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Prescription Drug Addiction Realities

Category: Pain Management
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Prescription drug addiction is a real problem in America. In many parts of rural America, like the Appalachian region, prescription drugs are abused and used often for non-medical purposes. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 48 million Americans aged 12 and older have used prescription drugs for recreation or non-medical reasons during their lifetimes. This is approximately 20% of the U.S. population!

What is Prescription Drug Addiction?

In recent years, the U.S. has seen a dramatic increase in prescription drug misuse and abuse. This increase has led to more emergency department visits due to accidental overdoses. In addition, more people are receiving addiction treatment in rehabilitation centers than ever before.

Addiction is a chronic brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use despite many bad consequences to the addict. The abuse of prescription drugs leads to changes in the function and structure of the brain, and the decision to take drugs is usually voluntary. However, many people start abusing prescription drugs after receiving a legitimate prescription following an injury or surgery.

Prescription Drugs Commonly Abused

There are three classes of prescription drugs that are commonly abused. These include:

  • Opioids – Morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and oxycodone.
  • Central nervous system depressants-Benzodiazepines – Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, and Ativan.
  • Stimulants – Includes dextroamphetamine (Adderall), methylphenidate (Concerta, Ritalin, and Daytrana).

How Prescription Drugs affect the Body and Brain

When taken as prescribed, opioids can effectively and safely manage pain. Opioids used short-term under a doctor’s supervision rarely leads to dependence or addiction. However, with long-term use for chronic pain, the risk of physical and psychological dependence increases. Opioids produce a euphoric feeling. When snorted or injected, the euphoric effects are increased and intensified.

Benzodiazepines and barbiturates work by relaxing the person, making them feel calm, warm, and drowsy. When used for real anxiety and other nervous conditions, these drugs work well. However, when abused (taking more than prescribed, more often, or with alcohol), they produce serious respiratory depression and confusion. After taking benzodiazepines long-term, abruptly stopping them can lead to seizures.

Stimulants increase a person’s alertness, attention span, and energy levels. These drugs also increase the blood sugar, blood pressure, and heart rate. When taken in small doses, and as prescribed, stimulants are safe. However, crushing or snorting these pills produce a serious “high,” and this leads to addiction.

Why Prescription Drug Addiction is on the Rise

More primary care practitioners and ER doctors are prescribing prescription opioids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants than ever before in history. Because of high numbers being in the general population, they get sold, given away, or stolen. In addition, online pharmacies can dispense these highly addictive drugs legally.

It is not uncommon for prescription drugs to be stolen from a parents’ medicine cabinet, an aunt’s purse, or a friend’s backpack. Children and teens have access to these medicines, and they often sell and trade prescription drugs. In addition, many prescription drugs infiltrate the U.S. from other countries, such as India, China, and Mexico.

Why Some People Become Addicted

Some people are more at risk for prescription drug addiction than others. Risks for addiction are increased by a person’s age, stage of development, social environment, genetics, and brain biology. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance of becoming addicted to prescription drugs.

If you or someone you know is abusing prescription drugs, it is time to ask for help. Consult a friend, talk to a school counselor, or call and addiction treatment center. Feelings of depression and anxiety are commonly associated with substance abuse, so it is important to seek proper health care for these issues.


National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016). Nationwide trends.

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