Help for Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug misuse is one of the most widespread and rapidly growing drug problems in the United States. While any prescription medication can be misused, the types of drugs that most commonly pose a problem are:

  • Opioids.
  • Central nervous system depressants (CNS depressants).
  • Stimulants.

These medications can be habit-forming, and misuse can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Read on to learn more about these prescription medications, how they are misused, and more about how addiction treatment could help.

Prescription Opioid Misuse

Opioids are strong painkillers that are either derived from the poppy plant or similar compounds created synthetically. These drugs work by blocking pain signals from reaching the brain. Common opioids include:

  • Hydrocodone.
  • Oxycodone.
  • Morphine.
  • Codeine.
  • Methadone.
  • Hydromorphone.
  • Fentanyl.

While opioids are typically prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, some can also be used to relieve cough and severe diarrhea. Hydrocodone is typically used to relieve chronic severe pain, like in the case of injury, while morphine is more commonly used before and after surgical procedures. Codeine can be used both to relieve mild pain and to treat coughs.

In addition to their intended uses, opioids can cause a “high,” or a rush of euphoria. These drugs affect the pleasure center of the brain, releasing large doses of a chemical called dopamine, which is responsible for positive feelings. Because of this, opioids can be highly addictive.

The self assessment form below can help you determine if you or a loved one is misusing a substance like prescription medication.

Benzodiazepines, Sleep Medication, & Barbiturates

Classified as CNS depressants, these substances are commonly referred to as sedatives or tranquilizers. These drugs slow brain activity, which can be useful in relieving anxiety or encouraging sleep. Types of CNS depressants include benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine sleep medications, and barbiturates.

Benzodiazepines are among the most commonly abused CNS depressants. Common benzodiazepines include:

  • Diazepam (Valium).
  • Alprazolam (Xanax).
  • Triazolam (Halcion).
  • Estazolam (ProSom).

Benzodiazepines are most commonly prescribed to treat anxiety or panic attacks, as well as insomnia. These drugs are typically only recommended for short-term use, since physical dependence to these substances can form very quickly, and addiction can result.

Common non-benzodiazepine sleep medications include:

  • Zolpidem (Ambien).
  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta).
  • Zaleplon (Sonata).

This type of medication promotes sleep in different ways than benzodiazepines; they contain different chemical structures, but affect some of the same receptors within the brain. These drugs may carry less abuse potential than benzodiazepines, as well as fewer side effects.

Common barbiturates include:

  • Mephobarbital (Mebaral).
  • Phenobarbital (Luminal Sodium).
  • Pentobarbital (Nembutal).

Barbiturates are not prescribed as frequently as other CNS depressants. These drugs are most commonly used during surgery or to treat seizure disorders. Barbiturates carry a higher risk of overdose than benzodiazepines, so they are rarely used to treat anxiety or sleep disorders.

Many people use these medications for legitimate purposes and do not abuse these drugs. However, this type of medication can be habit-forming, and they can lead to physical dependence. Dependence and addiction are more likely if the drugs are misused; however, dependence can form even with legitimate use.

Physical dependence on CNS depressants can be especially dangerous, because withdrawal can include serious, life-threatening medical complications. If you or a loved one are ready to detox from CNS depressants or another type of prescription medication, give us a call at . Our compassionate Admissions Navigators can answer your questions about treatment and recovery.

Misuse of Prescription Stimulants

Stimulants are drugs that increase brain activity, resulting in elevated mental alertness and energy as well as increased heartrate, blood pressure, and respiration. These medications can be very addictive, so they are only used to treat a handful of conditions, including ADHD, narcolepsy, and severe depression that is resistant to other treatment.

Common prescription stimulants include:

  • Amphetamine.
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Metadate, Concerta).
  • Dexmethylphenidate (Focalin).
  • Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine, Zenzedi).
  • Dextromethamphetamine (Desoxyn).
  • Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse).

These drugs affect the brain by mimicking naturally occurring neurotransmitters, including norepinephrine and dopamine. Stimulants increase levels of these chemicals within the brain, which can not only increase brain activity, but also cause feelings of euphoria if the drug is used incorrectly or taken when it is not needed.

Abuse of stimulants is increasingly popular among high school and college students, as some young people attempt to use these drugs to boost academic or athletic performance.

Prescription Drug Addiction

Many people who develop an addiction to prescription medications were originally prescribed the medication for legitimate medical purposes but became physically dependent on the substances over time. Dependence occurs when the body acclimates to the presence of the drug and then requires it in order to function normally.

Dependence does not always lead to addiction, which is a pattern of behavior in which an individual repeatedly seeks out and uses a substance despite negative consequences.

Not everyone is introduced to addictive prescription medications through legitimate means. Young people especially are more likely to get, buy, or steal these drugs from a friend or relative.

Abusing prescription medications can be dangerous in and of itself, and it can also lead to the eventual use of street drugs. Individuals addicted to prescription opioids commonly go on to use heroin, an illicit drug with similar properties. Use of illicitly-made fentanyl is also on the rise. CNS depressant addiction often goes hand in hand with alcoholism.

Some people try to intensify the effects of prescription medications by using these drugs other than how they are prescribed, such as crushing pills and then either snorting the powder or dissolving it in liquid and injecting it. Opioids are often dispensed in the form of a time-release tablet, and people can chew these tablets to release the whole dose simultaneously. Misusing these drugs in this way can significantly increase the risk of medical complications, as well as overdose.

Some warning signs of addiction to prescription medication can be observed by friends and loved ones, and can include:

  • Reporting lost or stolen medication.
  • Asking their doctor for early refills of medication.
  • The doctor noticing withdrawal symptoms at appointments.
  • Trying to get medication from other doctors or sources.

Co-occurring Disorders

Drug addiction is often just one piece in a much larger puzzle; many people suffering from a substance use disorder also have co-occurring mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or a personality disorder. Effective treatment of a substance use disorder must also address any other problems the individual experiences.

Treating Prescription Drug Misuse

An addiction to prescription medications is typically treated with a combination of behavioral therapy and medications, but this depends on the substance of abuse.

Detoxification, often called detox, is often the first step in any treatment plan and involves processing all addictive substances from the body. This process typically involves withdrawal when physical dependence is present. Medications may be used during detox to minimize symptoms of withdrawal.

Behavioral therapy is one of the most effective methods of treating a substance use disorder. The purpose of counseling is to help the individual change patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to substance use, learn life skills and coping mechanisms, and recognize triggers that lead to relapse.

For some substances, pharmacological intervention is very effective. There are no FDA-approved medications for addiction to CNS depressants or stimulants, but several medications can be used to treat opioid addiction. The most common medications used for this purpose are naltrexone, methadone, and buprenorphine.

River Oaks Treatment Center in Florida offers addiction treatment from detox to inpatient and outpatient treatment. If you or a loved one is ready to start the process of recovery from prescription drug misuse, take a look at what our facility offers, and what to expect during the admissions process. Recovery is possible, and we can help. Call us at to learn more about addiction treatment in Tampa.

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