Prescription Drugs and Addiction
For many people, a legitimate injury or ailment lands them in a doctor's office and prescribed medications to help manage a condition. These meds can be effective in granting relief, but they can also be highly addicting. Many of these patients, among other populations, have become part of the national prescription drug abuse epidemic.
There are many commonly held misconceptions of the abuse potential for powerful prescription substances, like Oxycontin, because such substances can be obtained legally and provide legitimate medical use. But prescription drugs are being abused and finding their way into our schools and communities illegally – and their abuse can be fatal.
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Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs
- Opioids, prescribed to treat pain, i.e. morphine, methadone, hydrocodone, oxycodone
- CNS depressants, to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, i.e valium, barbiturates
- Stimulants, to treat the sleep disorder narcolepsy, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obesity, i.e. Adderall, Ritalin
Effects of Opiods
Opioids are safe to use with other drugs only under a physician's supervision. Typically, they should not be used with other substances that depress the central nervous system, such as alcohol.
Opioids act by attaching to specific proteins called opioid receptors, which are found in the brain, spinal cord and gastrointestinal tract. When these drugs attach to certain opioid receptors, they can block the transmission of pain messages to the brain. In addition, opioids can produce drowsiness, cause constipation and, depending upon the amount of drug taken, depress respiration. Opioid drugs also can cause euphoria by affecting the brain regions that mediate what we perceive as pleasure.
Consequences of Opioid Abuse
Chronic opioid use can result in tolerance, which means users must take higher doses to achieve the same initial effects. Long-term use also can lead to physical dependence and addiction as the body adapts to the presence of the drug, and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced or stopped. Symptoms of withdrawal include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting and involuntary leg movements. A large single dose could cause severe respiratory depression that can lead to death.
Prescriptions and Older Adults
Prescription drug abuse is a particular problem among the older population, but many elderly people are resistant to entering treatment or getting help for substance abuse. They may be too ashamed to admit to a problem or to seek help on their own. Once in treatment, however, older adults are typically more successful at getting and staying sober.
Some seniors feel this will be their last chance to get it right, and they aren't going to let themselves fail. Others are motivated by their children or grandchildren and by the desire to create a positive legacy for their family. Most seniors benefit the most from a treatment program that is geared toward older adults. They have different needs, different issues, and different ways of recovering than younger individuals. Like all of us, older adults relate better to others similar to them, and support groups and therapy sessions are often more beneficial when among peers.
Treating Prescription Drug Addiction