I Can’t Be Addicted if I Have a Prescription, Can I?

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When most people think of addiction or substance abuse, they may think of illicit substances like cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine. Although not illegal, alcohol may also come to mind due to its widespread popularity. However, substance abuse comes in many forms, and most people do not set out to become addicted. It often happens that people will unwittingly develop addictions to prescription medications. Because these medications are prescribed by a doctor or medical professional, people often assume that they are safe and will not lead to a substance abuse problem. While prescription drugs are often better regulated than illicit drugs, it is still possible to develop a dependency or addiction to medications.

Which Prescription Drugs are Likely to Cause Addiction?

There are three kinds of medications that are more likely to lead to a substance abuse problem. Most people are aware that opioids such as OxyContin can quickly lead to an addiction. Your doctor must understand how to prescribe this kind of medication, and more importantly, you must take it the way it’s prescribed. If you’re taking an excess of opioids beyond what’s prescribed or beyond what you need to control your pain, your chances of addiction go way up. Some patients using opioids become addicted in a matter of days, even when they’re prescribed. Always take them as directed and take only the amounts you need to control pain. If you’re getting a “high” when you take your medication, that may be a red flag that a problem is developing.

Other medications that can be abused even when prescribed include anti-anxiety medications, sedatives, and hypnotics. Medications like Xanax or Ativan, which are prescribed for anxiety, have high rates of abuse as well as medications we take to help us sleep, such as the hypnotic Ambien. If you’re taking those medications as prescribed and still feeling a bit of a high, you may need to have your dosage adjusted or try different medications.

One of the more popular medications being abused with increasing frequency is stimulants. Young adults can be prescribed things such as Adderall or Ritalin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and use the medication to stay awake studying for exams or giving the medication to a friend to help keep them awake under the pressures of getting good grades. The federal government classifies prescription stimulants like Adderall as a Schedule II drug, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse.

What are the Warning Signs?

If the dose of prescription medication is too high, opioids may cause symptoms that are similar to a sedated or drunk state. You may have a lack of coordination, slowed breathing rate, slurred speech, confusion, a sensation of euphoria, or feeling high.

Similar symptoms may occur when your dosage of anti-anxiety or hypnotic medications is too high. These medications are meant to slow down the central nervous system to help with anxiety or sleep disorders, so it’s no surprise that you can become uncoordinated with too high of a dose. The elderly are particularly susceptible to this, as taking a medication for sleep can sometimes lead to falling in the middle of the night.

On the other hand, medications for ADHD can have the opposite effect. They can create high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, fever, and insomnia. All these symptoms can go from mild to serious and even life-threatening just as much as sedatives and opioids.

When Do You Cross the Line Into Addiction?

Just because someone is taking too much of a medication doesn’t necessarily mean they’re addicted. According to most professionals’ definition of addiction, you cross the line from drug use to drug abuse when your need to continue medicating is so great that you’re willing to suffer negative consequences.

This can be obvious if, for instance, you’re stealing or selling prescriptions to make money to buy higher doses of your medications on the street than your doctor prescribed. It isn’t always so blatant, however. Trying to refill prescriptions too early because you’ve taken more medication than recommended is a red flag for addiction. Going to multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions can be a sign of addiction. Perhaps most importantly, if your relationships or work life are beginning to suffer directly because of your need for medication, you probably have a problem. At that point, it’s time to talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional about getting treatment for prescription drug addiction.

Many people who abuse and become addicted to substances begin with a legitimate prescription for pain, sleep, or ADHD medication. While you may need an adjustment in your prescribed medication, it’s never okay to take any drug outside the directives of a doctor. This can lead to an addiction to prescribed medication and the need for detoxification and rehabilitation. If acquiring and using prescription medications is harming your life and you are struggling to stop using them, it’s time to get help. At Everlast Recovery Center we can help you overcome substance abuse and addiction, including to prescription drugs. We also treat any co-occurring mental health disorders that may contribute to your addiction. Our facility in Riverside, CA, offers inpatient treatment and aftercare programs after you return home. Get the counseling you need and learn techniques to help you navigate recovery, such as yoga and hiking in nature. You don’t have to do this alone. Call (866) 338-6925 and get help today.

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