Psychotherapeutic medication can be one of the most effective ways to treat the symptoms of a mental health disorder. Some of the drugs used to relieve anxiety, panic attacks, behavioral disorders and other conditions can cause physical or psychological dependence. But if you take the medication as part of a professional treatment program, the chances of becoming addicted are minimal compared to the potential benefits.
It’s natural to be concerned about the side effects of any psychiatric medication, including its addictive potential. But these concerns shouldn’t stop you from exploring the possibility of pharmacological therapy as part of your treatment plan. If you are already taking a psychotherapeutic medication, talk with your therapist or doctor about your concerns. Never stop taking a medication or reduce the dose without talking to your doctor first.
How Do I Know if I’m Addicted to My Meds?
Not all psychiatric drugs are addictive; in fact, the majority of medications used to treat mood disorders, anxiety disorders or psychotic conditions do not have a high abuse potential. If you take a psychotherapeutic drug for a certain period of time, you may experience unpleasant or dangerous side effects if you stop taking the drug suddenly. Over time, you may need higher doses of the drug to manage your symptoms. However, this does not necessarily mean that you’re “addicted.”
Addiction is characterized by a compulsive, obsessive need to seek and use a drug, even though it’s hurting you or your loved ones. Indiana University identifies the following behaviors as hallmarks of addiction:
- The drug becomes the focus of your thoughts and activities
- You keep taking the drug in spite of its harmful effects on your physical health, emotional well-being or your personal relationships
- You lose control over when, where and how much of the drug you use
- You hide your use from others and feel guilty or remorseful when you use
- You isolate yourself from loved ones who don’t use the drug
If you have a history of substance abuse, you may be justifiably concerned about whether a new psychiatric medication will trigger addictive behaviors. When you seek treatment at a facility that specializes in Dual Diagnosis rehab, your therapists will be able to help you select medications that will allow you to recover safely.
Which Medications Are Addictive?
Some of the medications used to treat psychiatric disorders have a high abuse potential and should be used with caution to avoid chemical dependence and addiction. These medications include tranquilizing medications in the benzodiazepine family (lorazepam/Ativan, alprazolam/Xanax, clonazepam/Klonopin, diazepam/Valium), which are sometimes prescribed to relieve the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder.
When benzodiazepines are taken for short periods of time or used strictly on an as-needed basis according to a doctor’s orders, they can be an effective part of your treatment program. However, when you take more than the recommended dose or you take these drugs too often, you can become addicted to your medication. The American Academy of Family Physicians notes that for people with a history of substance abuse, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, anti-hypertensive medications and neuroleptic drugs may be a safer alternative than benzodiazepines.
Amphetamine-based drugs used to treat ADHD have the potential to be abused. When used appropriately, medications like Ritalin and Adderall can focus attention in people with this behavioral disorder. But according to The Clinical Advisor, these medications are often misused recreationally for their stimulatory effects.
What if I’m Already Addicted?
Addiction itself is a chronic condition that requires intensive professional treatment. If you have a psychiatric disorder combined with substance abuse — or a Dual Diagnosis — you need support from professionals who can help you recover from both conditions. At the Foundations Recovery Network, we offer integrated treatment for individuals with a Dual Diagnosis at our exclusive rehab facilities in Tennessee and California. We understand your concerns about addiction, and we’re uniquely equipped to help you develop a safe, effective treatment plan. Call us to start the process of recovery today.
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton