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Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction Treatment

Prescription drug abuse has taken over the nation within the past decade. Prescription medications are extremely useful in treating a wide range of ailments, however many people are under the false impression that these drugs are safe and/or legal to use other than as directed.

  • Prescription drug abuse can be defined as consuming a prescribed medicine:
  • That was not prescribed for you by your doctor
  • That is being taken in larger dosages than prescribed
  • That is being taken for reasons other than the condition it is prescribed for
  • That is being taken in ways other than prescribed (such as snorted, injection, chewed, etc.)
Here are some of the most basic facts about some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs.

Opiates
Opiates, also known as prescription narcotics, are usually prescribed to alleviate pain. They can be swallowed, however users generally snort or inject crushed pills for a faster, more intense high. These methods of administration have been linked to a number of serious and many times fatal overdoses. Opiate abuse can lead to effects such as drowsiness, confusion, constipation, low blood pressure and shallowed breathing.

When trying to end an opiate addiction, users often experience painful withdrawal symptoms that include muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes, restlessness and involuntary kicking movements.

Some of the most commonly misused opiates include:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (Percodan, Percocet and OxyContin)
  • Propoxyphene (Darvon)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Diphenoxylate (Lomotil)
  • Morphine
  • Fentanyl
  • Codeine

Central Nervous System Depressants
Depressants, also known as tranquilizers and/or sedatives, are most commonly prescribed for issues such as anxiety and/or sleep disorders. As a result of their effect on the GABA neurotransmitter, depressant abuse can slow brain function as well as impact heart rate. When combined with other drugs and/or alcohol, serious breathing problems can develop, and death can become a possibility.

The main categories of depressants include:

  • Barbiturates — These depressants treat tension, anxiety and sleep disorders. Some examples include mephobarbital (Mebaral) and pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal).
  • Benzodiazepines — Benzodiazepines are prescribed to treat panic attacks, acute stress, convulsions, short-term sleep problems and more. Some examples of benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium), chlordiazepoxide HCl (Librium), and alprazolam (Xanax), triazolam (Halcion) and estazolam (ProSom)

When an individual stops using depressants, brain activity can become abnormal and begin to cause health issues such as seizures. Since withdrawal from certain depressants can put a user’s life in jeopardy, detox should always be supervised by a physician or medical professional.

Stimulants
Stimulants are commonly prescribed to treat psychological disorders such as ADHD, narcolepsy and severe depression. These prescription pills can be swallowed, crushed, and/or dissolved, and are then usually smoked or injected.

The most common effects of stimulants include increased attention, energy and alertness. They also elevate heart rate, breathing and blood pressure, as well as impact dopamine levels that cause an extreme sense of euphoria.

Continued stimulant abuse can cause agitation, high blood pressure, paranoia, irregular heartbeat, high body temperatures, anxiety and seizures. These and other effects can be intensified if stimulants are combined with antidepressants or additional over-the-counter cold medicines.

Some of the most commonly abused stimulants are:

  • Dextroamphetamine (Adderall and Dexedrine)
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta)

If an individual stops using stimulant drugs abruptly, they can experience depression, sleep problems and fatigue.

Dependence on prescription drugs is characterized by the level of tolerance and severity of withdrawal symptoms a user experiences. Those who are addicted to prescription drugs can also become psychologically dependent, and begin experiencing drug cravings and compulsive drug-seeking behavior. They might continue to abuse prescription medications regardless of the negative effects they can have on their health, career, relationships, finances and more.

Prescription drug users may find themselves stealing drugs from medicine cabinets, forging prescriptions or doctor shopping to obtain more drugs. Although prescription drugs are legal when taken as prescribe, they are just as dangerous as illegal drugs when they are being abused.

Prescription drug addiction is a brain disease that requires specialized care and treatment. Since addiction affects every area of an individual’s life, treatment must be tailored to suit the user’s needs all while providing a variety of therapies for the mind, body, and spirit.

The first step in treating prescription drug addiction is through detox. Since detox from certain prescription drugs can be life-threatening, supervised medical detox is the most recommended from od detox, as it is the safest and most comfortable. Under the supervision of a physician or medical team, individuals might be prescribed methadone, Suboxone or other medications that will aid in minimizing withdrawal symptoms and pill cravings.

Years of research have proved that addiction to any type of drug, illicit or prescribed, is a brain disease that can be effectively treated like other chronic diseases. However, no single type of treatment is appropriate for all individuals who are battling a prescription drugs addiction. Treatment must be based on the type of prescription drug used and the recovery needs of the individual. In some cases, treatment may need to incorporate several components, such as counseling and a prescribed medication, as well as multiple courses of treatment may be required in order for the patient to make a full recovery.

