerous, as they can lead to a fatal overdose.

2. Symptoms of Prescription CNS Depressant Addiction

You or a loved one may experience the following symptoms with a prescription CNS depressants addiction:

  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Confusion
  • Poor concentration
  • Dizziness
  • Memory issues
  • Slowed breathing and heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling drunk
  • Lack of coordination
  • Impaired judgment
  • Slurred speech

Long-term CNS depressant abuse may make the user experience:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Anorexia
  • Withdrawals from the substance, including:
    • Irritability
    • Insomnia
    • Cravings
    • Delirium
    • Seizures

High tolerance can lead to dangerous levels of CNS depressants

A user with a high tolerance may experiment with a dangerously strong dose of CNS depressants to get the desired effect. They may turn to harder drugs to feel good, or combine CNS depressants with alcohol or other drugs for an intensified effect.

Because CNS depressants slow down breathing and heart rate, an overdose can lead to coma or death. It is important to be aware of the dangers of prescription antidepressants, especially if you or someone you care about are struggling to discontinue use and feel markedly worse when not on the medication.

You can get help now if you struggle with CNS depressant abuse. You are not alone, and we want to help you identify the cause of your depression and anxiety and learn to cope with painful emotions without drug abuse. We realize recovery is a process that takes time, especially when a co-occurring condition is present. Whether you or a loved one is a victim of childhood trauma, or surviving a current life event that’s made you feel lonely or helpless, don’t lose hope. It is never too late to gain a new perspective and live a life that is fulfilling.

Addiction to Prescription Stimulants

Stimulants are not as commonly prescribed as other medications, as they have a particularly high potential for abuse and addiction. They are usually prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. On occasion, when other treatments do not seem to work, a stimulant may be prescribed to an individual suffering from depression. Examples of prescription stimulants include:

  • Dextroamphetamines such as Adderall
  • Methylphenidates like Ritalin

Abusing stimulants can cause serious problems

Perhaps you are overwhelmed with work at school, home or at your job. You may find stimulants help you meet the demands and expectations of a busy life. Or maybe you suffer from chronic depression, and you have found stimulants help motivate you to get out of bed. Although they might help you achieve certain goals, abusing stimulants takes a serious toll on your body and mind in the long run.

1. How Stimulants Affect the Body

Stimulants enhance neurotransmitters such as epinephrine, dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These chemicals work to lift mood and excite the nervous system. As a result, a stimulant user will experience increased alertness, wakefulness, improved cognition and higher motivation. People may rely on stimulants to raise their productivity and boost academic and work performance. Some may use stimulants to decrease appetite and lose weight.

Stimulants increase heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure

Physically, stimulants increase heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure. Too much stimulant use can cause heart palpitations, dizziness and vomiting. Stimulant abuse leads to an unpleasant crash once the stimulant wears off.

2. Signs and Symptoms of Stimulant Abuse

Stimulants create a sense of well-being, heightened self-esteem and increased motivation, but the effects are only temporary. Too much of a stimulant can make an individual struggle to concentrate. Other symptoms of stimulant abuse include:

  • Suppressed appetite
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Confusion
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Restlessness

If someone you love is abusing stimulants, you might notice the following signs:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Incessant or rapid chatter
  • Hyperactivity
  • Acting fidgety
  • Sweating

Individuals who abuse stimulants will continue to use the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Coming down from a stimulant drug like Ritalin can be highly uncomfortable. For example, the user might experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Severe depression
  • Desire to sleep, accompanied by insomnia

Because stimulants constrict blood vessels and increase heart rate, they can potentially lead to a cardiovascular event. Despite the dangers of stimulant abuse, it is difficult to discontinue use. Nevertheless, recovery is possible.

For example, you may feel you cannot get work done without the assistance of a stimulant. Perhaps you believe you do not have the motivation to carry on life’s tasks stimulant-free. If you feel this way, treatment can help you clear your body of the drug. Professionals can guide you to reconnect with your natural potential, skills and abilities so you will no longer need to rely on a substance for that extra boost.

You may feel you need to take care of everyone and everything while looking your best, all while forgetting to take care of yourself. We will help you recognize truly meaningful goals in your life, and help you realize if you have taken on too much or have too many expectations of yourself. It is important to have goals in life. However, if you feel you need to abuse stimulants to get things done or feel happy, we want to help you take some of the pressure off yourself and explore healthier ways to accomplish your dreams in good health.

What Is Involved in Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment?

Realizing you struggle with prescription drug abuse is the first step in recovery. It may be time for help if you or a loved one:

  • Steal or forge prescriptions
  • Take a higher dose than prescribed
  • Experience sleep disturbances or intense mood swings
  • Have trouble making decisions
  • Appear sedated or high
  • Need prescriptions filled early, or frequently pretend to lose prescriptions
  • Visit more than one doctor for prescriptions
  • Feel you need the prescription drug to function or feel good
  • Spend a lot of time obtaining the drug
  • Feel consumed by thoughts of the drug

Life can be overwhelming sometimes, and we understand how easy it is to fall into the trap of addiction. Know that help is right around the corner, and treatment is available no matter what drug you are addicted to.

You may be able to discontinue prescription drug use on your own. However, there is usually an underlying cause of your addiction that should be addressed and treated. Also, depending on the type of drug and dosage, it may be unsafe to detox at home without the supervision of a doctor.

Take a holistic approach to prescription drug addiction treatment

It is best to take a holistic approach to recovery and tend to both physical and psychological needs. Two main forms of prescription drug abuse treatment are:

  • Behavioral treatment
  • Medication

Behavioral treatment involves counseling in the form of an individual session, group counseling, family counseling or all three, depending on your individual needs and reasons for drug abuse. A counselor might guide you through cognitive-behavioral therapy to teach you ways to cope with cravings and learn new, healthy skills to handle life stressors and challenges. A counselor will also help you identify the root cause of your addiction and any risk factors that may have contributed to the abuse.

Medication can help relieve withdrawal symptoms and cravings during the detoxification process. The detox experience varies depending on the drug — however, in most cases, detox will taper you off the drug. You can expect the following for prescription drugs:

  • Opioids: Gradual decrease of dose. Other medications, such as Suboxone, may be prescribed to help reduce withdrawal symptoms. A medical professional often monitors you.
  • CNS depressants: Withdrawal can be dangerous, so individuals should not stop usage on their own. It can take weeks or longer to wean off this type of drug. A mood-stabilizing medication may be prescribed.
  • Stimulants: Focus will be on relieving withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, and reducing the use of the drug.

All cases are different, and any course of treatment should be set by a medical professional who is aware of all relevant components of the issue and any medical issues that could affect treatment.

You might be prescribed medication to help cope with a dual diagnosis of depression or anxiety, too. Recommended treatment varies with the individual. However, counseling and medication usually go hand-in-hand in helping an individual through recovery. The first step to treatment is knowing it’s OK to ask for help.

It's OK to ask for help

Contact Brookhaven Retreat Today

Located on 48 acres in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, Brookhaven Retreat is a women-only dual-diagnosis treatment center. We strive to help women understand themselves and realize their worth and potential.

At Brookhaven Retreat, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Our team of compassionate, qualified staff is here to help you or your loved one through recovery safely and comfortably. We offer expertise in treating:

  • Mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Trauma
  • Grief
  • Addiction
  • Dependent and codependent relationships and behaviors

Our goal is to help you realize you are valuable, strong, independent, accepted, complete and worthy of love and respect.

Our team of counselors, physicians and nurses will design a custom treatment plan to ensure you receive the best care on a holistic level. We provide the knowledge to help you identify measurable goals and recognize stressors. We will guide you every step of the way, from detox to learning coping skills to help prevent relapse.

Through group meetings, as well as confidential individual counseling sessions, we will give you the tools to overcome your struggles, realize your strengths and resolve issues that have been troubling you.

Overcoming addiction is hard, but at Brookhaven Retreat, reaching out is easy. Contact us today, and we will help you on your journey to a meaningful life filled with self-love and care.

Contact Brookhaven Retreat for Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment

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