Prescription drug abuse is on the rise, and young adults today are taking just about anything they can get, regardless of its consequences. From pills that ease anxiety to those that combat sleep, from painkillers to attention-deficit disorder treatments, the possibilities for misuse of prescription drugs is endless. It is no wonder, then, that prescription drugs have become the most commonly abused substances (after marijuana and alcohol) by youth over the age of 14.
There are three main categories of prescription drugs:
- Opioids (Prescription “Painkillers”): Prescribed for severe to moderate pain, opioids are the category most frequently abused by youths today. They also pose the highest risk for addiction and overdose, more so than cocaine or heroin. Commonly abused prescription pain relievers include OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet. Other synthetic painkillers include Codeine, Methadone, Hydrocodone, Fentanyl, and Morphine.
- Depressants: Depressants (commonly prescribed as Valium, Xanax, and Nembutal) are sedative drugs that are generally used to ease anxiety or promote healthy sleep patterns. They slow brain function, produce calming effects, and when taken in very high doses, also prompt “out-of-body” experiences.
- Stimulants: Similarly to cocaine, prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin act quickly on the brain and boost a user’s alertness and energy level. These drugs are amphetamines and amphetamine derivatives that are most often prescribed for ADHD and other vigilance-related disorders. Adderall specifically is a popular drug of abuse among young adults who aim to improve their academic performance.
The main misconception about prescription drugs is that because a doctor has prescribed them, they are safe to use. We’ve been told that a pill can cure just about everything, so how can they possibly be harmful? We deny the pervading presence of prescription drugs on the street because they are completely legal.
The truth is, prescription drug abuse can be equally as damaging and addictive as other illicit street substances. Not only can it rapidly lead to dependency and addiction, but it can also put young users at serious risk for other harmful drug habits. Painkillers (or opioids), for example, are derived from the same poppy plant of heroin, and abuse of these pills can easily spiral into a less expensive, severely dangerous, heroin addiction.
Doctors administer prescription drugs for particular ailments. They specify how much a user should take and how often the drugs should be taken. Dosages are to be controlled and carefully monitored. Teenagers who use prescription drugs, however, do not always follow the label, nor understand the high risk of addiction.
Generally, after prolonged use, young adults will increase their dosage because the prescribed amount is no longer “enough.” The original purpose of the drugs will diminish, and an abuser will continue to take a prescription past the allotted time period because they cannot fully function without the drug. This indicates that a tolerance has developed, and that severe withdrawal symptoms will occur should use be stopped.
The growing popularity of nonmedical use of prescription drugs is largely a result of its availability: 62 percent of teens abuse prescription drugs because they are easiest to obtain from their parents’ medicine cabinets. Surprisingly, though, the majority of teens abusing prescription medications were actually given the pills free by a friend or relative. Users may have heard of the pleasurable effects prescription pills can produce, and take them solely for the purpose of getting high. While prescription pills are meant to swallow, abusers more often crush the tablets and either snort or inject them into the bloodstream for amplified effects.
Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse
There are hundreds of different prescription drugs on the market today. While many pills look the same, their side effects will differ, and each person can have a different reaction to a drug. A prescription drug that is helping one person may be very risky, even fatal, for another. It is therefore extremely dangerous to take medications that have not been issued to you by a doctor.
In general, indications of prescription drug abuse will manifest in a user through noticeable mood swings, increased irritability and hostility, changes in sleep patterns, gastrointestinal issues, and dizziness.
If a stimulant addiction has developed in your son, you may notice:
- Excessive sweating
- Poor coordination
- Decreased breathing
- Increased blood pressure
- Raised body temperature
- Irregular heartbeat—leading to greater cardiovascular problems with prolonged use.
Warning signs of an opioid addiction include:
- Slowed heart rate
- Weight loss
- High blood pressure
- Suppressed breathing— Users of opiate painkillers are especially at risk of death due to its depressing effects on the central nervous system.
Prescription depressant abuse can cause:
- Loss of coordination
- Impaired motor function
- Increased heart rate
- Elevated blood pressure.
- Unsteady balance
- Rapid eye movements
It can be difficult to recognize a prescription drug addiction, so it is important to look for any warning signs that a dependency has developed. The following behaviors are clear indicators of a prescription drug addiction:
- “Doctor-shopping” and frequent requests to refill and replace prescriptions
- Consuming prescriptions much faster than intended
- Evidence of crushing or breaking pills
- Stealing or borrowing other medications from friends and family members
- Ordering prescription pills over the Internet
- Forging prescriptions
- Consumption of over-the-counter drugs when prescription is not readily available
Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment
The most effective treatment for prescription drug abuse in young adults is through a combined approach to therapy, using both behavioral and pharmacological methods. Behavioral treatments are often used at addiction treatment facilities to modify patients’ thinking, to stop prescription drug abuse by teaching users how to avoid temptation, to function without the aid of drugs, and to deal with severe cravings. At Turning Point, we approach prescription drug addiction in young men through a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and individual/group/family counseling. We also work closely with our residents to carefully create contingency plans and avoid any potential drug risks for the future.
In extreme cases of prescription drug abuse, certain pharmacological treatments may be used. These medications are used to counter the effects of the drug of abuse on the brain, to relieve withdrawal symptoms and overcome cravings, or to treat an overdose.
Prescription drug dependence is always a risk when taking medications, but carefully reading instructions and monitoring dosages can undoubtedly prevent addiction. This risk, however, should always be weighed against the benefits that a medication will provide before taking the drug regularly. If your teen has been prescribed a stimulant, depressant, or opioid medication, and has a history of substance addiction, you may want to first explore other methods of safe and effective treatment, such as lower-strength, non-addictive medications.
Most importantly, if you are concerning that your son is abusing prescription drugs, contact a drug rehab center as soon as possible. Prescription drug addiction is a major epidemic among young adults today, and your teen could be at serious risk if treatment is not sought immediately. Call us at 1-877-581-1793 for immediate assistance or for more information on prescription drug abuse.