Prescription Drug Addiction
No one “decides” to get addicted to prescription or over the counter medication. Alienating family and friends, failing at work, engaging in small-time criminal activities is not what anyone plans when they swallow their first pill to ease a back ache, head ache, depression or anxiety.
Many people misuse a prescription drug or over the counter medication, at sometime in their life, but the overwhelming majority put the pills away with no lasting harm.
For people with an inherent vulnerability to addiction, taking pain pills can lead to an intoxicating rush that makes the brain want more. Repeating the high reinforces the cycle, and sets the stage for addiction.
Addiction To Prescription and over the counter medication is on the rise
Experts are unsure of the exact number of people addicted to prescription drugs today, but all agree it is on the rise. This is partly due to aggressive marketing and wide spread availability. Many more people have access to these medicines today than 15 or 20 years ago.
Responding to requests by patients and pain advocacy groups, doctors may have become more lenient when prescribing drugs. There has been a massive increase in sales of these preparations in last decade – creating of millions of potential drug stashes in medicine cabinets across the country.
Everyone agrees, better pain control for people who need it is a good thing. In the pursuit of more efficient and quicker treatment more people are being exposed to these drugs than ever before, creating the potential for many more addicts.
To begin to understand addiction, you need to look deep inside the brain
Finding and eating food, drinking water, having sex, caring for children: these and other activities necessary to survival cause the reward system to release a tiny dose of dopamine, a “feel good” neurotransmitter. It feels good, and so we’re likely to repeat that activity later on.
Repeated abuse of prescription or over the counter medication floods the system with dopamine, which contributes to the euphoric rush.
When a person with a predisposition to addiction, uses these drugs repeatedly, it causes the reward system to inappropriately learn that these drugs are as essential to survival as food or water. Experts believe that the receptor cells in the brain actually undergo a change.
Changes in behaviour that go along with prescription drug addiction:
- neglecting responsibilities to family and friends
- performing poorly at work
- losing interest in sex.
Dealing with prescription drugs
All of our brains have a reward system, and millions of people everywhere use prescription pain pills — or even misuse them for a short time — without developing addiction. What determines who becomes addicted, and who doesn’t?
Not all people are wired to enjoy the effects of prescription medication. In many people, nausea and dizziness outweigh any euphoric rush from the drugs.
Others may experience pain pills like most people do alcohol. It is something pleasurable in moderation, but they have no urge to overdo it. While certain genes have been associated with the risk for drug addiction, no one gene is responsible.
Still, certain factors are known to increase the risk for addiction. Our genes account for 50% of the susceptibility to addiction. Studies of identical twins, who share the same genes, prove the link. If one identical twin develops a drug addiction, there’s about a 50% chance the other twin will do to.
Dependence vs. Addiction
There is an important difference between dependence and addiction. Anyone who takes prescription medication for more than a few weeks will develop tolerance and some physical dependence on the drug. Usually, these people are on stable, generally lower doses of medication. If they stop suddenly, they have withdrawal symptoms (usually mild). The symptoms go away, the person is “detoxed,” and they go on with life. They don’t seek further chances to use the drug.
The person with addiction tendencies abuses the drug to get high or to lessen anxiety. The repeated highs and rush of codeine or Benzedrine in the brain create the brain changes that lead to drug addiction. The higher doses, and longer use make withdrawal an extremely unpleasant experience for them. The pleasure of getting high and the fear of withdrawal “rewire” the brain’s reward pathway, leading to compulsive drug seeking, craving, and continued use despite negative consequences.
No matter what the active ingredient weather Codeine, Benzedrine or other substance in the medication, experts say is of little importance, these substances are addictive, and activate the same systems in the brain and body. In practice there is little difference between this addiction and any other addiction.
If drugs are controlling your life, we can help.