Prescription Medication Addiction

What is a Prescription Medication Addiction?

The abuse of prescription medication occurs when medications are used in a way that is not intended by the healthcare professional who prescribed them; or when medications are used by persons other than the intended user. Individuals may abuse prescription drugs for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • To get high
  • To relieve tension or emotional pain
  • To enhance concentration
  • To maintain an addiction to other drugs
  • To cushion the withdrawal effects of other drugs.

Underlying the abuse is the fallacy that prescription medications are safe since they have been provided by the medical professional, but this could not be further from the truth.

Prescription medication overdose is the top cause of drug-related deaths in the world, with opioids being the top drug type associated with those deaths. Prescription medications can be highly addictive and long-term use often lead to developed tolerance in the same manner as illicit drugs.

Main Categories of Medications Commonly Misused/Abused

Opioids Stimulants CNS Depressants Z-Drugs
What Are They? Used to relieve pain such as codeine, hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone Used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and less common types of sleep disorders such as methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. Used to treat mood disorders, anxiety, and panic attacks such as barbiturates and benzodiazepines. Used to treat sleep issues that are not benzodiazepines.
Examples of Prescription Drugs Tramadol, Vicodin, Cough medications with codeine, and Tylenol Ritalin, Concerta, Dexedrine, and Adderall Amytal, Nembutal, Xanax, Valium, and Ativan Lunesta, Stilnox, Ambien, and Imovane

General safety rules when using Prescription Medications

  • Always follow prescription directions carefully
  • Do not raise or lower doses without talking with your doctor first
  • Do not stop taking a medication on your own without pre-consultation
  • Do not crush or break the pills, especially if they’re time-released
  • Always learn about the effects of medication with alcohol or other prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
  • Let the doctor know if there is any personal or family history of addiction
  • Never allow other people to use your prescription medications, and do not take theirs

Signs and Symptoms of a Prescription Medication Addiction

  • Complaining about vague or minor symptoms to get prescribed more drugs
  • Stealing or forging prescriptions
  • Requesting early refills or continually “losing” prescriptions, so more prescriptions must be written
  • Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
  • Appearing to be high, unusually energetic or revved up, or sedated, or “out of it”
  • Physical symptoms including muscle pain, night sweats, insomnia, and flu-like symptoms
  • Consumes high doses of the medication
  • Experiencing mood changes – more anxious, angry, tensed.

Indicators of additional risk

  • Underlying mental health issues
  • Self-harming
  • Other addictions – alcohol or substance use
  • Senior adults with long-term prescriptions
  • Easy access to medications

Treatment Process

Prescription Medication Addiction is a treatable condition. Treatment approaches for addiction are generally as successful as those for other chronic diseases (American Society of Addiction Medicine, 2019).

An intake assessment will be conducted before the commencement of a joint treatment with a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist.

The psychiatrist will assist in the management of underlying medical/mental health issues and provide medication-assisted detoxification. Meanwhile, the therapist assists with working on a behavioural programme to stop the abuse of medication.  This involves the teaching of coping skills, addressing underlying life issues, and developing a relapse prevention plan.

Why are relapse rates high?

Relapse rates can be mainly attributed to these 3 reasons:

  1. Prescription medications are usually more readily accessible than illicit drugs.
  2. In the case of opioid addiction, withdrawal effects can be particularly uncomfortable and intense.
  3. The underlying medical/health issue for which the medications were initially prescribed for persists after addiction recovery.

As such, it is recommended that treatment be intensive during the initial stage of recovery, which may include therapy sessions twice a week until detoxification is completed.

Once the first stage of recovery is complete, it is highly recommended that the individual maintains an after-care programme that includes support group therapy on a regular basis, for a minimum of 6 months to a year.

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