The two main categories of drug abuse treatment are behavioral and pharmacological. Behavioral treatments can teach people how to function successfully without drugs, how to manage cravings, how to avoid situations that could lead to future use, how to prevent relapse, and how to manage relapse if it occurs. Behavioral treatments (such as individual counseling, group or family counseling, contingency management, and cognitive-behavioral therapies) can also aid patients in improving their personal relationships and seeing an increase in their ability to function at work and within their community.

Some addictions, such as opioid addiction, might also be treated with medications. Many pharmacological treatments counter the effects of the drug on the brain and behavior it causes. Medications can also be used to alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal, to treat an overdose, or to aid in overcoming drug cravings. Although a behavioral or pharmacological approach alone may be effective for treating drug addiction, research shows that a combination of both is the most effective method of treatment.

A number of different options are available for effectively treating prescription opioid addiction. These options have been developed through a combination of both experience and research regarding the treatment of heroin addiction. (They include medications, such as methadone and LAAM (levo-alpha-acetyl-methadol)) and varied behavioral counseling approaches.

A useful precursor to long-term treatment of opioid addiction is detoxification and the process of it. Detox in itself is not considered to be a comprehensive treatment for opioid addiction. Instead, its main objective is to alleviate withdrawal symptoms while the patient adjusts (physically and psychologically) to being drug free. To be successful considered a successful detox, it must precede long-term treatment that either requires complete abstinence or incorporates a medication, such as methadone, into the treatment plan to ease symptom.

Methadone, a synthetic opioid, blocks the effects of heroin and other opioids, eliminates withdrawal symptoms, and alleviates drug craving. It has been used for more than 30 years to treat those addicted to opioids. Other medications used in this process include LAAM, an alternative to methadone that blocks the effects of opioids for up to 72 hours. In addition, naltrexone (Vivitrol) is also used as an opioid blocker that is often employed for highly motivated individuals in treatment programs promoting complete abstinence (it is also used to help reverse overdoses). Also, buprenorphine (Suboxone), can be effective for certain individuals.

Patients addicted to barbiturates and benzodiazepines should not attempt to stop taking them on their own or abruptly, as withdrawal from these drugs can be dangerous. In the case of certain CNS depressants, quitting “cold turkey” can be potentially life-threatening. Although no extensive body of research regarding the treatment of barbiturate and benzodiazepine addiction exists at this time, patients addicted to medications such as these should receive medically supervised detoxification because their dosage must be gradually tapered off. Both inpatient or outpatient counseling can help the individual during this process. Also, cognitive-behavioral therapy has also been used to help individuals adapt to the removal from benzodiazepines in a successful manner.

The abuse of barbiturates and benzodiazepines occurs in conjunction with the abuse of another substance or drug far too often. When it comes to these cases of polydrug abuse, the treatment approach must address the simultaneous addictions.

Treatment of addiction to prescription stimulants such as Ritalin is often based on behavioral therapies that have proven to be effective for treating cocaine or methamphetamine addiction. Currently, there are no proven medications for the treatment of stimulant addiction. However, antidepressants have shown to help manage the symptoms of depression that can accompany the early days of abstinence from stimulants.

Depending on the patient’s situation, the first steps in treating prescription stimulant addiction may come from tapering off the drug’s dose while attempting to treat withdrawal symptoms. The detox process could then be followed by one of many behavioral therapies and contingency management, which uses a system that enables patients to earn vouchers for drug-free urine tests. The vouchers can then be exchanged for items that promote healthy living.

A different behavioral approach is cognitive-behavioral intervention, which focuses on modifying the patient’s thinking, expectations, and personal behaviors while simultaneously increasing skills for coping with various life stressors. Recovery support groups may also be effective and beneficial in conjunction with behavioral therapy.

After finishing detox, the emotional, the psychological and spiritual work of addiction recovery can begin. Whether an individual chooses inpatient or outpatient drug rehab, prescription drug addiction may be treated using the following interventions:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
  • Medication
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  • Interpersonal Therapy
  • Individual, Group & Family Therapy
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Educational Lectures
  • 12-Step Support Groups

Some studies suggest that a combination of medication and behavioral therapy is often the most effective way to treat prescription drug addiction in the long run. Research also shows that the longer an individual stays connected to treatment, the more successful they are when it comes to maintaining lifelong addiction recovery.

In drug rehab for prescription drug addiction, patients recognize and address the underlying issues of their addiction and begin learning how to handle drug cravings and triggers. As a result, individuals can reintegrate back into to work or school, all while reinvesting in the people and activities that matter most to them.