There are hundreds of prescription drugs that treat everything from chronic severe pain and attention problems to seizures. They are generally effective and well-tolerated among the majority of people who rely on them — but for some, prescription drug abuse develops into a life-threatening addiction.
Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants that relieve anxiety, seizures, insomnia and panic. They are unlike other prescription central nervous system depressants, such as painkillers, because they do not relieve pain.
Benzos are highly addictive, and they cause physical dependency and withdrawal. Unless explicitly directed by a doctor, a person should never use a benzodiazepine medication on a long-term basis. Common benzodiazepine drugs include Xanax, Klonopin, Valium and Ativan, while generic drug formulations include alprazolam, diazepam and lorazepam. There are many other types of benzos as well.
In the brain, benzodiazepines affect the GABA receptor. Alcohol also affects the GABA receptor, and some evidence exists that cross-tolerance develops between the two drugs. Combining a benzo with a painkiller is extremely dangerous. Central nervous system depressants slow heart rate and breathing — taking too many depressants stops the heart and can result in coma and fatal overdose.
People who abuse benzos might take more than what is prescribed, or they may modify a pill to get a faster high. As abuse worsens, tolerance and dependency grows. Trying to quit a benzo suddenly is never advisable and can even be dangerous.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, which can last for months, causes serious and potentially fatal symptoms. There is even a possibility that the original anxiety symptoms will return worse than before. Do not ever quit benzodiazepines alone. Professional help is always necessary.
Opioid painkillers include both natural opiate drugs, such as morphine, and partial synthetic drugs, such as Vicodin. Common painkillers include fentanyl, Dilaudid, Percocet, OxyContin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone and oxymorphone.
Opioid painkillers are the cause of the worst addiction epidemic ever faced in America. Today more people visit the emergency room because of opioid overdose than for vehicle accidents. Painkiller abuse is second only to alcohol in terms of emergency care.
All opioids produce tolerance, dependency and addiction. Opioid addicts also report the highest relapse rate of all substances. Overdosing can be fatal.
Opioid painkillers come from morphine — the active painkilling agent that comes from the opium poppy. Opioid drugs have been in use for hundreds of years for purposes such as pain relief, suppressing cough and stopping diarrhea.
These painkillers sometimes contain another pain medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Taking too much of a drug such as Vicodin — a combination painkiller — can cause liver failure and death. All opioids are central nervous system depressants, and combining any painkiller with alcohol or another drug such as Xanax is extremely dangerous — it can also be fatal.
Although not a prescription drug in the United States, heroin is an opiate, and all painkillers produce effects similar to this dangerous illicit drug. Trying to quit a painkiller without help is extremely challenging. In addition to common withdrawal symptoms — such as intense anxiety, vomiting, shakiness, profuse sweating, insomnia and diarrhea — opioid addicts might also have goose bumps and twitch their legs uncontrollably. These symptoms are usually referred to as “cold turkey” and “kicking the habit.”
Many who become addicted to painkillers try to maintain the flow of drugs by getting multiple prescriptions from multiple doctors. This practice, called doctor shopping, is illegal. It is also not uncommon for people who develop a painkiller addiction to switch to heroin as a result. Heroin is faster, stronger and cheaper than many prescription painkillers. It is also more dangerous.
Unlike central nervous system depressants that slow heartbeat and the other functions of the brain, stimulants increase brain activity to similarly damaging effects. Prescription stimulants include amphetamines such as Ritalin, Adderall and Concerta. The weight loss and severe attention deficit drug Desoxyn is also a stimulant. Although drugs such as these are effective when the person taking them truly needs them — a child with true attention deficit disorder, for example — people who abuse them for their euphoric effects often suffer severe consequences.
Stimulants increase heartbeat and blood pressure as they affect the reward pathways in the brain. Over time symptoms such as anxiety and restlessness develop. Loss of appetite, jaw clenching and repetitive behaviors worsen in intensity. Finally, with prolonged abuse, a person who takes stimulants will demonstrate paranoia and aggression. After a binge, symptoms such as exhaustion and depression will be obvious. Heart problems can also occur in the most serious cases.
Although physical withdrawal symptoms are not as intense as with central nervous system depressants, the psychological withdrawal is just as challenging and may last for months or years without treatment. Depression, anxiety and suicide ideation commonly occur in people who attempt to quit stimulant abuse without help.
Identifying Prescription Drug Abuse
Although many believe drug addicts only live on the street, it isn’t true. In addition people who take huge amounts of pills every day are not more likely to overdose. In fact the opposite is true — those who casually abuse prescription drugs are far more likely to overdose than a person with a physical dependency. Where do they get their drugs? Family and friends.
Keep in mind denial characterizes addiction, and people who are addicted are usually experts at hiding it. You can identify signs and symptoms of abuse if you know what to look for:
- Spending time going to different doctors or hospitals to get more than one prescription
- Taking more than what is prescribed
- Keeping extra pills handy, “just in case”
- Hiding or lying about the number of pills being taken
- Combining drugs to get a stronger or faster high — this includes alcohol
- The onset of withdrawal symptoms, which may include severe flu-like illness and irritability or anxiety
- Switching to a stronger drug because the old one wasn’t working
If you notice these symptoms, it’s time to get help.
Get Help for Prescription Drug Abuse
At 12 Keys Rehab we help clients beat addiction every day. If you have questions about prescription drugs or want to learn more about the differences between dependency and addiction, call us now. At 12 Keys Rehab we can help you find your path to freedom, starting today.
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