SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF PRESCRIPTION MEDICATION AB– USE
Prescription medication abuse is an epidemic in America. The most recent statistics, according to the leading reporting agency on all things relating to drug abuse, the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA)released the following alarming figures:
- Approximately 6.5 million people in the US, over the age of 12, have used prescription medication for non-medical purposes, each year since 2010
- The greatest increase of drug use, illicit and prescription, is among the population ages 18-26. The trend has also held steady since 2010.
- Despite accounting for only 5 percent of the world’s population, Americans consume 75 percent of all manufactured prescription medications
- Prescription medications frequently abused fall under 3 categories: Pain medication, tranquilizers, and stimulants. The rate of pain medication abuse is greater than double the abuse rate of tranquilizers ( ex. antianxiety/sleep aids) and greater than quadruple the abuse rate of stimulants (ex. Ritalin, Adderal)
- More than 50 percent of prescription medications are given for no-charge (FREE) to individuals other than the intended prescribed for non-medical uses.
Non-medical use of prescription medications is a complex medical and social issue; its prevalence has financial, interpersonal, and serious health consequences.
- Prescription medication abuse contributes significantly to the approximately $200 billion dollar annual cost, including costs relating to crime and healthcare, of all illicit drug abuse.
- As with all illicit drug abuse, users often suffer interpersonal consequences, including risk of job loss, marriage/partnership dissolution, and homelessness.
- Prescription abuse leads to tolerance, dependency, and addiction; additionally, they can be “gateway” drugs to dangerous street drugs, including heroin and cocaine.
Prescription Abuse is Often Unintentional
Unlike alcohol, marijuana or hardcore street drugs like heroin and cocaine, prescription medication abuse often begins without intention of experimentation or pleasure seeking. Many Americans are prescribed prescription medications, such as Vicodin, Ativan, or Ritalin according to sound medical practices. However, almost all prescription medications in the three categories of abuse have a high abuse-potential due to the rapid-onset of tolerance; tolerance leads to the user needing more than the recommended or prescribed dose to relieve symptoms that had previously been managed with a lesser amount. Tolerance, inevitably leads to dependency; dependency is the precursor stage to addiction.
The progression of medication abuse often follows a relatively unremarkable pattern. Individuals who are developing medication abuse habits are unaware. For example, without ill intent, the user may find their pain is not alleviated with the 5mg of Vicodin originally prescribed; the user may then take an additional half or a whole dose before the recommended 4-6 hours has passed. Repeated misuse in this fashion creates a higher tolerance and dosage needed for the same degree of pain relief as that of the initial dosage. Again, with repetition, the body adjusts to the presence of the medication to develop dependency. Most users are unaware of dependency until the cessation of the medication, by either choice, lack of supply, or doctor order. Dependency is only discovered when the user experiences withdrawal symptoms, which vary by person and according to intensity and duration of medication use. Stronger, heavier opiates, tranquilizers, and stimulants have stronger, more uncomfortable side effects; the longer rates of dependency also have more severe and longer lasting withdrawal periods.
Withdrawal effects are unique to each category of medication. The rule of thumb, however, is referred to in the medical community as the “teeter-totter” principle. Like the rule of gravity, what goes up must come down, the teeter-totter principle predicts that withdrawal symptoms will be the opposite of drug effects. For example, withdrawal of pain relieving narcotics, which cause constipation and an increased sense of well-being, will include diarrhea and anxiety. Similarly, the withdrawal from tranquilizers includes rebound anxiety; and withdrawal from stimulants includes lethargy and extreme depression.
Although there is a significant population of individuals, who intentionally experiment with prescription medications, especially among individuals over the age of 12, availability of a consistent enough supply of medication is difficult to maintain without relatively unhindered access to the drug. That is why prescription medication addiction most often affects those prescribed the medication at the start of use. The ubiquitous nature of the specific category of illicit drug use requires self-monitoring and knowledge of the common misuse habits that lead to increased tolerance and dependency.
Signs and Symptoms
Behavioral Signs Include:
- Increase in dosage or frequency with a decrease in time-intervals between doses
- Ongoing use, beyond original prescribed period
- Abrupt changes in personality, including increased hostility, irritability, evasiveness and defensiveness, especially when conversation is regarding new habits or behaviors related to medication use
- “Doctor Shopping”- seeking and requesting doctors with the ability to prescribe specific medications of choice, without disclosing to each doctor current medications being taken
- Sudden complaints of vague aches, pains, or ailments, such as back pain, anxiety, or difficulty concentrating; all perceived as requiring immediate medical attention
- Neglecting routine responsibilities and usual hygienic standards (ex. poor grooming, not washing clothes appropriately, and developing an overall unkempt appearance)
- Increases sensitivity to light and sound, frequent headaches or migraines
- Isolating or forming new relationships, especially with elderly people (who have higher rates of prescription use) or those with known medical issues, such as chronic pain or anxiety.
- Frequent accidents or mishaps that result in small bodily injuries requiring medical attention, with the intention of obtaining prescription medication. Frequently using Emergency Room services.
- Frequently reporting prescriptions missing or stolen
- Stealing medications
- Diverting money from basic necessities to buy prescriptions
- Poor work and school performance
- Inconsistent medical histories and answers to questions regarding medication use
- Borrowing money, pawning or selling valuables
Symptoms and Effects Include:
- Mood swings
- Insomnia, somnolence, or irregular sleeping patterns
- Vomiting, nausea
- Profuse sweating
- Racing thoughts
- Lethargy, drowsiness
- Poor judgement/emotional control
- Decreased heart and respiration rates
- Poor memory and concentration
- Increased Anxiety
- Blackouts, memory loss