Understand Prescription Drug Addiction and Treatment

Upon hearing the word “addict,” most people envision the stereotype of a bedraggled delinquent taking drugs in a dark alley with fellow miscreants. But that tired cliché doesn’t reflect the reality that people who are addicted to drugs – especially prescription drugs – are from all walks of life, whom you might meet on any given day.

The fact is addiction to prescription medication can happen to anyone, regardless of age or background. Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters – no one is immune from the possibility of prescription drug dependence.

The good news is addiction to prescription medication can come to an end with the right professional treatment.

How Prescription Drug Addiction Happens

Some prescription drugs are habit-forming if they are taken in high doses or over an extended period of time. The human body is very adaptable, and once it gets used to having a certain substance, the body can become reliant on the drug for normal functioning. This can lead to unhealthy side effects, as well as withdrawal symptoms if the drug is no longer available.

In the case of prescription medications, there are three scenarios that most commonly lead to dependency: chronic pain, mental health issues and overwork.

Chronic Pain and Opioid Addiction

After a surgery or a major injury, doctors often prescribe strong painkillers to help ease the pain. These are usually opioid or opiate medications. While they may be necessary in the short term to manage severe pain, they should not be used to treat long-term chronic pain because a dependency will develop.

This is why it’s very important to follow the prescription’s instructions when taking pain medication:

  • Do not take more than the recommended amount.
  • Stay within the prescribed frequency rate.
  • Don’t take the medication longer than directed.

If your pain continues, ask your doctor for an alternative pain-management approach that does not involve opioid medication.

If you or someone you know has already become addicted to prescription painkillers, it’s important to seek professional treatment, including a medically supervised detox and a 30- to 90-day recovery program. Failing to get help now could lead to heroin addiction down the road, which is even more dangerous.

Mental Health and Prescription Drug Abuse

Another class of prescription drugs that is highly addictive is benzodiazepines. They are typically used to treat anxiety and depression, due to their calming effects. They are frequently misused by people who are feeling stressed and want something to calm their nerves.

Benzos are especially dangerous when mixed with other types of drugs or alcohol, and can easily lead to death when combined with the wrong substances. This is why it’s important to always be honest with your doctor about everything you’re taking and to follow prescription directions carefully.

For people with mental disorders, it’s important to get treatment from a rehab facility that specializes in dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorders. It’s critical to treat both the addiction and the mental disorder at the same time. Simply detoxing from an addictive substance won’t be enough for long-term recovery if the mental illness isn’t also managed properly.

Stimulants and Prescription Medication Abuse

Another type of prescription medication that is often abused is stimulants, particularly those prescribed to treat ADD, ADHD, and sleep disorders.

Prescription stimulant abuse is becoming more common as a way for busy professionals to try and manage long hours, heavy workloads and extreme stress. While these medications may provide temporary bursts of energy and reduce appetite, they can have harmful side effects and lead to dependence.

‘Am I Addicted to Opioids or Prescription Meds?’

To find out if you or a loved one is addicted to a substance, ask these questions:

  • Can I function in day-to-day life without this medication?
  • Can I stop taking the substance by my own free will?

If the honest answer is no to either of these questions, then that means the body has become reliant upon the substance and the brain chemistry has been altered so that quitting is no longer simply a matter of willpower.

Those who have a dependency, rather than a full-blown addiction, may be able to stop for a period of time, but then restart.

Both addiction and dependency require professional assistance to help return the body to normal functioning without the addictive substance, and to address any life issues that led to the substance use in the first place, such as chronic pain, mental illness and being overworked.

Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Dependency

Physical symptoms of prescription drug addiction include:

  Opioid painkillers Benzodiazepines Stimulants
Drowsiness X X  
Confusion X X  
Dizziness   X  
Constipation X    
Nausea X    
Poor coordination X    
Unsteady walking   X  
Slurred speech   X  
Difficulty concentrating   X  
Memory problems   X  
Slowed breathing X X  
Reduced appetite     X
Agitation and anxiety     X
Paranoia     X
Difficulty sleeping     X
Irregular heartbeat     X
High body temperature     X
Feeling high X    
Drug is less effective, even at higher doses X    

Other signs that occur with nearly all types of addiction include:

  • Trying to hide or downplay the substance use, especially by lying
  • Stealing or other dishonest behavior to acquire the substance (including doctor shopping – going to multiple doctors to obtain more of the drug)
  • Appearing more energetic or more sedated than normal
  • Mood swings, hostility and violence
  • Poor decision making
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in eating habits, namely an increase or decrease in appetite

Types of Addictive Prescription Drugs

While there are many different classes and brands of prescription drugs that can be addictive, these are the most common ones that we see:

  • Xanax
  • Adderall
  • Klonopin
  • Vicodin
  • Ritalin
  • Ambien
  • Percocet
  • Valium
  • Morphine
  • Percodan
  • Oxycodone

Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment

Anyone can be affected by prescription drug addiction, and each individual has unique needs based on the type of addiction and one’s personal circumstances. For this reason, it’s important to have a highly customized, individualized treatment plan that includes:

  • Medically supervised prescription drug detox, for both the safety and comfort of the client
  • Nutrition, exercise and holistic regimens that help return the body to normal, balanced functioning
  • Medical and psychological support from professionals specializing in addiction recovery
  • Addressing the factor(s) that led to addiction, whether it is pain, a mental condition, stress or other circumstances

Get Help and Get Hope

It’s important to keep in mind that there’s nothing shameful about being addicted to prescription medication. As with any medical illness, it’s appropriate to seek professional help. And it’s completely manageable with the right treatment.

At The Dunes East Hampton, we develop a customized, highly structured plan of prescription addiction treatment for each new resident. We set each client on a year-long plan, and later build the plan out to five years, a period of time which is crucial to achieving lifelong sobriety. Our high-end amenities and private resort setting make for the perfect environment for those who are seeking to take those first essential steps toward recovery.

Explore The Dunes’ Residential Program