From the onset of use, some prescription drugs are more addictive than others. There are certain people who will become addicted to specific drugs because they enjoy the sensations induced by the drugs. While some do not like the side effects of drugs and do not develop addictions, addiction to prescription medication is the fastest growing health concern faced in the US. Abuse of prescribed medications is the single largest cause of accidental death in the U.S.

The three types (classes) of drugs under discussion in this article are opioid medications, stimulant medications and anti-anxiety medications (or benzodiazepines). Since each of them differs in their operation in the human brain and on the central nervous system, they employ differing addictive properties.

Prescription drug abuse is the leading concern, also in the treatment community. Ongoing education with doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other prescribing professionals will help to curb this trend. Parents and educators are being taught to look for the signs of early abuse of prescription medication in younger populations.

Prescription Opioids

The most common opioids prescribed are pain killers such as morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and meperidine. These are schedule II narcotics, with a dangerous/high level of abuse and addictive potential considered severe both psychologically and physically. Some lower-dose opioid drugs are schedule III, due to the lower dosage prescribed.

Prescription Stimulants

These drugs are most commonly prescribed for weight loss, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and sometimes for narcolepsy, a sleeping disorder. These include: amphetamine, methamphetamine, and methylphenidate (Ritalin). These are also schedule II narcotics and have the same dangers for addiction and/or overdose and abuse. The prescribing of these drugs is declining with the onset of problematic use and abuse.

Prescription Anti-anxiety Drugs

Medical professions see these drugs being abused most often, due to their availability and the high instance of mixing these drugs with Schedule II narcotics.

Their interactive effects are not always understood and can be different from one person to the next. Some of the drugs in Schedule IV are anti-psychotics, which are infrequently abused, due to the unpleasant side effects they produce. Some of the more common drugs in this category are: alprazolam, carisoprodol, clonazepam, diazepam, lorazepam, and temazepam.

How It Begins

Most people begin prescription drug use as the result of medical need. They take the medication and have appropriate responses to the medication. Abuse can begin when the effects of the drug are no longer strong enough to be effective for that purpose. Not all prescribers are aware of the dangers of the drugs they work with and few patients who are becoming dependent on those drugs self-report honestly. As more of the drug is needed to provide the same level of effectiveness, patients begin to develop dependence on the drugs.

Soon the patient is over-medicating to get relief. They may take more than prescribed, looking for other doctors to get additional meds. They may go to more than one pharmacy, buy pills from either Mexico or Canada, or get drugs from dealers; all illegal acts to get medication that they need to avoid withdrawal. The biggest indicator that a person is becoming addicted is the overuse of their medication. When it stops being effective, a doctor should be alerted right away. When the patient begins to seek additional relief sources, they are becoming dependent on the medication and will need more to get relief.

Withdrawal from opioids is difficult. There are muscle aches, nausea, chills and flu-like symptoms. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines is a serious risk for the patient. These should never be stopped suddenly, but titrated down, taking lower doses every day until the effects of the drug are completely out of the system. Stopping suddenly can cause serious side effects. Some of these are hallucinations, sensations of being separate from everything, a sense of disconnection from one’s own body.

What Else?

A new trend in prescription drug abuse is that of “pharming.” This is what is impacting young students who find prescription medications in the medicine cabinets of their homes and take them all to a party, where the drugs are dumped together into a bowl and taken at random by the party goers, usually accompanied with alcohol. The mixture commonly contains pain medications (opioid) and benzodiazepine medications, sometimes accompanied by stimulants. The combinations used can be deadly.