Prescription drugs contain ingredients that can profoundly affect a person’s health and well-being. Unfortunately, many of these drugs are also highly addictive. Opiates, for example, are found in many prescription pain medications. They are also present in heroin, an illegal narcotic substance that is very addictive.
Other prescription drugs act as stimulants or depressants on the body’s central nervous system (CNS). They influence the way in which neurotransmitters work in the brain. When used as prescribed, they can effectively treat the symptoms of specific medical conditions. Unfortunately, many of these drugs are also habit-forming.
In fact, prescription drugs are some of the most abused drugs in modern society and culture. They are popular as recreational drugs because they are easy to obtain. Their long-term use or increased doses can often cause a mental or physical dependence that is hard to break.
Nearly 50 percent of all Americans take at least one prescription drug, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 20 percent of the people take three or more prescription medications, and 10 percent use five or more drugs.
Over time, people build a natural tolerance to these drugs. As they increase their medications, they may start to display behaviors that are associated with mental or physical addiction. Opioid painkillers, CNS depressants, and CNS stimulants are the most commonly abused prescription drugs.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a law enforcement agency under the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), classifies the substances used to make drugs into five categories or schedules. Classification is based on the acceptable medical use of a drug, as well as the potential for abuse or addiction. The Office of Diversion Control has published an alphabetical listing of drugs and their schedules. This list describes the basic drug or parent chemical, but not necessarily the salts, isomers, esters, ethers, and other substances used to make the drugs. Drugs and other substances that are considered ‘controlled substances’ under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) are divided into five schedules according to their potential for abuse. Following is a list of these schedules and how they are categorized:
Prescription medications generally fall into one of the other four drug schedules. Their classification reflects their potential for drug abuse or addiction. Here are the most common prescription drugs, along with their medical benefits and the dangers associated with their abuse.
According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), barbiturates are CNS depressants. Used as prescribed, they act on the nervous system or brain to relieve anxiety, control seizures, or promote sleep.
Most barbiturates, such as butabarbitol and secobarbitol, are classified as Schedule III drugs. While they can be helpful for certain conditions, too much of them can be habit-forming. Signs of addiction include a strong desire for the medicine and a need to increase the dose. The withdrawal effects include nausea, vomiting, tremors, and convulsions.
Benzodiazepines are another type of drug used to treat anxiety, seizures, and insomnia. Diazepam, lorazepam, and clonazepam are three commonly prescribed benzodiazepines. While some are used interchangeably, others are prescribed for specific medical conditions.
Benzodiazepines are Schedule IV drugs. They have lower potential for abuse or addiction than many other medications. However, all benzodiazepines can cause physical dependence. Suddenly stopping these drugs after months of daily therapy can cause symptoms that range from feelings of low self-worth to vomiting, profuse sweating, and seizures.
Sleep medications are a popular category of prescription drugs. Sleeping pills like flurazepam, zolpidem, and eszopiclone help insomniacs get some much needed sleep. However, some of these medications can cause allergic reactions or unusual behaviors.
Most sleep medications are Schedule IV drugs with a lower potential for drug abuse or mental addiction. However, like benzodiazepines, sleeping pills can cause physical dependence. According to the medical experts at WebMd Medical Reference, some of the withdrawal symptoms include shallow breathing, rapid heartbeats, agitation, and even suicidal thoughts.
Codeine is a prescription opioid drug, a type of narcotic painkiller. It acts on the nervous system or brain to relieve mild or moderate pain. As a Schedule II drug, codeine is highly habit-forming and has the potential for mental and physical dependence.
Used medically for pain relief, codeine does not usually cause mental addiction. However, a physical addiction to the drug can lead to severe symptoms if treatment suddenly stops. By gradually reducing the dose over time, most people can prevent the withdrawal effects.
Morphine is another Schedule II narcotic opiate. Like codeine, it acts on the nervous system to relieve pain. Doctors prescribe morphine for moderate to severe pain, and long-term use can become habit-forming.
Like codeine, morphine is not likely to cause mental addiction when it is used as prescribed. However, a sudden stop in treatment can cause severe symptoms in those with a physical addiction. A gradual reduction in dosing can prevent these negative effects.
Methadone is another Schedule II narcotic. According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors prescribe methadone for around-the-clock relief of severe pain. The drug is not used for occasional pain.
Along with medical supervision and counseling, methadone also treats addictions to heroin and other opiates. Unfortunately, the methadone used in these treatments can also be addictive.
When long-term use is required for medical treatment, methadone addiction is an accepted part of the treatment. However, when people use the drug for anything other than its prescribed use, they put their lives in danger. High doses of methadone can cause death.
Fentanyl, another powerful opiate, is often used during and after surgical procedures. Doctors may combine it with other drugs to enhance the effects of anesthetics. Like other narcotic painkillers, fentanyl acts on the nervous system or brain to reduce pain.
Classified as a Schedule II drug, fentanyl is one of the strongest opiates on the market. The drug is available as a lollipop, patch, or injection. The difference between a therapeutic dose and a lethal one is slight.
