Propofol Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & Treatment

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Propofol is a quick-acting medication given through an IV, commonly used for sedation and sleep induction in surgeries and intensive care. It works fast, doesn’t last long, is relatively safe, and is easy to administer. This means that propofol has been popular since its introduction in the 1980s. While it’s not entirely clear how likely it is for someone to become addicted to propofol, there have been a few reported cases of its abuse and dependency. Read on to learn more about this medication.

Is Propofol Addictive?

More and more research suggests that propofol can produce effects like those of addictive substances including alcohol and nicotine, so it may have some potential for abuse and addiction. Interestingly, its misuse is often found among medical professionals who prescribe and have access to the substance.

Propofol mainly works by enhancing the activity of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) to induce sedation. That said, it is also believed to stimulate dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain associated with feelings of pleasure and well-being. This stimulation not only contributes to its sedative effects but may also trigger a state of euphoria similar to the experience from opioids.

Dopamine is naturally released in the brain during pleasurable activities, like eating. The addictive quality of propofol is linked to this impact on dopamine, potentially leading to sensations of euphoria along with sedation.

There is also evidence showing that propofol can be self-administered in a way similar to how intravenous drugs like heroin are used. This raises concerns, especially considering the high risk of death from repeated propofol misuse. As a result, there is a growing call for stricter control over its access, even among healthcare professionals.

Given the increasing evidence of propofol’s addiction and abuse risks, hospitals and regulatory bodies are being urged to classify it as a controlled substance. This step could help reduce incidents of overdose and substance use disorders related to propofol.

Propofol Misuse

Misuse of propofol, typically among healthcare professionals with access to the drug, is a concerning issue. Due to its sedative effects and ability to induce a state of euphoria by influencing brain chemicals like dopamine, propofol can be misused for recreational purposes. Such misuse involves administering the drug outside of its intended medical context, often for the feelings of relaxation and pleasure it provides.

Propofol misuse is risky, not only due to the potential for addiction but also because of the narrow margin between a safe dose and a potentially lethal one. Misuse of this substance is associated with severe consequences, including respiratory failure, loss of consciousness, and in extreme cases, death.

Propofol Addiction Symptoms

Addiction to propofol, while less common than addiction to other substances, presents specific symptoms that can be indicative of abuse:

  • Increased tolerance: Needing larger doses of propofol to achieve the same sedative effects, indicating the body is growing accustomed to the drug as tolerance forms.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: Experiencing physical or psychological discomfort when not using propofol – agitation, anxiety, or physical discomfort, for instance.
  • Preoccupation with the drug: Spending a lot of time thinking about propofol, planning its use, or recovering from its effects.
  • Continued use despite harm: Using propofol despite knowing its negative consequences on health, work, or relationships.
  • Neglect of responsibilities: Failing to fulfill work, family, or social responsibilities due to propofol use.
  • Changes in behavior: Exhibiting secretive or unusual behaviors, changes in social circles, or a decline in performance at work, especially among healthcare professionals with access to the drug.
  • Physical signs: Signs of frequent sedation, such as prolonged drowsiness, slurred speech, or impaired coordination.

As with any addiction, recognizing these symptoms early is instrumental in seeking and receiving appropriate help. In the case of propofol addiction, this is extremely important due to the high risk of overdose and severe health consequences associated with its misuse.

Propofol Addiction Withdrawal

Withdrawal from propofol addiction is a challenging process, marked by a range of symptoms due to the body’s dependence on the drug for its sedative effects. Withdrawal symptoms may vary in presentation and duration, depending on the level of addiction and frequency of use.

  • Physical symptoms: These may include headaches, nausea, tremors, sweating, and increased heart rate. In severe cases, withdrawal can lead to seizures.
  • Psychological symptoms: Common psychological withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, agitation, irritability, and depression. In some cases, people detoxing may experience hallucinations or confusion.
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances: As propofol is often used for its sedative effects, withdrawing from it can cause significant sleep problems, including insomnia and disrupted sleep patterns.
  • Cravings: A strong desire or craving to use propofol is a common withdrawal symptom and can be one of the most challenging aspects to overcome.
  • Risk of relapse: Due to the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms and cravings, there is a high risk of relapse during the withdrawal period.

Undergo withdrawal from Propofol under medical supervision. Healthcare professionals can provide support and may administer medications to ease withdrawal symptoms. They can also monitor for any complications, ensuring a safer and more comfortable withdrawal process. Additionally, psychological support and counseling help in addressing the underlying issues related to addiction and for preventing relapse.

Treatment for Propofol Addiction

Treatment for propofol addiction requires a multi-pronged approach that blends medical intervention with psychological support. Given the drug’s potent effects and the potential for severe withdrawal symptoms, detoxification should be conducted under close medical supervision. This generally takes place in a specialized facility where healthcare professionals can monitor and manage physical symptoms and ensure safety.

Following detox, long-term treatment may involve therapy and counseling. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is proven effective, helping people understand their patterns of consumption and develop effective coping strategies. Addressing the psychological aspects of addiction helps to tackle the root causes of substance abuse and prevent relapse.

Support groups can also play a vital role in the recovery process, offering a sense of community and shared experience that can provide encouragement and understanding. For healthcare professionals recovering from propofol addiction, specialized programs are often more effective than generalized treatment. These programs address the unique challenges faced by medical professionals and may include strategies for returning to a high-responsibility workplace.

Relapse prevention is a core component of treatment. This involves identifying triggers, developing coping strategies, and creating a supportive environment. Regular follow-ups with healthcare providers and continued participation in therapy or support groups can provide ongoing support.

Get Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction at Ohio Recovery Centers

For anyone who requires propofol drug addiction treatment, outpatient programs at Ohio Recovery Centers enable you to fulfill your everyday obligations while engaging with prescription drug addiction treatment.

Outpatient programs offer a more flexible and affordable pathway to recovery than residential rehab. In many cases, intensive outpatient programs can deliver similar treatment outcomes, too.

All Ohio Recovery Centers treatment programs deliver laser-focused and evidence-based addiction treatment that blends medications, behavioral therapies, and counseling for a whole-body approach to recovery in Ohio. For immediate assistance, call 877-679-2132 right now.

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn