Prescription drug addiction has become quite prevalent in the United States. Second to marijuana, prescription drugs are the most commonly abused category of drugs. The National Institute of Health estimates that in the United States, twenty percent of adults have used prescription medications for non-medical purposes. The three main categories of abused prescription medications are painkillers, stimulants, and sedatives. All these substance groups are physically addictive in addition to their psychologically addicting effects.
The Rise In Prescription Drug Abuse
Teens are beginning to abuse prescription drugs at higher rates, and recent studies have shown that prescription drug addiction is on the rise amongst rural teenagers. Although the reasons for this are not completely clear, several theories address this issue. First, for many teens, especially in rural areas, prescription medications are easier to obtain than other illicit substances. Tucked away in the medicine cabinets of parents, prescription drugs are often free and quickly acquired. Another possible factor in the rising abuse of prescription medications is the perceived safety of the drugs. As the drugs are legal for those they are prescribed to, many teens believe they are harmless in comparison with other drugs. In reality, the chemicals in prescription medications are often just as harmful as common street drugs, if not more so.
The majority of people addicted to prescription drugs started to abuse these medications after a legitimate prescription was written for them by their doctor. The prescription may have been written due to chronic pain, auto or sports injury, surgery or to relax strained muscles.
Most individuals don’t begin prescription drug abuse with the idea in mind of becoming an addict. Instead what begins for one reason continues for another. Many individuals take the medication to “feel better” physically, hoping to gain some relief from their pain. Another effect of the medication is that it provides a pleasurable feeling. In an attempt to reduce the pain even further and enhance the feeling of pleasure, individuals begin to take more medication. A tolerance to the drug is gradually developed, so now more and more medication is required to produce the initial effect. Soon, the pleasurable feeling cannot be achieved; some of the physical pain is still present; and an addiction to the prescription drug now also exists.
Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction
As stated above, prescription drug use may start out as taking appropriate medication for a legitimate medical problem. Another group of individuals may also begin to take prescription medication to deal with emotional problems. The main thing these medications do for psychological and emotional problems are to “mask” or “numb” negative feelings, such as stress, anxiety, loneliness, or hopelessness. Although a person may not experience the depression or they may be temporarily able to stop obsessing about a certain problem, in most cases, the problem is just exasperated by not learning how to effectively cope with the particular feelings and issues. There are also addicts who are seeking a “high” who may be also addicted to other drugs and/or alcohol, who then begin abusing prescription medication along with their drug of choice due to its availability at pain clinics on the internet. Many people have been found to mix alcohol with prescription medications to accentuate the feeling of euphoria. This mixture is often referred to as a “cocktail.” The potential to overdose in this situation is quite high.
Detoxification and Withdrawal from Prescription Drugs
Most prescription drugs are physically addictive. To abruptly discontinue prescription medications could create a situation where an individual could immediately experience seizures or convulsions. It is for this reason that detox and withdrawal from prescription medications should be attempted gradually and under medical supervision. This is best accomplished in a residential treatment program where an addict can be titrated down slowly and safely off of prescription drugs and medically monitored along the way. The discomfort associated with withdrawal from these medications is contingent upon the dose that an individual was taking and the length of time they had been taking it.
In addition to the Percocet addiction created by abusing prescription drugs, addicts commonly experience family and personal relationship issues, employment difficulties, legal problems, and unstable emotions.
Treatment of Prescription Drug Addiction
Due to the physical dependence created by prescription drug abuse and the physical danger in detoxing without medical assistance, addiction treatment should begin in a residential treatment facility or inpatient hospital. The initial phase of treatment is a detox center. Under medical supervision, the withdrawal symptoms associated can be managed, reduced and sometimes eliminated.
By the time most people enter a treatment center for prescription drug addiction, they have created quite a bit of emotional damage to themselves and loved ones. It takes time to recover from shame, grief, guilt, and rebuild a level of trust. Residential treatment in a supportive therapeutic environment eliminates many of the outside distractions and allows a person to focus on issues relating to their recovery. The length of stay is usually 30 days and may be followed by outpatient therapy.
At residential drug rehab centers, the person stays on the premises for a period of time, usually 30-90 days. Away from triggers of the outside world, the individual is able to focus on their issues and address them through therapy, group activities, and positive reinforcement of healthy behaviors. After a residential treatment center, there are several forms of ongoing care. Outpatient programs offer group and individual counseling, and some structure to help the addict transition back into daily life. There are also sober living residences in which sober people move into in order to maintain a safe environment, while still being able to fulfill daily obligations such as work or school. Finally, there are several twelve-step groups that may help, such as Pills Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Benzodiazepines Anonymous.