People abuse prescription drugs for a variety of reasons. Many people become addicted while they’re taking the medication for a legitimate medical problem. Others may start out trying to self-medicate, only to end up with an addiction. Others, especially teenagers, may start by experimenting with prescription drugs to try and get high.
Many people become addicted to prescription drugs because they’re considered safe. After all, a doctor prescribed it. This may be true, but doctors rely on their patients to give them feedback if they start to experience negative side effects, or if they start needing more of the drug to achieve the same effect. Not all drugs affect all people the same way, so without good communication, doctors don’t have all the information they need to give the best treatment.
If you have a chronic condition or think you may be sick, it can be tempting to self-medicate. Even if you’ve had a medical condition in the past, and have leftover medication, your new problem may not respond to the same treatment.
Worse, your old medication could be expired, or could react with alcohol or something else you’re taking. Always see your doctor first before taking any prescription drugs, so they can make sure you’re getting the medication that’s best for your illness or condition.
For parents of teenagers, education and having a good relationship with your teen are essential. Explain to them that they should never take any prescription drug unless it’s been prescribed to them by a doctor, and they should never share drugs with friends.
Make sure they know the negative consequences, such as addiction, that can come from abusing prescription drugs. And finally, let them know that if they do have a problem, you are there to help them.
How Opioid Addiction Works
The most commonly abused prescription medications are opioids. These drugs are particularly addictive because they mimic natural opioid-like chemicals that are naturally produced by the body. These natural opioids are used by the brain to regulate mood, appetite, as a natural pain reliever, and to counter the negative effects of stress hormones.
When the brain keeps receiving large quantities of opioids from a drug, it can stop the production of natural opioids, and even start shutting down opioid receptors, the brain cells that let opioids do their work. This can lead to increased tolerance, the need to take more opioids to relieve the same pain.
Worse, since natural opioids are part of the brain’s reward system, the brain will quickly learn to associate opioids with pleasure and reward, further strengthening the addiction.
Since the body can stop natural opioid production, withdrawal, even for a few hours, can lead to nausea, irritability, intense anxiety, and increased sensitivity to pain.
This combination of tolerance, reward, and crippling withdrawal put opioid users at high risk of addiction, particularly if they already smoke or use other drugs, including alcohol. This is why doctors will often try to switch opioid patients to other painkillers as quickly as possible.