Prescription Drug Addiction & Abuse

Most people do not understand how or why some people become addicted to drugs. They mistakenly assume that individuals who abuse drugs lack the willpower or moral principles, and that they can quit drug abuse cold turkey by simply deciding to stop taking them. However, addiction is a serious, chronic disease of the brain and withdrawal takes more than willpower and social principles. Prescription drug addiction is a term used to refer to any of a variety of disorders characterized by dependence on prescription pharmaceutical drugs. It is best described as compulsive, out of control prescription drug use, despite their negative effects on one’s health, employment or social life. In most cases, the first decision to abuse prescriptions drugs, such as morphine and codeine, is often voluntary; in pursuit of the “high’ (euphoria feeling) that some prescription drugs give. However, once addiction sets in, prescription drug use becomes compulsive, and hard to control. Drug and substance abuse alter one’s mind in a way that makes it extremely challenging to quit, even if one can see the damage the drugs are causing him or her and really wants to stop. Drug addiction and abuse can cause serious long-term consequences for the dependent person. These range from physical and mental health problems to adversely affecting the patient’s social relationships, employment and ability to comply with the law. Fortunately, medical researchers have uncovered how drugs and substances affect one’s brain, and have found remedies that can help one recover fully from drug addiction and lead healthy and productive lives.
The label prescription drug (or prescription medication) is used to refer to any of a variety of pharmaceutical drugs which cannot be legally sold without a medical prescription issued by a licensed physician. This is contrary to over-the-counter drugs which can be legally sold without a prescription. Psychoactive prescription drugs are classified as follows:
Opioids painkillers are prescription drugs which act on the opioid receptors in the nervous system to reduce pain. Opioids are available in various forms including tablets, capsules or as liquid suspension. Opioids which lead to addiction are often referred to as narcotics and they include:

  • oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin, Percodan)
  • diphenoxylate (Lomotil)
  • hydrocodone (Lortab, Vicodin, Lorcet)
  • morphine (Avinza, Kadian, MS Contin)
  • fentanyl (Duragesic)
  • codeine
  • hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • propoxyphene (Darvon)
  • methadone
  • meperidine (Demerol)

When taken according to a doctor’s prescription, opioids are very effective in easing pain. As such, they are often prescribed to improve the quality of life of people living with chronic pain. For example, after surgery and in cancer treatment. However, tolerance and dependence on opioids develops fast, and addiction can develop within 1-2 weeks of regular dosage.

In case of overdose, opioids result in serious side effects including death and if abused in combination with sedatives, the risk of respiratory failure is high.

Stimulant prescription drugs increase energy, wakefulness and alertness. Some are also used to elevate blood pressure or suppress appetite. The most commonly abused stimulant prescription drugs include amphetamines and methylphenidate.
suboxone tablets
Also called tranquilizers or sedatives, CNS depressants are drugs that once taken, tend to slow down brain activity. They are often called “downers” to distinguish them from the “uppers” – the common name for stimulants and narcotics. CNSs are mainly used in treating sleep and anxiety disorders. The most common CNSs are:

  • Benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), triazolam (Halcion), and estazolam (ProSom). These are often prescribed to treat acute stress reactions, panic attack, and severe stress reactions. However, if taken regularly for some time, one develops dependence, tolerance and addiction.
  • Non-benzodiazepine sleep medications such as eszopiclone (Lunesta), zalepon (Sonata), and zolpidem (Ambien). They act on the same receptors as benzodiazepines, but they have a relatively lower risk of dependence.
  • Barbiturates such as phenobarbital (Luminal Sodium),mephobarbital (Mebaral), and pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal). They are prescribed less often compared to above described sedatives because they pose a higher risk of overdose.

Most CNS depressants work by controlling the secretion of the brain neurotransmitter known as GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) which once in the blood, works to decrease brain activity, leading to a feeling of calmness and drowsiness.

Antipsychotics are drugs used to treat chronic psychological disorders such as schizophrenia or mania induced by bipolar disorder. There are two classes of antipsychotic drugs:

  1. Older or Typical Antipsychotics: They were discovered in the 50s and since then, they have grown to become the most established antipsychotics. They include flupentixol, chlorpromazine, levomepromazine, haloperidol, perphenazine and pericyazine.
  2. Newer or Atypical Antipsychotics: These are second generation antipsychotic drugs. They include clozapine, aripiprazole, amisulpride, olanzapine, risperidone and quetiapine.
As outlined above, most addictive prescription drugs are either opioids (for pain relief) or those used in treating psychological condition. Addictive prescription drugs function by either reinforcing or reducing some nervous or endocrinal function in the body. Over time, the mind of a drug abuser becomes uncontrollably drug seeking, and he or she has to use the drug for the body to function properly.

However, it is worth noting that not all drugs in these categories are addictive. A good example is Tylenol, a drug used for pain relief as well as suppressing symptoms of fever, but it does not cause dependency or addiction.

For a very long time the most common belief was that drug addiction was caused by failure of willpower or by having a weak character. But the prevailing view throughout the medical community today is that addiction is a disease and not a character flaw.
Anyone can get addicted to prescription drugs. However, there is clear evidence that some people will get addicted to a specific prescription drug even when they take it according to a doctor’s recommended regimen while others will not, meaning that certain factors make them either surceptible to dependence and addiction or not. These factors include:

  1. Biology: Half of the risk of addiction to a drug comes from someone’s genetics and biological makeup. Here we are talking about factors like gender (with males being more prone to addiction than females), ethnicity, whether the person suffers from other mental disorders, and whether one comes from a family with a history of drug abuse.
  1. Social Environment: There are many social environment factors that can make one more likely to abuse prescription and illegal drugs. These range from family and friends, economic status and general quality of life. Other indicative factors include peer pressure, mental stress, parental guidance and early exposure to drug abuse.
  1. Development: A person is more likely to get addicted to prescription drugs if he or she begins taking them at certain stages of their life than at others. A person in their teenage years is at the highest risk of developing addiction. This is because these are the years when critical areas of the brain central to functions such as judgment, decision making and self-control are developing at a rapid rate.
It is not possible to get addicted to prescription drugs the first time you take them. The nervous and endocrine systems in your body take time to “learn” and adjust how they react to certain drugs. Indeed, if you only take these drugs strictly according to the instructions of your doctor, it is, in most cases, unlikely to get addicted.
suboxone strips
Opioids and morphine derivative pain killers are perhaps the most commonly abused drugs and therefore the ones which result in most cases of addiction. Here is a brief look at the most common opioids which often lead to addiction:
Codeine is an opioid or narcotic commonly taken to relieve mild to moderately severe pain. Codeine is also found in some medication used for treating cough and even diarrhea. When used for pain relief, codeine is often prescribed along with paracetamol or other pain relief medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).

Codeine occurs naturally and it makes 2% of opium. It is the most common opiate prescribed, and the most abused around the world. Every year, around 300,000 kilograms of codeine are consumed.

In most countries, cough syrups and tablets containing codeine are available without a prescription, meaning it easy to access and abuse codeine. In fact, a recent study showed that many heroin addicts routinely consume codeine based syrups to ward off withdrawal symptoms when the actual illegal drug is unavailable or unaffordable.

Common Commercial Names for Codeine:

  • Empirin with Codeine
  • Fiorinal with Codeine
  • Robitussin A-C
  • Tylenol with Codeine

Common Street Names for Codeine:

  • Cody
  • Captain Cody
  • Schoolboy
  • Doors and fours
  • Loads
  • Pancakes and syrup
Morphine is an opiate pain reliever. It is found naturally in several plants and animals and it acts directly on the central nervous system to relieve both acute and chronic pain. Although over 500,000 kilograms of morphine are produced each year, only a small percentage is used directly in pain relief medication. Over 70% of the morphine produced in the world is used to make other opioids such as oxycodone, hydromorphone, and (of course) heroin.

Common Commercial Names for Morphine:

  • Roxanol
  • Duramorph
  • MS Contin
  • Morphine Sulfate ER
  • Kadian

Common Street Names for Morphine:

  • Miss Emma
  • Monkey
  • White stuff
Methadone is an opioid with perhaps the most controversial usage; and it is often used to reduce withdrawal symptoms of narcotics such as heroin, but some medical experts have questioned the effectiveness of methadone in treating heroin addicts. They argue that methadone only serves to redirect dependency from illegal to authorized channels and it is no cure at all.
Common Commercial Names for Methadone:
• Dolophine
• Symoron
• Amidone
• Methadose
• Physeptone
• Heptadon
Common Street Names for Methadone:
• Fizzies
• Amidone
• Chocolate chip cookies
suboxone overdose
As noted in the introductory segment, stimulants give a feeling of euphoria, and this makes them attractive to people searching for a feeling of vibrancy and fun. Here are the most addictive stimulant prescription drugs:
Amphetamine is a very potent CNS stimulant mainly used in treating ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Many patients taking amphetamine develop drug tolerance very quickly, meaning that over time, they require increasingly higher doses to achieve the same effect. This makes it highly addictive.

 Common Commercial Names for Amphetamine:

  • Biphetamine
  • Adderall
  • Dexedrine

Common Street Names for Amphetamine:

  • Bennies
  • Black beauty
  • Crosses
  • Hearts
  • LA turnaround
  • Speed
  • Truck driver
  • Upper
Methylphenidate is a CNS stimulant in the phenethylamine family of drugs. It is an essential drug in the treatment of conditions like ADHD and narcolepsy.

Common Commercial Names for Methylphenidate:

  • Ritalin
  • Aptensio
  • Daytrana,
  • Equasym,
  • Medikinet
  • Metadate
  • Methylin
  • QuilliChew
  • Quillivant

Common Street Names for Methylphenidate:

  • JIF
  • R-ball
  • MPH
  • Vitamin R
  • The smart drug
  • Skippy
Abuse of depressants is not as popular as stimulants and opioids (narcotics) but is on the rise. The most commonly abused prescription depressants are:
Barbiturates are derived from barbituric acid. Although barbituric acid itself has no therapeutic activity in the body, certain derivatives of this organic acid enhance the action of GABA. In fact, barbiturates have been discovered to cause severe physical and psychological dependence. This coupled with the fact that some more effective and much safer drugs have come to the market, has resulted in significant decrease in use of barbiturates in treatment of anxiety, amnesia and epilepsy.

Common Commercial Names for Barbiturates:

  • Allobarbital
  • Amobarbital
  • Aprobarbital
  • Alphenal
  • Barbital
  • Brallobarbital
  • Pentobarbital
  • Secobarbital

Common Street Names for Barbiturates:

  • Barbs
  • Reds
  • Tooies
  • Yellows
  • Yellow jackets
Benzodiazepines are a special class of CNS inhibitors. Specifically, they act on the GABA-A receptors where they open certain GABA-activated chloride channels to allow chloride ions to enter the neuron. Presence of chloride ions makes the neurons negatively charged, and as such, less likely to get excited.

Common Commercial Names for Benzodiazepines:

  • Ativan
  • Librium
  • Xanax
  • Halcion
  • Valium
  • Klonopin

Common Street Names for Benzodiazepines:

  • Sleeping pills
  • Candy
  • Downers
  • Tranks
Most prescription drug interaction happens when they are consumed together with alcohol, leading to both mild and/or severe symptoms. These include:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Abnormal behavior.
  • Changes in blood pressure.
  • Loss of coordination.

Studies have shown that mixing prescription medication with alcohol can lead to some long term physical and mental health problems. These include:

  • Liver damage.
  • Internal bleeding.
  • Heart problems.
  • Impaired breathing.

Also, prescription drugs should not be taken together with other drugs, without the express permission of a doctor.

Many experts in the medical community are in agreement that prescription drug dependence and addiction are becoming serious threats to public health and safety. In the United States, a study titled the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that almost 9 million Americans regularly abuse prescription drugs. Over 50% of them abuse pain relievers, almost 2 million abuse tranquilizers (antidepressants), and just as many are addicted to stimulants. Sedatives (depressants) are regularly abused by about 250,000 Americans.

There is currently no reliable statics to show the overlap between different classes of prescription drugs. However, the available data still paints a very grim picture of the danger posed to public health by prescription drug abuse.

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Prescription Drug Addiction was last modified: April 5th, 2017 by The Recovery Village