Drug addiction is clinically described as substance use disorder, typically associated with illicit drugs like cocaine, meth, or heroin. Prescription drug addiction is also a significant problem in the United States.
Just like alcohol, prescription drugs are legal but potentially damaging if not used as directed by a prescribing physician. Data from NSDUH 2020 (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) indicate that 3.6 million U.S. adults misused prescription drugs in the previous year.
Prescription drugs are medications that are only available with a written prescription from a physician, nurse practitioner, or other licensed healthcare professional like a dentist. Prescription medications are typically indicated for the treatment of specific medical conditions and they are regulated by the DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) and other government agencies.
Most prescription drugs are more potent than OTC medications drugs, which means that they may trigger more serious side effects and require ongoing monitoring by a healthcare provider. Prescription drugs may also be indicated for the treatment of treat chronic or complex conditions that demand continuous monitoring and management.
Beyond this, pharmaceutical drug abuse often involves prescription medications – opioids and benzodiazepines in particular.
Are prescription drugs addictive, then?
Prescription drug abuse effects may include addiction, especially in the case of the following medications:
insomnia. Common benzos include:
Any long-term use of benzos leads to the development of tolerance and physical dependence, especially in high doses.
It can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening to suddenly stop using benzos if you are dependent on this prescription drug. The risks of withdrawal can be mitigated with a tapered reduction in dosage, sometimes involving substitute prescription medications.
According to SAMHSA, prescription opioid-based painkillers are the second-most abused substance in the United States after alcohol. The U.S. opioid epidemic began in the late 1990s with the prescription of opioids like OxyContin for the relief of chronic pain, leading to a sharp increase in fatal overdoses and addiction in the form of opioid use disorder.
Tolerance to opioids and physical dependence on the medication can develop in a month or so. Addiction often but not always follows.
While opioid use disorder is incurable, most prescription opioid addictions respond positively to a combination of MAT (medication-assisted treatment) and psychotherapies like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).
Abusing prescription opioid painkillers may also lead to heroin abuse.
Sedative-hypnotics like barbiturates are prescribed for the treatment of insomnia, anxiety, and seizures, although less frequently due to the introduction of benzos. Common barbiturates include:
Barbiturates can be especially dangerous when abused because they can trigger breathing difficulties, particularly when combined with alcohol. This class of prescription medication can also be intensely addictive, with abrupt discontinuation of use being potentially life-threatening.
Problems with prescription drugs often begin when someone misuses the medication. Prescription drug misuse is to use a medication in contravention of legal or medical guidelines, such as:
The misuse of prescription drugs often leads to abuse and accelerates the potential of becoming addicted to pills. Look out for the following prescription drug abuse symptoms:
Any prescription drugs abuse is likely to cause tolerance and dependence to develop. Any abused prescription drugs may also lead to you become addicted to medication, even if it was prescribed by a physician.
All prescription medications that are routinely abused activate the reward center of the brain – the nucleus accumbens. Sustained abuse will trigger structural and functional brain changes, leading many people to become addicted to medicine.
The sustained use of prescription medications causes tolerance to build, meaning that you will require more of the medication or more frequency doses as the effects of the medicine diminish. Over time, this will create physical dependency on the medication and you will need to continue using the medication to avoid the presentation of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, prompting a vicious cycle of abuse. If left unchecked, this often leads to addiction, a chronic and relapsing brain disorder characterized by compulsive drug use regardless of adverse outcomes.
Prescription drug abuse occurs when a person uses a medication in a way that is not intended or prescribed by a healthcare provider. This can lead to serious health problems and even death. Here are some of the dangers of prescription drug abuse:
Addictive prescription drugs include opioids and benzos. Continued use of these drugs can lead to physical dependence and addiction.
Prescription drug abuse can lead to life-threatening overdose. Overdose may occur if you take too much of a drug or when you mix different drugs together – polysubstance abuse.
Some prescription drugs – painkillers and sleeping pills, for instance – can cause organ damage when used in excess. Long-term use of these drugs can lead to liver, kidney, and heart damage.
Prescription drug abuse may trigger or inflame mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and psychosis.
Prescription drug abuse can impair your judgment and coordination, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries.
These prescription drug addiction facts are sourced from NCDAS (National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics and SAMHSA reports.
At Ohio Recovery Centers, we treat all substance use disorders, including prescription drug addiction.
You should consult your prescribing physician before discontinuing the use of any prescription medication. In many cases, a tapered reduction in dosage can mitigate withdrawal symptoms and cravings during detox. After detox, you can engage in intensive outpatient treatment at our Cincinnati alcohol and drug rehab.
Whatever level of treatment intensity best suits your circumstances and the severity of your prescription drug addiction, access the following treatments at Ohio Recovery Centers:
Whether you have developed an addiction to medications you have been prescribed or you have been abusing prescription medications, address the physical and psychological aspects of addiction at our Cincinnati treatment center. Call (877) 679-2132 today for immediate assistance.
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Cincinnati, OH 45246
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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.
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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.
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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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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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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