Prescription Drug Abuse

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1 Prescription Drug Abuse Introduction Most people take medicines only for the reasons their health care providers prescribe them. But millions of people around the world have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons. This is prescription drug abuse. Prescriptions drug abuse is a serious public health problem. Abusing some prescription drugs can lead to addiction. This reference summary explains prescription drug abuse. It defines what prescription drug abuse is and why some people become addicted to prescription drugs. It also covers the risks and complications of prescription drug abuse, as well as recovery and treatment. Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction Prescription drug abuse is when a person takes a drug or medication for reasons other than the reasons the drug was prescribed. Prescription drug abuse may include taking a friend or relative s prescription painkiller for your backache. Or it may include taking the drugs to get high. Prescription drug abuse is an increasing problem for all age groups. But it is more common in young people, especially teenagers. The rise in prescription drug abuse may also be related to their availability. Young adults can get them from the medicine cabinet of a relative or friend. Online pharmacies now make it easier to get prescription drugs without a prescription. The most commonly abused prescription drugs include: Anti-anxiety medications. Painkillers. Sedatives. Stimulants. 1

2 Symptoms The signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse depend on the drug being abused. This section explains some of the common signs and symptoms for prescription drug abuse. Abuse of painkillers, also known as opioids, may cause: Confusion. Constipation. Decreased breathing. Depression. Low blood pressure. Poor coordination. Sweating. Abuse of sedatives and anti-anxiety medications may cause: Abnormal, uncontrollable eye movement. Confusion. Dizziness. Drowsiness. Poor judgment. Unsteady walking. Abuse of stimulants may cause: Agitation. High blood pressure. Impulsive behavior. Insomnia. Irregular heartbeat. Irritability. Restlessness. Weight loss. 2

3 Regarding prescriptions, signs of drug abuse may include: Regularly losing prescriptions so more must be written. Seeking prescriptions from more than one health care provider. Selling prescriptions. Stealing or forging prescriptions. Taking higher doses than prescribed. You may be able to prevent a drug abuse problem from turning into an addiction by identifying drug abuse early and quickly intervening. If you know someone who has the signs or symptoms of prescription drug abuse, talk to your health care provider about ways to get help. Causes of Prescription Drug Abuse People abuse prescription drugs for a number of reasons. A person may try drugs because he or she wants to change his or her emotional state. Another reason some people abuse drugs is to fit in with their peer group. People may believe that if they do not use drugs, they will not be accepted. This is known as peer pressure. People might abuse a prescription drug to relax or relieve stress. People also take drugs to feel empowered, or in control. Some people who are anxious, afraid or sad may abuse drugs to stop feeling bad. But drug abuse does not help solve problems. It only masks them. Some people abuse prescription drugs to give them more energy. Sometimes a person uses prescription drugs to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Stopping the drug would make the person feel sick. The person may continue taking the drug so that he or she can continue their normal activities. Some medications can induce drug addiction even if the patient initially takes the medications as prescribed. Ask your health care provider about the potential for addiction of medication that you take and how you can prevent it. 3

4 Risks & Complications Drug abuse can lead to drug addiction or drug dependence. Drug addiction happens when a drug user feels that they need the drug and can t stop taking it, even if they want to. The urge to take the prescription drug is too strong to control, even when the user knows that the drug is causing harm. Addiction is a disease, just like diabetes and cancer are diseases. Prescription drug addiction is not simply a weakness. It can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. Drug addiction is different than drug dependence. Drug dependence is when people become physically dependent on a drug. Without the drug, they will become sick. For example, a patient with diabetes is dependent on his or her diabetes medications. Without medication, the person may die. But they are not addicted. Prescription drug addiction is a mental disease that can lead to physical drug dependence. Risk factors for prescription drug abuse include: Addictions to other substances. Being younger, ranging from teens to people in their early 20s. Certain psychiatric conditions. Other risk factors include: Exposure to people who abuse drugs. Easy access to prescription drugs, such as working in a health care setting. Lack of knowledge about prescription drugs. There is a growing problem of older adults abusing prescription drugs. Seniors are at risk for misusing drugs or becoming addicted when they have multiple health problems requiring many drugs. The risk is higher when they combine drugs with alcohol. 4

5 Recovery & Treatment Treatment helps people stop using the drugs they are addicted to. Treatment can include talk therapy, medicine or both. The goals of treatment are to help a person: Learn how to fight the urges to use drugs again. Regain control of his or her life. When someone quits taking drugs and starts learning how to live life without drugs, it is called recovery. The first step in recovery is detoxification. Detoxification is the process of removing toxins, poisons or other harmful substances from the body. Drug abuse changes the way the brain works and creates a need for the drug. It will take a while for your body to adjust to life without it. Detoxification, also known as withdrawal therapy, helps you stop taking the drug in a safe way. Side effects of withdrawal may include: Anxiety. Depression. Extreme tiredness. Problems sleeping. Strong cravings for the drug. Withdrawal may also cause more serious side effects, such as: High blood pressure or heart rate. Rapid breathing. Seeing or hearing things that are not real. Seizures. Suicidal thoughts. Because withdrawal can cause serious side effects, it may require monitoring in a medical facility or treatment center. Therapy is also used to help a person overcome drug addiction. Different types of therapy are available. Multiple types are often used for a single person. 5

6 Treatment can also be done in different settings. Outpatient programs let people come and go to receive treatment. Inpatient programs let people stay as residents in a facility to receive treatment. Counseling can be done one-on-one, in a group setting or with family members. It can help you cope with cravings. It can provide you with strategies for avoiding relapse. Relapsing is when a person quits a drug but starts using again. Self-help groups are also a key part of treatment for many people. These groups focus on how drug addiction is a disease that requires ongoing treatment. Summary Prescription drug abuse is when a person takes a drug or medication for reasons other than the reasons the drug was prescribed. People may abuse prescription drugs for many reasons. Part of the problem is that the drugs being abused are legal. People may justify self-medicating if they know someone who takes a certain drug to relieve shared symptoms. You may be able to prevent a drug abuse problem from turning into an addiction by identifying drug abuse early and quickly intervening. If you know someone who has the signs or symptoms of prescription drug abuse, talk to your health care provider about ways to get help. Drug addiction happens when a drug user feels that they need the drug and can t stop taking it, even if they want to. The urge to take the prescription drug is too strong to control, even when the user knows that the drug is causing harm. Drug addiction is different than drug dependence. Drug dependence is when people become physically dependent on a drug. Without the drug, they will become sick. Prescription drug addiction is a mental disease that can lead to physical drug dependence. Treatment helps people stop using the drugs they are addicted to. Treatment can include talk therapy, medicine or both. The goals of treatment are to help a person: Learn how to fight the urges to use drugs again. Regain control of his or her life. 6

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