Euphoria and lethargy are common signs of fentanyl abuse. The withdrawal symptoms are typical of most other drugs: nausea, vomiting, weight loss, headache, hallucinations, sweating, and more.
Codeine, morphine, methadone, and fentanyl are the most common opioid painkillers and relievers. However, hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, meperidine, and propoxyphene are also popular painkillers. Sometimes, doctors combine these drugs with acetaminophen, an over-the-counter pill.
Like all Schedule II drugs, opioid pain relievers can cause addiction with long-term use. They can also interact with other prescription drugs such as antidepressants, antihistamines, and sleeping pills. To prevent harmful side effects and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, doses are closely monitored and reduced gradually over time.
Amphetamines belong to a group of medicines called CNS stimulants. They are most often used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. By stimulating the central nervous system, amphetamines increase attention and decrease drowsiness or restlessness.
Amphetamines are non-narcotic Schedule II drugs. Their misuse can cause serious or fatal heart problems. Long-term use or abuse can lead to mental addiction or physical dependence. Withdrawal symptoms appear when treatment suddenly stops.
Methylphenidate is another CNS stimulant drug. Like amphetamines, it is used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy symptoms. Concerta and Ritalin are two popular brand names of this particular drug.
Methylphenidate is classified as a Schedule II drug. It can be habit-forming, and doctors caution its use by those with mental illness, mood disorders, and drug or alcohol problems. Long-term use or abuse of this drug can decrease its effectiveness or cause abnormal thoughts and behaviors.
Dextromethorphan (DXM) is an over-the-counter cough suppressant. Marketed under dozens of brand names, it relieves coughing due to influenza or the common cold. However, it is not recommended for chronic coughs.
Dextromethorphan is a legal drug that cannot be detected in normal drug tests. This easily lends it to abuse. The signs of addiction depend on the amount of medicine used and whether another drug, such as marijuana or alcohol, was added to the mix.
The symptoms of DXM abuse range from mild inebriation and slurred speech to memory loss, vision impairment, hallucinations, and an altered state of consciousness. The effects are similar to that of phencyclidine (PCP), a Schedule II classification, or ketamine, a Schedule III classification. Because of its similarities to opioid drugs, DXM is treated as a Schedule II drug.
The CDC calls prescription drugs overdose an epidemic. While illegal drug use has decreased in recent years, the abuse of prescription drugs is on the rise. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that one-third of drug users today start with the non-medical use of prescription drugs.
Drug abuse prevention requires action in four main areas: education, monitoring, disposal, and enforcement. Educating patients, parents, and young people is the first step toward prevention. Education includes information on the proper use, storage, and disposal of prescription drugs.
Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) are another important step in prevention. These programs reduce “doctor shopping” and enable healthcare providers to share prescription drug information across state lines. The proper disposal of prescription medicines decreases the supply of unused drugs.
Law enforcement is an important part of drug abuse prevention. With the proper tools and resources, law enforcement can eliminate illegal prescribing practices and stop the “pill mills” that make prescription drugs so easy to obtain.
Seeking professional treatment for a prescription drug addiction is a good way to fight the devastating effects of drug abuse. Rehabilitation follows a specific process that is tailored to individual needs. Understanding how rehab works can help families determine the best treatment.
Not using drugs is just one aspect of treatment. Drug addiction causes changes in the brain that make quitting very difficult. With prescription drug abuse, a person may not even recognize the changes that occur with authentic drug use for medical reasons.
The goal of rehabilitation is to help people stop using drugs, recover from withdrawal symptoms, and resist the temptations and cravings that arise. Rehab teaches recovering addicts how to cope with the stress that contributed to their drug use and establishes a healthy lifestyle.
People who suffer from a prescription drug addiction can benefit most from inpatient treatment programs. Although outpatient programs are more flexible, inpatient programs provide exceptional benefits that make successful treatment more likely.
Inpatient treatment programs immerse recovering drug addicts in an environment that fosters healing. Whether they take place in luxury, holistic surroundings, or basic hospital settings, inpatient programs are completely committed to the healing process.
Inpatient therapies require recovering addicts to live in a residential facility for an extended period of time. Most programs last between 30 and 90 days. However, some may require six months to a year of therapy.
While the surroundings may resemble a resort, prescription drug treatment programs are not vacations. Addicts are expected to participate in the community, as well as their own recovery. Daily therapy, group therapy, and support group sessions keep recovering addicts accountable.
Many people in prescription drugs rehab have a dual diagnosis. Not only must they cope with their drug addiction, but many must also deal with anxiety, depression, or another disorder that co-exists with their addiction. Inpatient programs help recovering addicts deal with these various disorders.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for drug addiction. Just as diabetics must learn to manage their disease, recovering addicts must learn to manage their prescription drug addiction. Certain behaviors can further an addiction or cause a relapse of drug use. However, with the right treatment and a strong support system, people can recover from their addictions and live normal, healthy lives.
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