It can’t be bad if a doctor prescribed it, right?
Routinely, patients take potentially addictive medications for medical concerns and have no problems at all. When prescribed and used properly, these drugs can be effective in the treatment of legitimate health issues. Some prescriptions are intended to be used for short durations of time, infrequently or as needed. Other pills can have a therapeutic benefit when kept within certain dosage limits. However, some prescription drugs designed to address medical and psychiatric conditions may inadvertently lead to abuse, dependence or even addiction.
You may not be completely aware but there are many potentially addictive drugs frequently prescribed to the general population of health care consumers. Pain issues, both short and long term, may be lead to the prescription of opiate/opioid medications. Anxiety or panic concerns might be addressed with benzodiazepines. Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder symptoms are routinely addressed with stimulant prescriptions. Some sedative or hypnotic pills can also be used for disrupted sleep or insomnia. Below are some of the more common prescription drugs for these concerns that could also lead to dependence, abuse or addiction:
Common Opioid/Opiate Drugs:
Common Benzodiazepine Drugs:
Common Stimulant Drugs:
- Adderall XR
- Concerta (generic available)
- Ritalin (generic available)
- Focalin (generic available)
Common Sleep Drugs:
Pain Drugs: How bad does it hurt?
There is a very broad range of available pain medications, from over the counter pills to substances used in the context of a surgical procedure. The focus here is on the use of narcotics/opiate pills which have a potential for misuse or abuse. These pills are often prescribed for short term purposes such as following an injury or surgery; other times they are utilized to manage long term pain conditions. There are a variety of situations where the use of these prescriptions could become problematic. For example, if a patient undergoes a surgical procedure they may be prescribed opiate pain medications to manage the post-surgery pain. Typically, this pain recedes over time and people will stop taking the drug with medical advice or once the prescription runs out. However, a person may find stress relief, euphoria or a profound sense of calm from using the drug. This could invoke addiction and a desire to continue using these pills even after the surgical issues or pain has resolved. In some cases, physical dependency may develop where the person experiences uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug. The individual may then attempt to manipulate medical doctors to prescribe more of these medications by possibly fabricating or exaggerating symptoms. If unable to get more prescription pills, the individual may then become desperate and reach out to other medical providers, friends and family or utilize illicit means of procuring the substances.
Anxiety Drugs: I just can’t relax
Benzodiazepine medications may be prescribed for people struggling with anxiety, panic, tension or at times trauma symptoms. Though these drugs can be useful in specific situations, there are other times when these could lead to addiction. These drugs can induce an immediate relief from anxiety. However, the effectiveness of these medications may start to be decrease over time. Also taking benzodiazepines consistently over time is likely to lead to physical dependence. This creates a dynamic where should a person decrease or stop taking the prescription drug they may experience withdrawal symptoms that can range from mild to life threatening. An individual who is addicted to these medications may believe that they have continued ongoing anxiety, which may still be true, but then there is an additional component of emotional discomfort related to the physical dependence.
Another sign of problematic use of benzodiazepines is when a person begins using more than is prescribed and possibly finishes the prescription before the refill date. This can lead to a cycle of abuse and then potentially disastrous withdrawal symptoms. Others may decide to augment their use by doctor shopping, buying pills off the “street,” or augmenting with other substances such as alcohol. It is very important to receive medical consultation and treatment when deciding to decrease or stop any benzodiazepine medication.
Stimulant Drugs: What was the teacher just saying?
Traditionally, stimulant drugs have a long and successful track record for being a safe and effective treatment for a properly diagnosed Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. That being said, when taken improperly or as part of an addiction this medication can still lead to physical dependence and/or abuse. More frequently people inappropriately turn to stimulant drugs as performance enhancers. Students may use these pills to decrease the need for sleep and increase energy when cramming for an end of semester project or exam. Stimulant pills can also be inappropriately used in an attempt to decrease hunger as a weight management strategy.
Used in these ways, people may experience short term gains but in the long run they can have potentially serious consequences. When these drugs are used to increase performance the person creates an expectation in their mind that they can easily perform superhuman feats of productivity that actually outstretch their general capacity. Raising the bar in this manner creates a demand that the person continues to perform at unreasonably high rates. Abusing these drugs also creates the possibility of severe medical consequences such as psychosis, anger, paranoia or even seizures. People may also experience highly dysregulated sleep or energy crashes when not using. In some situations, the stimulants can lead to cardiac problems such as an irregular pulse or even a heart attack.
Sleep or Sedative Drugs: Yawn…
Sleeping pills are often prescribed to those struggling with insomnia or dysregulated sleep. Occasionally people struggle with not being able to fall asleep, staying asleep, or both. Sleeping drugs at times can be used effectively but can become problematic or lead to addiction when a person becomes so accustomed to taking them that they are no longer able to sleep without them. This can be referred to as “rebound insomnia.” With dependence or abuse of sleeping drugs, the individual has the original struggle with natural sleep and additionally will likely experience more sleep dysregulation should they decrease sleeping pill use. Another frequently seen problem with these drugs is when they are used in combination with other substances. Some people will use sleeping pills to stave off the effects of stimulant medications leading to a chemically dysregulated energy cycle. People can now become reliant, or even addicted, to pills and drugs so they can neither wake up or go to sleep without taking something. Taking sleeping pills in combination with alcohol can lead to severe behavioral or physical problems.
