Help Getting Off
Prescription Drugs

Why do Prescription Drugs Cause Addiction and
What will Help End Prescription Drug Addiction?

It’s a common misconception that prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs since they’re prescribed by a doctor, but this simply isn’t true if they aren’t taken exactly as prescribed.

Prescription drug abuse can lead to addiction and dependence, among other serious medical and mental health problems. Most people need help getting off prescription drugs once an addiction or dependence develops, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.1

The most commonly abused prescription drugs are opioid painkillers, which include hydrocodone, morphine and OxyContin; benzodiazepines like Xanax and Klonopin; and stimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta. All of these types of medications carry a high risk of addiction and dependence. Take a look at why that is and how treatment helps.

Understanding Drug Abuse, Addiction and Dependence

To understand why many people need help getting off prescription drugs and how professional help improves the chances of successful recovery, it helps to differentiate between drug abuse, addiction and dependence.

Drug Abuse

Drug abuse is characterized by using drugs in a way that causes problems in your life. These problems can be related to relationships, finances, your health or the law. Prescription drug misuse is a form of drug abuse, since it’s both dangerous and illegal. Prescription abuse can lead to addiction and dependence, which are serious medical and mental health conditions.

Addiction

Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug abuse even though it’s causing problems in your life. You may want to or try to quit, but find that you can’t. Addiction is the result of brain changes that may occur when heavy abuse of a substance occurs. It develops as increased amounts of dopamine re-wire the learning, reward, and memory regions of the brain to communicate in a way that causes compulsive drug-seeking and -using behaviors, driven by intense cravings.

Addiction frequently leads to dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns. It almost always has underlying causes, such as chronic stress, a history of trauma, or a mental illness like anxiety or depression. Addiction usually comes with a lack of certain coping skills, and  causes problems that end up contributing to the drug abuse. Professional help quitting prescription drugs addresses all of these issues and helps you reclaim your life once and for all.

Dependence

Dependence is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that set in when you stop using drugs. Dependence develops as the brain changes its chemical operation in an attempt to maintain normal function despite the presence of a drug. For example, all psychoactive substances increase levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure. When too much dopamine is released, the brain attempts to compensate by reducing the activity of this chemical. The brain will adjust the activity of a variety of neurotransmitters affected by a particular type of drug.

This chemical compensation results in tolerance, which means that a larger dose of the drug is required in order to get the same effects a smaller dose once produced. But as does increase, the brain continues to change neurotransmitter activity to compensate. At some point, brain function may shift so that it operates more comfortably when the drug is present than when it’s not. Then, when you quit using cold-turkey, normal neurotransmitter activity rebounds, and this causes physical symptoms, which vary, depending on the drug.

One reason so many people with dependence need help getting off prescription drugs is that withdrawal can be excruciating, and in some cases, it can be dangerous or even fatal. Medical detox through a quality treatment program increases safety and comfort during withdrawal.

Detox: The First Step Towards Getting off Prescription Drugs

Seeking help getting off prescription drugs starts in detox, which is the process of removing all traces of a drug from the body so that brain function can return to normal. A high quality detox program will involve a detailed intake process followed by a detoxification plan, which will depend on the type of medication you’re on, how severe the dependence is and your own personal preferences.

Medical detox is supervised by medical and mental health professionals who can administer a variety of medications as needed to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms, ease cravings and shorten the time it takes to detox. Some treatment programs offer medication-assisted treatment, which is a combination of medication and counseling that addresses both the dependence and the addiction. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, medication-assisted treatment is the gold standard for treating opioid addiction.2

During medical detox, a variety of assessments will help caregivers develop an individualized and comprehensive treatment plan to address the addiction.

Holistic Treatment is Essential for Successful Recovery

Detox only addresses the physical dependence on prescription drugs.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stresses that a holistic approach to treatment offers the best possible outcomes.3 A holistic approach is one that addresses issues of body, mind and spirit for whole-person healing. This is accomplished by using a variety of both traditional and complementary treatment therapies that have been shown through research to be effective for treating addiction.

Traditional therapies used in treatment include cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy and family therapy. These and other traditional “talk” therapies help identify dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns and develop new, healthier ways of thinking and behaving. They help develop essential skills for coping with negative emotions, stress and cravings, which are all important relapse triggers. In a dual diagnosis treatment program, traditional therapies will also address the causes and symptoms of a co-occurring mental illness. Psychoeducational classes are a type of traditional therapy that help develop a better understanding of addiction and how it relapses.

Complementary therapies in treatment help look at old problems in new ways; express difficult emotions and experiences; and develop greater self-awareness and self-confidence. They help you develop coping skills and increase mindfulness. Complementary therapies commonly used in high quality treatment programs include art therapy, restorative yoga and mindfulness meditation.

Other interventions used in treatment provide assistance with financial or educational needs, housing or legal problems and other issues that require attention.

Where Can I Find Help Getting off Prescription Drugs?

If you want to quit or have tried to quit using but find you can’t seem to do it, you may need help getting off prescription drugs. 

Treatment works for most people who fully engage with their treatment plan and stay in treatment for an adequate period of time–90 days is ideal for the best possible outcomes, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.4 


Resources

  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction
  2. http://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment
  3. http://www.samhsa.gov/recovery
  4. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-long-does-drug-addiction-treatment

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