Prescription Drug Abuse
Prescription medications are abused more commonly than cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. Unfortunately, there is a public misperception that prescription medications are safer than and not as addictive as street drugs. This is wrong!!! The difference is that prescription drugs have accepted medical use and the benefit outweighs the risk to treat the disease. Medical practitioners must take extra measures compared to other medications to ensure their safe use.
Commonly Abused Prescription Medications
These prescription medications include opioid (synthetic opiate) painkillers such as Oxycodone and Hydrocodone, anti-anxiety medications like Xanax and Valium and stimulants like Dexedrine, Adderall or Ritalin commonly used for attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Tolerance, Dependence, Addiction
Before a discussion of these substances, one needs to understand the differences between physical dependence, tolerance, and addiction:
- Tolerance - This is when the body adapts to a substance being ingested needing more substance to get the same effect. This does not define addiction; we do not call a diabetic an addict for needing more insulin.
- Physical dependence - This is another adaptation by the body to a substance resulting in a particular set of withdrawal symptoms upon reduction or cessation of a particular compound. Again, this is not addiction; when one has a headache from not having morning coffee it is not necessarily addiction.
- Addiction - A simple definition is that it is a compulsion to use a substance despite continued adverse psychological, social and physical consequences. A good example of an addict without physical dependence would be a "binge-alcoholic." A ‘binge alcoholic" is addicted to alcohol and continues to drink despite DWIs, arrests, cirrhosis or other consequences yet does not develop withdrawal.
Benzodiazepine medications are prescribed primarily for anxiety/panic attacks.
Opiates/opioids are medications based on opium derived from the poppy plant.
Stimulant medications cause a dramatic increase in central nervous system activity and are commonly called “speed”.