How do “normal” people become addicted to prescription drugs?

Everyone says, “It won’t happen to me.” But the truth is that “normal” everyday people become addicted to prescription drugs every single day. In 2018, there were 4,359 deaths from prescription drugs in the UK alone. At one point, every one of those people was “normal” in the sense that they were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, friends, and coworkers. They never said, “I want to be a drug addict when I grow up.” But it happened. 

Several prescription medications have addictive properties 

All medicines have the potential for dependence. The most dangerous prescription drugs can cause physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them. This is possible and happens often, especially with prescription pain medications. The withdrawal alone can cause a person to stay on the medication longer than necessary. These can include a return of the original symptoms (pain, anxiety, inattentiveness, and restless nights) and physical symptoms from not having the medication in your body. Withdrawal indications can include nausea, stomach pains, diarrhea, problems sleeping, excessive sweating, and flu-like feelings. Dependence can even happen and happens under a doctor’s care. 

Prescriptions that are commonly abused include, 

  • Benzodiazepines (for panic, anxiety, and OCD symptoms)
  • Ritalin and other ADD and ADHD medications (for focus)
  • Codeine (for pain)
  • Opioids (pain and post-surgical discomfort)
  • Gabapentinoids (nerve pain)
  • Zopiclone (Sleep disorders)

Most patients start taking these medications for positive reasons, such as ending the control that pain, anxiety, lack of focus, and sleep disorders have on their lives. Unfortunately, dependence on the drugs takes control, rather than the person. 

Chronic pain patients often need to increase their dosage 

You can go through several years on the same anxiety and panic medications without increasing the dose. However, benzodiazepines don’t work the same as other pain treatments. Patients with pain conditions, such as arthritis or degenerative disc disease, often need their dosage increased as the body becomes accustomed to the dose. This means that to get the same relief, they need to take more. 

With opioids, the higher the dose, the more your chances of developing dependence increase. Additionally, upping the dosage also puts patients at a higher risk of overdosing. Doctors prescribing high doses of opioids are often walking a thin line trying to control pain and prevent dependence and overdoses. 

Normalization of prescription drug “safety” 

Until the past few years, doctors and medical professionals regularly handed out prescription medications for anxiety, muscle pain, ADHD, and other common ailments. Patients with anxiety issues are more likely to ask their general practitioner for anxiety medication during troubling times and not seek counseling to get to the root of the cause. Additionally, patients with muscle pains prefer a quick fix in the form of a pill, when the best treatments for minor injuries involve resting, stretching, elevating, and icing. 

Self-medicating Pitfalls 

They tell you to always safely dispose of medications after you stop needing them or when they expire. But people keep these in their medicine cabinet for a few reasons,

  • Why throw away good medication?
  • What if I need that later?
  • If I leave it, I might be able to use it the next time I’m hurting physically or emotionally

Unfortunately, several problems can arise here. The first is self-medicating, which is a common occurrence. For example, you’ve pulled a muscle in your back at work, in the yard, or during your daily workout. Instead of taking the time to contact a physician and schedule an exam, it’s easier to pop a few of the painkillers your doctor prescribed after your hernia surgery last year. 

This does circle back to the normalization of prescription medications. It didn’t occur to you that it wasn’t okay to take the same dose for your back pain as you would for recovering from painful surgery. The next time this happens, you’re more likely to react the same. Another problem with this self-diagnosis technique is you could have serious injuries that a doctor needs to examine, and by self-medicating with pain drugs, you may be worsening the original injury. 

People tend to think of heroin, cocaine, cannabis, and meth when they think of drug addiction. However, addiction takes root through many drugs with addictive properties, which includes several legal medications prescribed by physicians. Yes, many addicts were aware of their actions, and that taking the drugs would lead to legal and health problems. But a large number of patients are dealing with addiction on top of other health concerns, including chronic pain, anxiety, and the inability to focus. 

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