The Epidemic of Prescription Drug Abuse

The phrase “drug addict” typically brings to mind people who abuse street drugs, usually through injecting or smoking these substances. But there is another epidemic of drug abuse happening in America today. An increasing number of people are overdosing and sometimes dying from prescription drug abuse.

In America, prescription drugs are the most commonly abused substances after alcohol and marijuana. The problem continues to get worse, as shown in increased emergency room visits, treatment admissions and overdose deaths, all caused by prescription drug abuse.

Many people are under the impression that prescription drugs are safer than street drugs because they have been prescribed by a doctor. But doctors prescribe these substances to patients to be taken in specific doses for a particular purpose. They can be dangerous when they are taken by people other than the person they were prescribed for or when taken in doses that are different than what was recommended.

Which Prescription Drugs Are Being Abused?

Several types of prescription drugs can lead to dependence or addiction. Painkillers such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, Vicodin and Percocet are among the most frequently abused substances. Patients may develop tolerance for these substances and require higher and higher doses for the same effect. They may go to more than one doctor to get prescriptions so that they can use these drugs at high doses. Some people may manipulate doctors into writing prescriptions they don’t actually need so that they can sell pills on the street. Abusing painkillers can lead to overdose and death. 

Benzodiazepines such as Valium, Xanax and Klonopin are another category of prescription drugs that are frequently not taken as directed. They may be prescribed for anxiety or to treat panic disorders. These drugs are easy to obtain and frequently abused. A person with anxiety disorder may try to increase the quantity of pills taken in an effort to self-medicate. Taking a higher dose than prescribed or combining these medications with alcohol can be very dangerous.

Stimulants such as Adderall are frequently prescribed to treat the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. They may also be prescribed to treat narcolepsy or severe depression. Taking these drugs habitually can lead to dependence, and doses higher than prescribed can be extremely dangerous. Long-term abuse of stimulants can lead to paranoia, cardiovascular problems and stroke.

Reasons People Become Dependent on Prescription Drugs

There are a variety of reasons that people become dependent on prescription drugs. For some people, a prescription drug problem sets in because the medications are not effective in the way they are prescribed. The problem they are experiencing could be physical pain, psychiatric problems or insomnia. They begin increasing the recommended dosage or visiting more than one doctor so they can mix prescriptions in an effort to self-medicate.

Prescription drugs are usually easy to obtain. People, including teenagers, sometimes find prescription drugs lying around that belong to another family member. Drugs may be offered to them by peers in social settings, and they may want to experiment and see how the drugs make them feel. They may take stimulants to boost alertness or improve academic performance. Gradually, they reach a point where they can’t seem to get through a day without the pills.

Elderly people may abuse prescription drugs because they are experiencing cognitive decline. They may have been prescribed multiple drugs from more than one doctor and not remember to communicate which medications they are already taking. 

Overcoming Prescription Drug Addiction

The belief that prescription drugs are not as dangerous as street drugs is absolutely untrue. The consequences of abusing prescription drugs can be catastrophic.

If you or someone you love has been abusing prescription drugs, it is very important that you get help before the consequences become deadly. It’s not likely that the problem will go away without help. Talk to a doctor, minister or addiction professional. In most cases, detoxification, especially from multiple substances, needs to be medically supervised. Withdrawal symptoms can be intense and in some cases life-threatening.

With help, you can learn to cope with stress and lead a productive life without relying on substances. It is possible to recover from prescription drug abuse.

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