People usually assume that prescription drugs are always safe. Undoubtedly, they are, but only when taken as prescribed. If drugs like painkillers, benzodiazepine tranquilizers and sleeping pills are consumed recreationally or for too long or alongside other drugs like alcohol (also known as prescription drug abuse), there is a risk of an addiction or an overdose.
Prescription drug abuse is simply the act of taking a prescription drug even when it’s no longer needed, or using someone else’s medication to get that euphoric feeling. In more serious cases, prescription drugs are also abused by grinding the pills and then snorting or injecting them directly into the bloodstream. Abusing these drugs in any form is extremely dangerous. This is because many of these pills are designed to release their active ingredients gradually, but when an individual uses them in any of the illicit ways, he/she is very likely to receive the full dose in one go, thus, creating the risk of an overdose.
The abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines is also a common problem. Non-prescription cough medicines commonly contain dextromethorphan (DXM), a cough suppressant. When taken in large amounts, it can lead to mind-altering effects and can even damage the liver since many medications also contain high doses of acetaminophen, along with DXM. The cough suppressant can also slow down breathing in an individual, thereby, putting his/her life at risk.
Symptoms of prescription drug abuse
Abusing different types of prescription drugs can lead to different side effects. They are:
- Opioid painkillers: Confusion, drowsiness, constipation, nausea and slowed breathing.
- Sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs: Slurred speech, memory problems, confusion, unsteady walking and memory problems.
- Stimulants like ADHD medication: Agitation, anxiety, increased body temperature, insomnia and irregular heartbeat.
When abused over a long period of time, it can lead to prescription drug addiction that can exhibit the following symptoms:
- Altered behavior – users are often abnormally energetic or seem unusually sedated.
- Changes in sleeping patterns, either sleeping too much or not enough.
- Dramatic, sudden mood swings.
- Taking higher than recommended doses.
- Finding unusual amounts of discarded medicine boxes – prescription or otherwise – in the trash.
- Stealing or selling prescriptions.
- Doctor shopping – seeing more than one doctor to obtain prescriptions or forging prescription forms.
Effects of prescription drug abuse
Prescription drugs help a person recover from an illness. For instance, painkillers can help a cancer survivor manage chronic pain, and benzodiazepines can help an individual overcome severe panic attacks. However, like any other drug, it is possible to build up tolerance to these medications and get dependent on them.
When abused, prescription drugs work the same way as illicit drugs – they can increase the level of neurotransmitter dopamine, creating the euphoric sensation that some people spend their lives chasing. As dopamine plays a fundamental role in the brain’s reward system, prolonged use of the drug can rewire the brain into believing that it needs the drug to function. This is known as prescription drug addiction.
Long-term abuse of prescription medication can cause a plethora of problems. Misusing pills by snorting them can damage the lungs, as binders and other ingredients in pills can be harmful if inhaled. It can also lead to chronic digestive problems like constipation, if taken for too long. Benzodiazepine abuse can cause personality changes, cognitive difficulties and sleeping problems. When the user tries to abstain from the drug, it can lead to painful withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal from prescription opioids can lead to unpleasant consequences. For instance, benzodiazepine withdrawal can lead to potentially fatal seizures. Withdrawal from ADHD medication isn’t so severe, but symptoms include insomnia, anxiety and behavioral changes.
Getting help for prescription drugs abuse
Prescription drug abuse has turned into a national health crisis. However, Mission Recovery, a renowned and well-known addiction treatment facility in the U.S. can help people manage the crisis.
Mission Recovery can help you lead a life free from addiction. At our specialized prescription drug addiction treatment centers, we make use of comprehensive programs that utilize prescription drugs detox treatment along with a number of other effective, scientifically backed treatment procedures and experiential therapies like art therapy and yoga.