Combining alcohol and/or drugs with prescription pills: A recipe for disaster
The improper use of prescription pills also comes in the form of taking these in context with alcohol or other substances of abuse. For example, a patient may have complaints about anxiety, stress and panic but not disclose that they are also routinely abusing or have an addiction to cocaine. People in a situation like this may then be attempting to get a prescription for a benzodiazepine, not to address an underlying anxiety condition, but to manage the very uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that can accompany cocaine use. Other times the individual may not be asked or may forget to disclose their use of alcohol or marijuana to the medical provider. This inadvertent lapse can still lead to the prescription drugs being ineffective or, in a worst case scenario, lead to a medical crisis.
Warning signs that you might have a problem or addiction prescription pills:
- Being dishonest with providers about the reasons for taking the drugs
- Taking more than prescribed and having the prescription run out early may indicate abuse
- Supplementing a prescription by getting pills from friends, family members
- Prescription consumption leading to procuring more drugs from illegal sources such as drug dealers or the internet
- Medication seeking from other providers, urgent care or emergency rooms
Treatment, change, moving forward
It is important to recognize that abuse or addiction to prescription pills is a serious condition that may require immediate medical attention. Some of these prescription pills will lead to a physiological dependence and significant risk to one’s physical well-being should they discontinue prematurely. Attempting to cut down or quit without professional assistance may result in severe medical consequences. Getting help means being honest with health care providers about the nature and extent of the problem. After thorough assessment, appropriate treatments can be designed and implemented to effectively address the concern.
The physiological dependence or abuse of these prescription drugs may require a medically supervised detoxification procedure. Detoxifications can occasionally be done in an outpatient setting but may also require admission to an inpatient setting such as a hospital or residential treatment center. Options for longer term management of ongoing misuse of prescription pills include routine drug testing, changing medications, or considering alternative medical treatments. A potential long term benefit of addressing a prescription pill issue is that an underlying medical issue may then be detected and properly addressed.
Addiction or problematic use of prescription pills can manifest without mischievous or deceptive intent by the patient. People receiving medical care might simply lack information or instruction about the nature of the prescribed drug and dependency can inadvertently develop. This issue could be prevented through patients advocating for themselves with their medical providers. This could come in the form of being properly assertive with your doctor in order to obtain the rationale behind the prescription and education about potential benefits or side effects. Pharmacist can also be sources of quality information regarding drugs. Negative consequences could also be avoided through independent research on the addictive potential of medications.
Many health concerns might also be effectively addressed through the use of non-addictive alternative or even over the counter medications. For example, rather than using benzodiazepines for an anxiety condition, a medical doctor could consider other psychiatric drugs that have a much lower or no addiction potential. Pain management might also be effectively addressed through alternative drugs that are less likely to foster dependency or addiction. Should a patient decide to take homeopathic or natural supplements, they should make sure to also disclose these to providers as they could interact with other medications.
Bear in mind that when working with a medical provider, they are most likely to offer medical solutions. Many illnesses or issues can be successfully addressed through other means of treatment or recovery. For example, many depressive and anxiety conditions can be dramatically improved through talk therapies, which could reduce or even eliminate the need for medications. Pain conditions as well could be amenable to physical therapies or even psychological interventions. Sleep can often be improved with behavioral interventions such as maintaining a consistent sleep cycle, avoiding naps, developing stress management techniques, meditation or exercise. The effects of ADD/ADHD symptoms often can be decreased and managed through organizational and behavioral interventions.
Prescription Pill Treatment at the AToN Center
AToN Center is traditionally a 30 day residential treatment program that can assist with people who develop an addiction to prescription pills. If you are struggling with some of the issues described above, we can help. We take a comprehensive and holistic approach to working with this condition as well as other underlying issues. At the onset of treatment, every resident receives thorough assessments from both a Licensed Psychologist and Medical Doctor. These evaluations will help the professionals recommend if a person requires a prescription based detoxification. While tapering down on these medications the 24/7 nursing staff will monitor your vital signs to ensure a safe transition off of the previously misused substances.
Physical detoxification is a very important part of treatment. As you regain physical stability, the clinical team will help you understand your relationship with the previously misused substances. Doctoral level clinicians and chemical dependency counselors will provide you with ongoing assessment and a master treatment plan tailored to your unique situation. This plan will help educate you about the nature of addiction and help develop appropriate plans for relapse prevention. While working towards freedom from addiction the clinical team will also help address any underlying issues that the substances may have been masking. These can include trauma, depression, anxiety, relational strains, occupational concerns and others.
As you are engaging in the comprehensive program at AToN, focus will also be placed on creating a specific discharge plan. Treatment at AToN is just the start of recovery and each resident will engage in a process of exploring therapeutic options for continuing their care after the AToN center. This ranges from ensuring that your living situation will become supportive to your recovery as well as coordinating with medical, psychological and substance abuse professionals. Family sessions are also provided so that you and your loved ones can be knowledgeable about the recovery efforts and the necessary changes that will need to happen upon returning home.
At AToN center, emphasis is placed on doing the good work of recovery and healing so that each individual can have a life free from the bonds of their addiction.