It’s a bit misleading to speak of the prescription-drug addiction epidemic, because not all addictive prescription drugs are created equal. The top two offenders—opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines—belong to different “depressant” families, and doctors still occasionally prescribe potentially addictive stimulants as well. Even when officially categorized together—even when using the identical chemical formula—prescription drugs go under different names, release their medication in different ways, and are dispensed in different doses. The main thing nearly all prescription drug addictions have in common is that they start when a licensed doctor recommends a drug, in good faith, as the best solution for a legitimate medical problem.
The mere fact that prescription drugs are backed up by recognized authority is partly responsible for their landing so many people in addiction rehab—and for many people’s reluctance to get prescription drug addiction treatment at all. For all we know about malpractice suits and second opinions, people still tend to accept with little question the “official” status behind a doctor’s advice. If someone in a white coat recommends a pill, they take it without question.
That’s not to say it’s the doctor’s fault every time someone winds up needing prescription drug rehab. While some doctors have overprescribed to the point of facing legal crackdowns, and some have even taken bribes to write unnecessary prescriptions, there are numerous ways patients themselves can sabotage the prescription system:
- They are unwilling to discuss non-drug options for coping with their problems; instead, they demand a “quick fix,” sometimes in the form of a specific drug they saw an advertisement for or that worked for a friend. If the first doctor they talk to declines to write an instant prescription, they look for another doctor (or clinic or online pharmacy) who will.
- They fail even to glance at the official health warnings that come with the prescription, let alone do any independent research on the drug and its risks.
- Most commonly: They start off fine, with a prescription carefully chosen by their doctor, but then they get impatient because it doesn’t seem to be working as fast, or as well, or as long-term, as they think it should. So they turn to their own judgment and begin taking extra pills, without medical approval.
However exactly it starts, here’s what everyone should know about symptoms and treatment related to prescription drug addiction.
1. Behavioral and emotional symptoms are at least as important to recognize as physical symptoms.
Of course, if you miss a prescription dose and then experience anything like physical withdrawal symptoms—aching muscles, nausea, heavy perspiration, sleep disturbances, muscle spasms—you should immediately check with your doctor to see if you need to detox from prescription drugs. But even if your symptoms aren’t physical—and even if you’ve never missed a dose—you may have developed an addiction if any of the following apply to you:
- You experience frequent bouts of anxiety or depression.
- You have ever had a delusion, hallucination or strong sense of paranoia.
- You feel pre-prescription pains or anxieties returning, even though you’ve never missed a dose.
- You find yourself thinking that “maybe I need to take more pills”—or you’ve already gone outside official prescription instructions.
- You get genuinely panicky at the thought you might miss a dose.
- You’ve asked your doctor to increase your prescribed dosage, and gotten defensive if he or she wanted to probe your reasons.
- You’re losing interest in old relationships and favorite activities.
- You’ve missed work or another commitment because you were feeling sick from the aftereffects of medication.
- You start looking for other sources of medication—or money—if your doctor/insurance policy/pharmacy says “No more.”
- Your friends and family complain about your “zoned-out” or “unpredictable” behavior, or hint that medication has become more important to you than they are. (Especially if such comments lead to heated arguments.)
If that sounds uncomfortably like your life, don’t make excuses. Make an appointment with your doctor or a detox specialist to discuss whether you need prescription drug rehab.
- If you have an addiction, you need prescription drug addiction treatment by medical specialists. Period.
Granted, stopping opiates cold probably won’t kill you (the risk is greater with benzos), but if withdrawal symptoms get bad, it may make killing yourself look pretty tempting. In any case, addiction-detox professionals will be best equipped to assess your individual needs, keep you physically comfortable, provide proper hydration and nourishment, and reassure you when it feels the worst will last forever.
- Proper treatment includes making a follow-up plan for staying “clean” for the long term.
This is doubly important if you received your original prescription as a remedy for legitimate physical pain, anxiety or any other problem that may come back. Any good detox center will provide therapy to help you get at the deeper issues that fueled the addiction—and, with any drug, this includes things besides chemical dependence that need to be remedied.
A few hints for getting the most from addiction recovery:
- Don’t be in a rush to “fix this and get back to normal”: that’s probably what got you into the addiction mess in the first place. Most detox experts recommend a 90-day period of inpatient care to get the “need” for drugs out of your physical and emotional system. Instead of resenting the “waste of time,” be grateful to get a break from the rat race.
- Be completely open about your thoughts, dreams and feelings—with yourself as well as with your therapist. Stop trying to fake perfection, and take a chance on meeting your real self.
- The most common reasons for receiving addictive drug prescriptions are physical pain and emotional anxiety—both of which are tied to stress and tension. Concentrate on practicing new ways to relax—and on developing new, healthy thought patterns to replace worry habits.
- Be willing to accept the possible need for even radical change in your life. What you think gives you security—be it a leisure habit, a relationship or a career plan—may actually be increasing your stress and pain, while keeping you from something better.
- If you still think chronic pain may remain a problem after treatment, ask your doctors for information on non-addictive medications.
- Learn to set goals and believe in yourself! Besides empathetic support, confidence and hope are your best long-term sobriety tools.
Inland Detox, top drug and alcohol detox treatment center in southern California, is located in the scenic Temecula Valley. If you or a loved one are struggling with prescription drug addiction, please call (888) 739-8296 for more information.