Prescription Drug Abuse: Drug Types & Descriptions

Prescription drug abuse happens when someone takes a prescription drug intentionally, outside of receiving a legitimate prescription for a medical condition. This is usually done for to obtain a high, or whatever feeling that it causes the user to experience. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are around 48 million people 12yrs and older in the U.S. that have used prescription medications for reasons unrelated to a medical condition. That is nearly 20% of the population of the United States! In recent years the number of cases reported for prescription dug abuse, addiction, related ER visits, and accidental overdoses have all significantly increased. Also important to note is that the overall number of prescriptions by health care providers for these drugs have also increased dramatically in recent years.

There are three general classes of prescription drugs that fall into the ‘most frequently abused’ category, and they are:

Opioids – these opiate-based prescription drugs are narcotics that frequently get prescribed to patients dealing with some form of severe pain, whether acute or chronic in nature.

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants – this category includes prescription drugs called benzodiazepines. Variants include drugs like Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam), Valium (diazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), and numerous others used in a diverse array of medical applications ranging from anxiety and sleep disorders to alcoholism and restless leg syndrome (RLS).

Central Nervous System (CNS) Stimulants – this category includes such drugs as Ritalin (a methylphenidate) and Adderall (an amphetamine/dextroamphetamine mixture). These types of prescription drugs have been used by doctors to treat sleep disorders like narcolepsy, as well as attention deficit disorders like ADHD where hyperactivity and impulse control are problematic.

Prescription Drug Abuse / Addiction Statistics

% of U.S. population who have used prescription drugs non-medically in the last month: 2%
% of U.S. population who abuse prescription drugs (2010): 3%
Of all U.S. prescription drug abusers, what % of those abuse stimulants? 13%
Of all U.S. prescription drug abusers, what % of those abuse tranquilizers? 26%
Of all U.S. prescription drug abusers, what % of those abuse painkillers?: 58%

Prolonged Prescription Drug Use and the Brain

Often prescription pain medication, termed for injury or surgery, taken for prolonged periods will cause depression, respiratory suppression, intense withdrawal symptoms and possibly addiction.

A new study involving 355 patient’s in Texas who reported low back pain at the initial medical visit and still had the pain 1 and 2 years later concluded, that high doses of full narcotic painkillers appear to be linked to a higher risk of depression in patients.

A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, October 2013 analyzed the medical records of about 50,000 veterans who had no history of opioid use for depression and were subsequently prescribed opioid painkillers. According to the study, those remaining on opiates for 180 days or longer were at a 53% risk of developing a new episode of depression (using opioids for 90-180 days). There was a 25% increased risk when compared to patient who never took opioids for longer than 1-89 days. In other words, the risk seems to increase the longer the painkillers were used, as well as when there are increases to the dosage.

Prescription Drugs: Health Risks

Health problems: Abusing prescription drugs does carry various dangers. Opioids can cause choking, powerful mood swings, decreased cognitive function, interruptions in the menstrual cycle for women, infertility and slowed breathing. There is also a risk of coma or death if there is a severe slowing of the breathing. CNS depressants/sedatives can also cause memory problems, weakness, or seizures.

Addiction: Some of prescription medications are already quite addictive on their own but with misuse and abuse the risk of addiction jumps dramatically. Becoming addicted to drugs means that you are physically dependent on them, and uncontrollable cravings can result. Addicted individuals typically need more of a given drug (both frequency and size of doses) in order to achieve the same affect which can be extremely dangerous. Discontinuing the drug results in physical withdrawal symptoms like nausea, shaking, sweating and nervousness. Withdrawal from opioids results in symptoms such as bone pain, insomnia, vomiting, and uncontrolled leg movements.

Accidents: Since these drugs can cause reactions that interfere with driving (ex, sedating effect) accidents are possible when operating motor vehicles. Also, there is a greater risk for injury no matter what you are doing because your thinking is impaired. Misusing prescription medications can certainly cause poor judgment, which can lead to individuals finding themselves in potentially dangerous situations (like becoming a victim of a crime).


“Emotional Intelligence: Knowledge is Power”

Listen to how this patient has used emotional intelligence to feel empowered and conquer both chronic pain and their prescription medication addiction.

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