How to Recognize and Treat Addiction to Prescription Drugs
Prescription medication can be life-saving. It can be exactly what you need to live free of debilitating symptoms. It can be the key to your mental and physical health.
Prescription drugs hold the power to heal—but they also hold the power to enslave.
Addiction to prescription drugs can and does happen to people of every age, race, and socioeconomic status. Read on to learn more about recognizing addiction and finding freedom for you or your loved ones.
How Painkiller Addiction Happens
Doctors prescribe painkillers and other drugs every single day.
Why do some develop addictions while others are able to move on from their medication after a short time without difficulty?
First, it’s important to recognize that addiction to prescription medication is not a sign of moral weakness or failure. Addiction is a chemical dependency that occurs in people of all walks of life. That dependency may develop if your original illness requires you to rely on strong painkillers for an extended period of time. Over time, you can become resistant to the helpful effects of the drug and increase your dosage in an effort to escape the pain. Over time, this can spiral into an addiction.
Other people can find themselves trapped in addiction without an original prescription. This can happen when you think it’s harmless to try a friend or family member’s medication. Maybe you’re looking for a high or maybe you’re trying to self-medicate your own illness. You think, ‘Well, it’s safe for my friend or family member, so it can’t be too dangerous.’ However, prescription medications are carefully chosen by doctors who know their patients’ health history and needs.
Without a professional’s help, you are in danger of taking too much medication or combining it with alcohol or other medications that won’t react well. What started as a seemingly harmless curiosity or effort to feel better can quickly become a life-changing addiction.
How to Identify an Addiction to Prescription Drugs
Addiction occurs when you develop a physical and/or psychological dependence on a particular substance. You may try to stop your medication only to experience painful withdrawal symptoms, so you return to your meds to relieve that pain.
If you are increasing your dosage or continuing your medication to avoid withdrawal symptoms rather than to treat the original pain or disease, then an addiction has likely occurred.
If you’re trying to identify an addiction in a loved one, look for an increase in dosage or extended use beyond the original prescription. Addiction often causes drastic changes in mood or personality. Your loved one may become withdrawn and volatile. They may express disinterest in things they used to enjoy or neglect responsibilities as they become obsessed with and secretive about obtaining their medication.
Common Addictive Medications
Anytime you are prescribed a new medication by a doctor, ask about the potential for dependency. Your doctor can offer advice for using the drug safely to reduce the risk of addiction.
Below are some common medications that can lead to addiction, as well as important withdrawal symptoms to recognize as you monitor your or a loved one’s use.
Vicodin – This prescription narcotic is often used to treat severe pain after a surgery or injury. Withdrawal symptoms include fatigue, headache, panic, anxiety, irritability, diarrhea, sweating, nausea, runny nose, vomiting, and strong cravings.
Oxycontin – This medication is prescribed to treat severe ongoing pain and should not be used to treat mild or short-term pain. There is a high risk for abuse or addiction, especially if you do not follow a doctor’s instructions carefully. Withdrawal symptoms include watering eyes, restlessness, nausea, runny nose, muscle aches, and sweating.
Demerol – This prescription opioid acts similarly to morphine to relieve moderate to severe pain. Long-term use is not recommended and can increase the risk of addiction. Withdrawal symptoms include muscle aches, sweating, runny nose, watering eyes, nausea, and restlessness.
Percocet – This narcotic serves as a short- or long-term treatment for moderate or severe pain. Percocet has some similarities to heroin and can be very addictive. Withdrawal symptoms vary but can include yawning, excess salivation, watery eyes and nose, restlessness, irritability, tremors, anxiety, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, depression, diarrhea, and temperature regulation issues.
Ritalin – While the above medications are used to treat pain, this prescription drug is a stimulant used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. High doses over a long period of time may result in withdrawal symptoms such as depression, mood swings, suicidal thoughts, and abnormal drug-seeking behavior.
How to Treat Prescription Drug Addiction
Never attempt to wean yourself off of prescription medication without professional support. Withdrawal symptoms make it difficult to accomplish this alone, and a sudden chemical change in your system can be extremely dangerous or even fatal.