Addiction to illegal drugs and the legalization of some controlled substances is often a hot political and social topic. Unfortunately, there is another related issue that commonly gets ignored or written off. Dependence on drugs that are already completely legal all too often goes under the radar. Prescription drug abuse is often one of the most poorly recognized types of addiction.
Prescription drugs generally work by either suppressing or promoting chemical reactions in the brain. The most commonly abused types are stimulants, opiates, and sedatives. Sound familiar? Not only do these legal drugs have similar effects and chemical makeups to illegal drugs like heroin or speed, they are just as addictive and dangerous if abused.
Stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin are prescribed for people who need help with focusing and wakefulness, such as those who suffer from ADHD or narcolepsy. Opiates are found in many painkillers, such as Vicodin, Norco, and OxyContin. Sedatives like Xanax or Valium are used to help people with anxiety or sleep disorders. Many people can use these drugs as intended to successfully relieve their symptoms with no risk of addiction. However, when they are used in a manner other than the way they were prescribed, without a prescription, or just for the “high” they provide, it becomes a problem.
Unlike illegal drugs, prescription drugs are constantly pushed at us by doctors, pharmacists, and psychiatrists as the solution to our medical problems. Advertisements are everywhere, and there is a drug for nearly every physical or mental issue. They are relatively easy to obtain – insurance will even help pay for them. When someone builds tolerance to the drug over time however, they become chemically dependent and may suffer long-term addiction effects.
Estimates show that at least 20% of the U.S. population has used prescription drugs for recreational purposes. The prevalence and ease of obtaining legal drugs makes this a possibility, and puts people in a position where they can accidentally overdose or become addicted.
Conversely, many people who are addicted to prescription drugs have never used them for fun. They may have started with a normal prescription, but as their body grew tolerant to the drug, they needed more and more of it to get the same relief from their symptoms. Just like many illegal substances, the drug becomes something they feel they cannot live without.
Doctors are legally restricted from allowing patients to take an unhealthy amount of prescribed drugs. However, when addicts grow desperate, there are ways around these restrictions. Some have visited multiple doctors to get more than one prescription. Others have resorted to street drugs such as heroin to maintain their addiction. Some addicts even feel forced to resort to crime to obtain or pay for the drugs they need just to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Even if an addict is able to return to being sober, they are still faced by a society trying to sell the same drugs to them.
Fortunately, for all the similarities legal drugs have to illegal substances, addiction to them can also be successfully treated by the same methods. Addiction to prescriptions must not be dealt with as a separate or lesser problem from addiction to other drugs. They are two sides of the same issue, and people suffering from prescription abuse need just as much attention and help as the rest.