There are a myriad of prescription pills available in today’s society.

Many of them, when used as prescribed can prove to be extremely helpful, however, when abused or used other than the way in which they were prescribed they can be very harmful. The types of prescription drug medications that are most commonly abused are stimulants, pain relievers, tranquilizers and sedatives.

Stimulants

Stimulants are primarily prescribed by a medical professional to help individuals with symptoms relating to health conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, narcolepsy and depression. Stimulants, such as Ritalin, Adderall and Dexedrine will increase one’s alertness. They work by increasing one’s dopamine levels and norepinephrine in one’s brain. This in turn results in an increase in one’s blood pressure and heart rate, which constricts one’s blood vessels and opens up one’s respiratory system’s pathways. This typically will produce a sense of euphoria for the user. The dangers of stimulant abuse are that it is can be highly addictive, it can result in extremely high body temperatures, and it also can cause one to experience an irregular heartbeat and/or seizures.

Pain Relievers

Prescription pain relievers fall under the larger category of the opioid class of drugs. These consist of drugs such as hydrocodone (i.e., Vicodin), oxycodone (i.e., OxyContin), morphine, fentanyl and codeine. The way opioids works is by simulating one’s body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals and attaching to one’s neurological receptors to block one’s perception of pain.

Similar to many drugs, pain relievers are meant to mask one’s pain, and are not intended as a cure for what causes one’s pain. Opioids can induce a sense of euphoria in the user, and can also produce constipation, nausea, and drowsiness. Opioids can be highly addictive, as long-term use can lead to physical dependence. If an individual abuses pain medication, his or her body will become accustomed to functioning with the drug and if it is abruptly stopped, will experience some form of withdrawal symptoms. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for an individual to need to continuously raise his or her dose of the drug, as he or she may build up a tolerance to it. Some of the dangers of abusing pain medication are as follows:

  • Can be highly addictive
  • Extremely dangerous when used in combination with other substances (i.e. alcohol)
  • Risk of overdose
  • Has the propensity to slow one’s breathing to dangerous levels

Each individual is different and will react differently to certain pain medications. It is, however, important to remember that there are many dangers including dependence and addiction, which are always a possibility when abusing pain mediation.

Tranquilizers and Sedatives

Tranquilizers and sedatives are most regularly prescribed by a medical professional to help treat symptoms associated with anxiety, panic attacks, and sleep disorders. They are central nervous system depressants, and work by slowing one’s normal brain functioning, so as to produce a calming effect for the user. The most commonly prescribed examples of tranquilizers and sedatives are Librium, Xanax and Valium. Similar to pain relieving medications, when mixed with other substances (i.e. alcohol, over-the-counter medication or other prescription medications) it can result in slowing one’s breathing and heartbeat to dangerously low levels. When tranquilizers and sedatives have been abused for a prolonged period of time, an individual will most likely experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Possible Reasons for Abuse

Individuals who abuse prescription medications can have a number of reasons some of which can include:

  • To experiment
  • To feel good or get high
  • To feed an addiction
  • To reduce appetite (stimulants)
  • Peer pressure
  • Attempts to regulate negative moods
  • To improve productivity or performance
  • To overcome anxiety
  • To relax or relieve tension (painkillers and tranquilizers)
  • To decrease pain from muscle tension
  • Because they are legal
  • Weight loss
  • Attempts to avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • To try to increase the effects of a related drug

Every individual is different and will have differing reasons for abusing any kind of substance.

Signs and Symptoms of Abuse

There are many signs and symptoms that may be exhibited in an individual who is abusing prescription medications. Some of them can include any combination of the following:

  • Poor decision-making
  • Stealing
  • Excessive mood swings
  • Appearing to be high
  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Sleep irregularities
  • Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
  • Forging or selling prescriptions
  • Appearing sedated

Some individuals will experience many of the above symptoms, and some will only experience few.

Effects

There are numerous possible affects prescription pill abuse can have on an individual. Some of them can include, but are not limited to, the follow:

  • Decreased academic performance
  • Financial difficulties
  • Legal problems
  • Masking one’s positive and negative emotions
  • Decreased motivation
  • Unemployment
  • Psychological problems
  • Compromised judgment
  • Increased motor vehicle accidents
  • High risk behaviors

The effects of one’s prescription drug misuse will also depend on the type of medication abused.

Co-Occurring Disorders

There are many possible co-occurring disorders an individual may suffer from if he or she struggles with a prescription pill addiction. Some of the following are examples of possible co-occurring disorders:

  • Depression
  • Poly Substance Abuse (use of drugs from at least three different classes)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (child and adult onset)
  • Illicit Drug Abuse
  • Somatization Disorders
  • Conduct Disorder

If an individual suffers from any of the above in addition to a prescription pill addiction it is imperative that he or she seek a dual diagnosis rehabilitation treatment program. This will enable the individual to seek help and guidance in all areas necessary to achieving and maintaining a healthy, sober life.

Withdrawal Symptoms

The physiological withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on which prescription medication has been abused. Some of the common withdrawal symptoms associated with many prescription medications are as follows:

  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Cravings
  • Diarrhea

It is important to note that each medication will come with its own set of possible withdrawal symptoms.

Treatment and Recovery

Treatment and recovery are attainable for individuals who wish to be free of his or her addiction. Every individual is different and will require a unique treatment plan.

Several treatment plans will include a combination of group and individual therapies, tools taught as to how to maintain one’s sobriety, as well as recovery support.