Prescription drug misuse is easily defined as any drug use outside of how a doctor prescribed it. The three categories of drugs that are most often misused are opioids, anxiety medications, and stimulants. Prescription drug misuse is not the same as prescription drug abuse. Drug abuse is defined as using a drug without a prescription in the first place. Non-prescription illicit drugs always fall into the category of abuse when someone uses them.
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Prescription Drug Misuse
Any amount of prescription drug misuse can have severe consequences that range from a visit to the emergency room, the development of an addiction, or even an overdose death. As already mentioned, the most commonly abused prescription drugs are opioids, anxiety medications, and stimulants. Each is explored below.
Opioids are primarily used in treating pain. Common examples of when they are prescribed are for serious injuries or following invasive surgery. What makes them ripe for misuse and even abuse is that, beyond just reducing pain, opioids also light up areas of the brain that result in a “high.” Overdose from opioids is a major concern since taking too much suppresses breathing and can ultimately result in suffocation. Prescription opioids include hydrocodone, codeine, fentanyl, and more.
The next category of prescriptions that often get abused is anxiety medications. These are often referred to as tranquilizers or sedatives for the way they slow brain activity and calm the nervous system. Beyond treating anxiety, sedatives are also commonly used to combat sleep disorders. Long-term use can result in tolerance and needing higher doses to achieve the same effect.
Stimulants have been traditionally prescribed in treating asthma and some neurological disorders. They elevate blood pressure and heart rate, which results in increased attention and energy. Nowadays, their primary use is for ADHD and narcolepsy. Stimulant misuse is likely to result in dependency and even side effects like aggression and paranoia. Extremely high doses even bring dangers like a heart attack or seizures.
Preventing Prescription Drug Misuse
The dangers of prescription drugs are real. Certainly, they do incredible things and are hugely beneficial to many people when used as directed. But the same medications that deliver powerful health benefits also have a dangerous side that people need to consider.
Preventing prescription drug misuse involves patients:
- Only taking medications per pharmacy instructions or based on what the bottle indicates
- Being aware of potential interactions a prescription may have with other prescriptions or things like alcohol
- Avoiding stopping or changing dosage without first consulting a doctor
- Never using someone else’s prescription or sharing your prescription with someone
Another factor affecting just women is the interaction many prescriptions have during pregnancy. If a woman suspects she is pregnant or plans on getting pregnant, she should consult with her doctor to ensure any prescriptions she is currently taking are safe during pregnancy.
In addition to patients, doctors and clinicians also have an essential role in preventing prescription drug misuse. For instance, evidence-based screenings should be used at medical visits to determine if patients are misusing or abusing any prescription drugs.
Treating Prescription Drug Addiction
In cases where prescription drug abuse results in addiction, seeking treatment becomes imperative. Two primary methods for treating drug addiction are therapy and medication. Therapy is a universal intervention, while medications are only used in addressing certain drug addictions. For example, opioid addiction is often treated with medications like buprenorphine, naltrexone, or methadone. These medications relieve withdrawal symptoms and suppress cravings related to opioids.
Meanwhile, behavioral therapies like contingency management and cognitive-behavioral therapy help patients alter habits and behaviors that drive an addiction. Behavioral therapy can take the form of individual, group, or family structures depending on individual patient needs.
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