Dangers of Addiction: A Nationwide Epidemic

Created: 30 July 2013 | Written by Martha Maeda

Abuse of prescription drugs has become almost an epidemic in the US, yet many drug abusers do not even realize that they have a problem. Many people mistakenly think that prescription drugs are safe because a doctor prescribed them. Whenever you use a medication for the wrong purpose, or in larger amounts than prescribed, you are abusing prescription drugs.

When taken correctly, prescription drugs make our lives easier and help us to manage illness and pain. However, a prescription drug can be dangerous if it is not taken as instructed, or is combined with other medications or alcohol. Here are some guidelines for prescription drug safety:

  • Tell your doctor honestly about all the medications you are taking, including over-the-counter drugs and vitamin supplements, and about your alcohol consumption.
  • Never take someone else’s prescription medication to try to relieve your symptoms. Each body responds to drugs differently, and you could have an adverse reaction.
  • Do not keep prescription drugs where children can reach them, or where visitors to your home can access them. 
  • Dispose of leftover prescription drugs when you no longer need them.
  • Do not suddenly stop taking a prescription drug, or attempt to wean yourself off a drug without a doctor’s supervision. Antidepressants are particularly dangerous because they have a sedative effect on the brain, and sudden withdrawal can cause panic attacks and seizures.
  • Do not be ashamed to tell your doctor if you are abusing drugs, or if you are suffering from a condition such as depression, insomnia, or anxiety which might lead you to abuse prescription drugs. Your doctor can help you.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions and read the information on prescription labels. Do not combine medications without your doctor’s or pharmacist’s supervision. 
  • Report any unpleasant side effects, such as constipation, that might discourage you from taking your medication as prescribed.
  • Work together with your doctor to manage your symptoms and use prescription drugs responsibly.

Prescription drug addiction creeps up on you gradually. Consider this when you start taking a medication more frequently or in larger doses than the doctor prescribed, or when you begin taking, say, pain medication to try to relieve depression, anxiety, or sleeplessness — essentially not using medication for its prescribed purpose. You initially develop drug tolerance, meaning that your body no longer responds to the medication in the same way and the doctor must prescribe a stronger dose or a different drug. Gradually you become physically dependent on the drug and develop a need for it to feel normal; some may have cravings for it. When the effects of the drug wear off, you experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, shaking, sweating, nervousness, insomnia, aches and pains, or vomiting. While tolerance and physical dependence are physical changes in the body, they do not necessarily mean you are addicted. An addict continues to take drugs even when the consequences are obviously harmful and unpleasant, and is unable to stop even when he or she wants to.

Addiction is dangerous. Most addicts find they need stronger and stronger doses of a drug to get the same effects, which can lead to a drug overdose. Many medications are intended for only short-term use and can cause permanent damage to the heart, liver, or brain when used for extended periods of time. Since drugs affect perception and impair coordination and judgment, an addict is likely to be injured in a fall, cause a traffic accident, or make unwise decisions. Performance at school or work deteriorates. Changes in behavior and personality may drive away friends and family members, as the addict becomes self-absorbed and withdrawn. Drug addiction not only hurts the addict - it puts family members in danger.Four types of prescription medications are likely to cause addiction because they act on the brain: opioids (hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine), tranquilizers (benzodiazapines), sedatives (Xanax, Valium) and stimulants (Ritalin, Adderall and Desoxyn). The signs of addiction may vary depending on the type of drug, but they include:

  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Stealing pills from other family members
  • Seeking prescriptions from multiple doctors
  • Continually losing or misplacing prescriptions or medications so that they have to be replaced
  • Appearing to be sedated, euphoric, or unusually energetic and wired up
  • Excessive mood swings or hostility
  • Abnormal changes in sleeping habits
  • Lapses in judgment, inattention, mistakes, injuries and accidents
  • Forgetting appointments, missing important events, being late for work or school
  • Unusual money behaviors, such as not paying bills, borrowing from friends, spending sprees, or using someone else’s credit card without asking
  • Stashing pill bottles in multiple locations around the house
  • Secretive and manipulative behavior, telling half-truths, confessing one thing to one family member and telling another story to someone else
  • Withdrawal from family and social relationships

Don’t ignore the warning signs. If you think you or someone you love might be addicted to prescription drugs, talk to your doctor. Drug addiction is a chronic disease, and the earlier it is treated the better the outcome. Medications are available to treat addiction to pain killers. Treatment may take place at home or in a rehabilitation facility. For all types of drugs, treatment begins with a period of detoxification. This is typically followed by counseling and behavioral therapy to address underlying emotional and psychological problems that contributed to the addiction. Detoxification should take place under medical supervision because the body could undergo severe and potentially dangerous reactions, including pain, nausea, and seizures. The detoxification period is only the beginning of a long process of recovery. Family members must always be vigilant for signs of return to drug use, particularly during times of stress or instability in the addict’s life.

You can find helpful information about drug abuse on these websites:

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