Prescription drugs were designed to help people get well, but unfortunately they have become a tool that millions of Americans use to abuse their bodies and destroy their lives. Prescription drug addiction is a growing problem, especially among the young, who have access to these medications online and in their parents’ medicine cabinets. With prescription drug abuse on the rise in the United States, it is crucial that those who become addicted to prescription drugs have ready access to the right recovery resources.
Individuals who have a dual diagnosis, or a psychiatric disorder combined with an addictive disorder, are especially vulnerable to prescription drug abuse. Some of the drugs prescribed to reduce anxiety, prevent panic attacks or relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal have a high potential for addiction. If you or someone you care about have been using prescription drugs without a doctor’s order to relieve the symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or another mental health condition, reaching out for help may prevent the serious consequences of prescription drug abuse, such as:
- Legal or financial problems
- Divorce or loss of custody
- Chemical dependence
- Accidental injuries
- Suicide attempts
- Overdose and death
Specialized treatment facilities for co-occurring disorders offer comprehensive recovery services for mental health disorders and substance abuse. The sooner you get in touch with a qualified Dual Diagnosis treatment center, the greater your chances of reaching your recovery goals.
Statistics on Prescription Drug Abuse
The misuse of prescription medications has become one of the biggest problems facing law enforcement agencies and rehabilitation centers in the United States. At one time, illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine were considered to pose the greatest threat of abuse and addiction. Today, prescription painkillers, sedatives and stimulants have become the drugs of choice for many Americans. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that in 2010:
- About 7 million Americans used psychotherapeutic drugs (medications that affect the functions of the brain and nerves) without a doctor’s prescription.
- Painkillers were the most widely abused prescription drugs, with 5.1 million Americans reporting non-medical use.
- Tranquilizers were the next most commonly abused drug, with 2.2 million reporting non-medical use.
- Stimulants and sedatives were the next most commonly abused prescription medications.
- One out of 12 students in the 12th grade reported using Vicodin, a prescription pain reliever, recreationally; one out of 20 reported using OxyContin recreationally.
Many drug rehab centers in the US offer treatment programs for prescription drug addiction. However, finding a facility that provides integrated treatment for prescription drug abuse and mental illness may be much more challenging. Before you enter a treatment facility, make sure the care you receive will be provided by mental health specialists and addiction therapists who are trained to identify and treat the symptoms of mental health conditions like generalized anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and panic disorder.
Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs
Individuals use a variety of medications to get high, numb their emotional pain or relieve stress and anxiety. Many of these drugs are originally prescribed for legitimate reasons, including the treatment of anxiety disorders, attention deficit disorders or chronic pain. Several prescription meds stand out in terms of usage and the potential for addiction:
Benzodiazepines like Ativan (lorazepam), Xanax (alprazolam) and Valium (diazepam) are among the most widely prescribed tranquilizers in the United States. They also have a high potential for abuse, which is why they are usually prescribed on an “as-needed” basis to minimize acute anxiety symptoms, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Taking these central nervous system depressants for more than one or two weeks can quickly lead to dependence and addiction, and taking more than the prescribed dose may cause respiratory depression, coma or death.
Hydrocodone is an opioid pain reliever and cough suppressant that is found in many prescription medications, including the drug Vicodin. The drug is highly addictive and can turn people from all walks of life into criminals who will lie, cheat and steal to get their pills. As one of the most commonly prescribed, affordable pain medications, hydrocodone is also accessible to users of all ages. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that hydrocodone abuse has increased since 2009, and that the medication has become one of the most commonly abused opiates in the country.
A powerful opioid painkiller, OxyContin has generated headlines because of its widespread abuse throughout the United States. The drug has also received publicity because of the number of overdoses associated the medication, which is intended to provide long-term pain relief. When the timed-release coating on these pills is removed and the medication is ground up and snorted, it can easily cause an overdose. The use of alcohol, tranquilizers and other depressants in combination with OxyContin increases the risk of an overdose or death.
Adderall and Ritalin
Used effectively in the treatment of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, these central nervous system stimulants have become popular among high school and college students who want to improve their mental focus and increase their energy. But ABC News reports that Adderall abuse can cause severe psychological disturbances, including depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide among young users.
Mental Illness and Prescription Drug Abuse
The misuse of opioid medications, tranquilizers and stimulants is common among people with mental health disorders, but according to the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, these conditions are often treated separately when it comes to drug and alcohol rehab. This division of services may result in ineffective treatment for both the addictive disorder and the mental illness, leading to a higher risk of relapse. In addition to struggling with the physical and emotional side effects of drug addiction, individuals with a Dual Diagnosis may experience:
- Emotional instability and dramatic mood swings
- Episodes of aggressive or violent behavior
- Periods of severe depression with suicidal thoughts
- Difficulty maintaining healthy relationships
- An unstable sense of their own identity
- Unreasonable fears that consume their thoughts
- The compulsive need to perform specific behaviors
- Intense fear or panic when faced with certain situations
People with a Dual Diagnosis are at a high risk of poverty, unemployment, homelessness and incarceration. They may make frequent use of emergency services to treat the symptoms of mental illness or to get treatment for a drug overdose. Prescription drugs are often viewed as a “safe” alternative to illicit drugs like heroin, meth and cocaine, but in fact, the results of prescription drug addiction can be just as devastating, especially for someone who is already struggling to overcome the effects of a serious psychiatric disorder.
Phases of Addiction Treatment
When an individual becomes addicted to prescription drugs, it changes the way their brain functions. The meds actually trick the brain into believing that the body cannot exist with the drug. Therefore, when an individual stops taking prescription meds, their body has “forgotten” how to function properly. This is why reducing the dose or cutting out the drug altogether can produce uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as:
- Anxiety and agitation
- Overpowering cravings for the drug
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chills and goosebumps
- Muscle pain or spasms
Prescription drug treatment begins with detox from the chemical substances in the body. Treatment also provides a safe place to experience withdrawal symptoms. As part of the detoxification process, clients are monitored by medical professionals and may receive prescription drugs to help them cope with the side effects of withdrawal. During detox, maintaining medical stability is the most important goal; however, a treatment team will also begin the process of preparing the client for the next phase of rehab.
Beyond detox, prescription drug treatment becomes a matter of retraining the individual to live their lives without addictive medications. This process often involves finding non-pharmacological treatment strategies for anxiety or depression, such as hypnotherapy, biofeedback, acupuncture, yoga or massage.
Prescription drugs with a lower abuse potential may be substituted for habit-forming medications to relieve the symptoms of psychiatric disorders or chronic pain.
Psychosocial therapy for prescription drug addiction involves group and individual counseling sessions where the root causes of the addiction are addressed. Working with an integrated treatment team of psychiatrists, psychologists, addiction counselors and social workers, the client forms a treatment plan for the future. For many people, individual and group counseling sessions represent the first time they have ever spoken openly about their addiction. Having the opportunity to talk to a trusted, caring professional or to share their concerns with peers moves them forward in previously unimaginable ways.
The final step of treatment involves aftercare, and shaping a day-to-day life without prescription drugs. Aftercare takes on many forms, including return visits to the treatment facility for counseling, residence in a sober living home and participation in a 12-step group like Narcotics Anonymous or Dual Recovery Anonymous. These aftercare resources help the individual ease back into a normal life and provide the support structure needed to prevent a relapse.
At Foundations Recovery Network treatment centers, we specialize in helping people overcome prescription drug addiction. Our unique, non-confrontational methods help those with an addiction achieve mental, physical and spiritual well-being, all leading to an existence that is free of the bonds of addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, contact us today for more information.
Further Reading About Prescription Drug Treatment
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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