How Does Prescription Drug Addiction Occur?
For many who find themselves addicted to medications, the initial prescription was issued to help alleviate symptoms related to illness, injury, or surgery. Whether it was an opiate pain medication, narcotic sleep pill, or stimulant for ADHD, the original application was often medical. Once a patient depends on the medication in maintenance doses to function, they might be at very high risk of full-blown addiction. When dosing is increased in amount or frequency, beyond the prescribed therapeutic levels, it is likely the patient will become dependent.
Over time, the body becomes accustomed to certain levels of medications and recalibrates its own chemical makeup to accommodate. The central nervous system’s basic chemical balances are impacted by opiate drug abuse in ways that make true recovery elusive to many addicts. As many pain medications come in different formulas, the specific rewiring can vary, as can the level of addiction.
For others finding themselves addicted to medications, the initial intent was recreational, not medical. Some pharmaceuticals, such as ADHD medications, are often abused by individuals looking to boost mental performance. The desire to achieve longer sessions of intense concentration and ability to improve retention is a big motivator for students and professionals to use stimulants. For individuals looking for mood-altering effects, the choice might be an antidepressant. Whatever the reason, misuse of prescription medication for recreational use can greatly increase the likelihood of addiction.
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Prescription Pain Medication Abuse
Opioid and Morphine derived pharmaceuticals are very commonly prescribed for varying levels of pain control, and are often very addictive in nature.
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Fentanyl, a very strong synthetic opioid is similar to morphine, but much more potent, is taken via injection, transdermal patch or in the form of a lozenge or lollypop. It works by binding with the brains opioid receptors, having a direct effect on an individual’s emotions and ability to feel painful stimuli. This can cause euphoria and pleasurable sensations that can trigger abuse by patients. When used properly in regulated doses, fentanyl is a very effective medication for managing severe, prolonged pain associated with surgery or injury.
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Oxycodone is another synthetic opioid derived from opium, but is significantly less powerful than fentanyl. With twice the potency of morphine, prescription Oxycodone is taken orally as a tablet or liquid. Oxy works by binding with three main receptors within an individual’s central nervous system, working to alter the perception of pain. This freedom from pain and added euphoric side effects make Oxycodone a very appealing pain medication for moderate to severe pain management.
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Morphine, an opioid analgesic found in opium, is a popular medication used by doctors to treat terminal cancer pain and post-operative pain. Much like it’s sister drugs fentanyl and Oxy, morphine alters the brains ability to process pain, allowing for pain relief. Morphine is also one opioid that is prescribed to patients of all ages to control cough, as it is a respiratory depressor. Morphine can be injected, but can also be administered orally and as a suppository. Highly addictive and easily accessible, morphine addiction has spiraled out of control in the last 60 years.
Prescription Depressants Commonly Abused
Barbiturates are a class of drugs known for their sedative and hypnotic effects used to treat seizure, sleep, and anxiety disorders. There are different types of barbiturates, each with different dosing parameters. Barbiturates can be injected or taken as a pill. Unlike some other powerful pain medications, these drugs can be difficult to dose correctly because of their toxicity and different long vs short-acting properties. Overdose resulting in death and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms have made barbiturate prescriptions much less prevalent.
Benzodiazepines are tranquilizers, working to help symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal, insomnia, anxiety, and muscle relaxation. Also used as a pre-procedural anesthetic and amnesia induced prior to painful procedures, benzodiazepines work to alter general central nervous system functions. Available in oral form, these pills are popular for individuals seeking relief from symptoms impairing normal, day-to-day functions many take for granted. For those with extreme anxieties or sleep disturbances, these drugs can be a step towards recovery. Unfortunately, these same side effects make benzo addiction a growing problem.
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The issue is when these prescribed medications are misused, or used illegally by others, to treat symptoms not within the treatment parameters. When individuals use opiates for relief from psychological or emotional issues, this is considered prescription drug abuse. There is a common misunderstanding about the safety of prescription medications. Many individuals believe that overuse and use for non-applicable conditions is generally safe. Any medication, whether prescribed or OTC has the potential for dangerous side effects if not taken as directed.
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