Prescription Drug Addiction

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  • What is 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, headache, 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 leaves the brain wanting more. Repeating the high reinforces the cycle, and sets the stage for addiction.

    • Experts are unsure of the exact number of people addicted to prescription drugs today, but all agree, addiction is escalating. This is partly due to aggressive marketing and wide spread availability. There has been a massive increase in sales of these preparations in the last decade.

    • Responding to requests by patients and pain advocacy groups, doctors may have become more lenient when prescribing drugs.

    • 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.

  • 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.

      The person with addictive 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 is, these substances activate the same systems in the brain and body. In practice there is little difference between this addiction and any other addiction.
  • Harmful side effects
    • Changes in behaviour that go along with prescription drug addiction:
      • Neglecting responsibilities
      • Performing poorly at work
      • Losing interest in sex
      • Various physical symptoms such as nausea, headaches or dizziness
  • Withdrawal symptoms

    • It is recommended that withdrawal be conducted under the care of trained medical professionals together with experienced, trained, addiction counsellors.
    • Withdrawing from prescription medication by yourself can be life threatening.

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