The cardinal rule of healthcare is first, do no harm. Medical providers may have a patient’s best interest in mind when they prescribe painkillers and other controlled substances, but these intentions can quickly become obscured by addiction and withdrawal.

Pharmaceutical products serve a definite purpose in the mitigation of discomfort. Post-surgical pain and cancer-related distress, for example, may require opioids to alleviate chronic inflammation and irritation.

But attentive physicians and their respective staff must begin to look beyond the short term to prevent potential long-term damage. Yes, a pain med might appear to do no harm at first glance, but it can have a disastrous impact on individuals who are predisposed to addiction.

By better understanding your own predilections and patterns, you may be able to identify a problem before it mushrooms into a crisis. 

The Truth About Pharmaceutical Drug Addiction

When most people hear the word addiction, they immediately conjure images of illicit drugs or hard alcohol. The truth, however, is always more complicated than stereotypes.

Addictive behavior can be characterized as anything that deviates from your ideal way of living. If you spend more and more time under the influence of a particular substance, it detracts from your ability to work, relax and achieve various goals that you have set for yourself.

It is useful to look at addiction through a biopsychosocial lens. The three components of the term biopsychosocial are equally important to consider. “Bio” indicates that there is a biological factor at play. Substances affect the chemical balance in your brain and body, urging a person caught in the grip of addiction to seek out more of the drug or drink that elicits the preferred effect. Pharmaceutical drugs, in particular, are engineered to alter the flow and function of brain chemicals. Hence, there is a strong biological rush associated with prescription meds that can become addictive over time.

The psychological component of our biopsychosocial model relates to the way your mind works under the influence of the shift mentioned above in chemistry that drugs facilitate. It is inevitable for a patient to perceive the world differently when they are subjected to powerful meds.

Finally, the “social” clause in our biopsychosocial approach pertains to the ways in which an individual behaves in a group setting. Some people may be better than others at hiding their signs of addiction, but they might exert quite a bit of effort to mask their struggle. This exertion eventually wears on a person; it can be exhausting to constantly put on a “brave face” for the crowd.

Prescription Drug Addiction Statistics

The considerations listed above are not rare occurrences. Sadly, pharmaceutical addiction is an epidemic that continues to rage through our society at an alarming velocity. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 18 million Americans misuse prescription drugs every year.

To pinpoint how and when a person goes from responsible use to problematic abuse, we should look at the demographics underlying the data. Over 80% of US citizens between the ages of 57 and 85 are on at least one daily prescription medication. Approximately half of this population is taking five or more meds. These numbers constitute a huge outpouring of controlled substances that can easily fall in the wrong hands. 

The pharmaceutical industry thrives on selling more and more of their product to our populace. Younger Americans represent their next frontier in terms of expanding their reach, but growing pains are beginning to crush our most vulnerable generation. Individuals between the ages of 18 and 25 are experiencing the highest rates of prescription drug addictions. Over 14% of this demographic have reported abusing medications like Adderall and Vicodin within the past year.

The Most Commonly Abused Medications

On the topic of Adderall, it is one of many prescription stimulants that have seen an uptick in usage over the past two decades. People diagnosed with ADHD may be prescribed Adderall, but they have become a “party drug” as misuse of the substance has gotten out of hand.

Anxiety disorders have also become more publicized and diagnosed in recent years. While these conditions are legitimate issues for most patients being treated for anxiety, the abuse of benzodiazepines (commonly called benzos) is a problematic phenomenon. 

The opioid scourge is another source of prescription drug addiction. Wounded soldiers, for example, might be administered a powerful sedative to address the pain, but weaning oneself from opioids is no small feat. When military personnel return to civilian life, they often face a new battlefield: dependence. If meds aren’t readily available, addiction still gnaws at those caught in its clutches. Opioid users may switch from prescription pills to street drugs in order to quench that craving. 

Approximately 10.1 million Americans admitted to abusing opioids in the year 2019. Of these cases, 9.7 million were prescription drug-related, but the rest reported the use of heroin.

Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction

Before a prescription drug habit devolves into addiction, it is vital to look for symptoms of dependence in their early stages.

  1. Using a medication long after the doctor’s suggested time period
  2. Convincing yourself that a given affliction (be it pain or trauma) persists in order to renew a prescription
  3. Requiring stronger doses or more frequent uses of a certain drug to achieve the desired effect – this is an indication that you are building up a tolerance to the medication
  4. Hiding pill bottles from loved ones
  5. Withdrawing from activities or gatherings that you once enjoyed due to the effects of the prescription drug
  6. Irritability, anxiety, depression, and mood swings
  7. A personal history of addiction to other substances

Breaking the Cycle of Dependence

The signs of addiction outlined above provide a broad perspective on how prescription medication can yield problematic abuse.

But dependence is an individual experience, not a blanket diagnosis. You may exhibit all, some, or none of the common signs associated with pharmaceutical addiction. Only you know for sure whether you are living your best life or if drugs are holding you back.

To discuss your personal journey, contact our sober living team. We understand the unique challenges that prescription drug abuse entails, and we’re ready to listen.