When people think of drug addiction, they will often think of illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine. Illicit drugs are certainly a serious problem but drugs that are legally available can be just as harmful. Alcohol is both freely available and socially acceptable but can be extremely harmful.
According to the charity Alcohol Change UK, in fact, alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year-olds in the UK, and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages.1
Prescription drugs can also be both harmful and addictive. This can sometimes be the case even when they are prescribed and used as directed over a long period of time but is more of a risk when they are misused. This can be from overusing the prescribed drugs or from sourcing such substances illicitly and using them recreationally.
What is Prescription Drug Addiction?
Prescription drugs are typically prescribed by medical professionals to help relieve chronic pain or control the side effects of a medical condition. In most cases, when these drugs are used as directed, the benefits far outweigh any negatives. There are always dangers of side effects though and long-term use of prescription drugs can lead to dependency.
As you use the drug, your body and brain become used to it and build up a tolerance. This can lead to more of the substance being needed to provide the same effect. Doctors may sometimes up the dosage levels when the drugs become less effective, and patients will often take more than their directed dosage if they feel that it is not having the effect they expect or are used to. This is one form of prescription drug misuse.
The prolonged use of any drug can also lead to dependency. As your system becomes used to the presence, it effects the way your brain reacts and suddenly reducing or withdrawing the substance can lead to a range of painful and potentially dangerous physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.
Finally, addiction can change the way your brain processes things like pleasure, reward and impulse control. Addiction is characterised by a compulsion to continue using the drug, even if you know there may be negative consequences.
This has led to what has been described as an ‘epidemic’ of prescription drug abuse in the United States. In 2019, nearly 50,000 people died in the US from opioid-involved overdoses including prescription painkillers.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this stemmed from the late 1990s, when pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers. This led to higher prescription rates and subsequent misuse of these medications before it became clear that they could indeed be highly addictive.2
Is Prescription Drug Abuse on the Rise?
There is no doubt that prescription drug misuse is also a serious problem throughout the UK. It’s difficult to get a clear picture as many statistics rely on self-reporting through surveys, but it does appear that it’s a problem that is on the rise.
In 2019 a Public Health England (PHE) review found that nearly 12 million or one in four adults in England took prescription medication for conditions including pain, depression and insomnia. There can be sound medical reasons for long-term prescriptions, especially antidepressants, but the report concluded that the widespread prescription of drugs including opioid painkillers, benzodiazepines and sleeping pills needed to change.
Indeed, the NHS have noted the UK does have an issue with prescription drugs in what has become known as an “Opioid Epidemic”.3
Not everyone using prescription medication is addicted, of course, or even classed as misusing the substance. Prescription drugs can be very addictive though and many people do slip into dependency and addiction. This includes people who believe they are using the drug legitimately, as well as people who use prescription drugs recreationally or intentionally overuse them.
A 2021 Drug and Alcohol Survey found that a tenth UK residents had overused prescription medication while a fifth of respondents had purchased prescription drugs rather than obtaining them via a GP. 7% said they had ordered medications through the dark web.4
The Dangers of Prescription Drug Addiction
Misusing prescription drugs can be very dangerous, particularly with strong painkillers such as opioids. It is relatively easy to overdose on these drugs, especially if you underestimate the risks because they are often not seen as dangerous as illicit opioids like heroin.
Any addiction and chronic or long-term drug use can have a range of ill effects, however. The dangers will depend on a number of factors including the type of drug and the duration and heaviness of usage, but could include damage to organs like the liver and brain, psychological impairment and increasing the risk of experiencing a range of mental health conditions.
Am I Addicted to Prescription Drugs?
Signs and symptoms of an addiction to prescription drugs could include regularly taking higher than directed doses, an increased tolerance (producing a lesser effect), anxiety when you don’t have the drug, a compulsion to continue taking the drug, seeking out the drug through unofficial or illegal channels and withdrawal symptoms when you don’t have the drug.
A dependence or addiction to prescription drugs can be very difficult to deal with but it can be successfully treated like any other kind of drug addiction, through a process of prescription drug detox and therapy generally known as rehabilitation.
If you think you may have become addicted to prediction drugs – or other substances including alcohol and illegal drugs – it’s best to seek professional help as soon as possible. Leaving any type of addiction unchecked can see the problems to worsen and cause a lot of damage in the process.
At Action Rehab we can help people who suffer from addictions to find the right place for their drug rehabilitation. Not all rehab clinics are the same and it’s important to find the right one for your own personal needs and circumstances.
If you need help, contact us today and take your first steps to a healthier and more positive new life free from addiction.