Why Prescription Drugs are So Addictive
The 10 most addictive prescription drugs prescribed by physicians increase levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain that promote tolerance, dependence, and in many cases, addiction.
Specifically, drugs meant to reduce pain or anxiety are more likely to induce dependency simply because the brain grows accustomed to the “feel-good” effects produced by elevated amounts of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, GABA and norepinephrine.
In addition, opioid receptors in the brain are overstimulated by addictive prescription drugs as well, an action that directly enhances the sensation of euphoria and artificial well-being provided by these powerful medications.
By stimulating GABA receptors in the brain, Valium (diazepam) promotes release of the neurotransmitter GABA which reduces anxiety, relaxes muscles, decreases the intensity of panic attacks and induces an pleasant drowsiness. GABA regulates abnormal brain activity by preventing exciting responses that can produce extreme anxiety, agitation and even epilepsy.
Valium can be physical and psychologically habit-forming due to its ability to chemically restructure the brain, especially when it concerns increasing GABA levels, which the brain quickly begins to tolerate and crave. In addition, individuals suffering from anxiety disorders, debilitating panic attacks or chronic insomnia begin to rely heavily on the drug for relief from feelings of severe psychological distress.
Coupled with the propensity of the brain’s desire to continue experiencing the effects of excessive GABA activity, Valium’s addictive qualities are among the highest of prescription drugs.
Oxycontin is listed by the U.S. DEA as a Schedule II substance because of its high risk for abuse. Resembling morphine in chemical and molecular structure, Oxycontin targets opioid receptors in the spinal cord and the brain.
Originally intended to help late-stage cancer patients cope with pain, Oxycontin’s ability to produce a heroin-like high rapidly propelled it to being one of the most abused pain medications in the U.S.
Upon binding to opioid receptors, Oxycontin promotes release of a chemical complex called G-protein, an action that inhibits neurotransmitter release. The narcotic analgesic contained in Oxycontin floods the brain and the body with powerful, pain-relieving compounds that also produce euphoric sensations. Unless taken as prescribed, people using Oxycontin can become physically and psychologically dependent on the drug within several weeks.
Vicodin, Lortab, or Norco
Providing similar combinations of ingredients such as hydrocodone/acetaminophen and hydrocodone/paracetamol, Vicodin, Lortab or Norco are opioid analgesics prescribed to alleviate moderate to severe pain resulting from dental treatments, bone fractures or musculo-skeletal disorders. Like Oxycontin, these prescription pain medications stimulate the opioid receptors but use different chemicals to relieve pain by boosting production of prostanglandins, a type of hormone involved in mediating inflammation, fever and pain.
Researchers also suspect that hydrocodone/acetaminophen/paracetamol pain relievers increase serotonin levels in the brain to aid in reducing pain.
Prescription drugs containing hydrocodone are listed as Schedule III substances, which means that they have a lower potential for abuse than Schedule II drugs. People using Vicodin, Lortab or Norco may experience a much higher psychological dependence to the drug than a physical dependence and are known to enhance the effects of the drugs with alcohol.
A central nervous system stimulant classified as an amphetamine, Adderall is frequently prescribed for people diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and narcolepsy.
Although Adderall’s exact mechanism of action has yet to be determined, researchers think that Adderall (and amphetamines in general) prevent the brain from regulating dopamine and norepinephrine levels by blocking reuptake of these two neurotransmitters.
Although it seems counter-intuitive to treat hyperactivity with amphetamines, Adderall is extremely effective at relieving ADHD symptoms such as inattentiveness, poor impulse control and other inappropriate behaviors associated with ADHD.
For people suffering from narcolepsy, Adderall reduces daytime incidences of suddenly falling asleep by inhibiting neural activity involved in sleep inducement.
Adderall is a Schedule II drug that exhibits addictive properties because of its ability to inhibit the re-uptake of dopamine in the brain.
When abnormally excessive levels of dopamine exist in the brain, cognition, stamina and energy levels triple in intensity, inducing feelings of invincibility and manic thoughts. As with any prescription medications that alter brain chemistry, the potential for abuse is very real and exceptionally high.
A powerfully effective opioid analgesic derived from morphine, Dilaudid is prescribed to patients during hospital stays and possibly after they leave the hospital if they have been diagnosed with severe, chronic pain.
Considered to be six to seven times stronger than morphine, Dilaudid is an opioid agonist that targets the central nervous system and causes drowsiness, euphoria and complete numbness to pain.
With its ability to rapidly cross the blood-brain barrier, Dilaudid suppresses CNS activity with more potency than morphine and appears to have a stronger than average affinity with brain opioid receptors. The risk for a person using Dilaudid to develop a physical and psychological dependence is high, which is why the U.S. DEA had classified the drug as a Schedule II medication.
Similar to the clinical pharmacology presented by Oxycontin, Percodan offers robust analgesic properties by combining oxycodone and aspirin to relieve moderate to severe pain. Percodan is also an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and provides users of the medication with feelings of intense relaxation and euphoria.
Enhanced by the ability of aspirin to stimulate prostaglandin production, Percodan poses a serious risk for possible dependency and abuse.
Like Valium, Xanax is a hypnotic and sedative prescribed for relieving panic attacks, anxiety disorders and insomnia resulting from generalized anxiety disorder. Both are classified as benzodiazepines and target GABA receptors to increase levels of GABA in the brain.
Xanax provides rapid relief from anxiety and agitation by reaching peak effectiveness within the first 60 minutes of taking the drug. Tolerance for Xanax develops quickly (potentially in just a few days of beginning a regimen of Xanax) when dosage instructions are not followed and more pills than necessary are taken.
An analgesic, anti-hypertensive, antitussive and sedative, codeine is prescribed mainly as a cough medication for people suffering from bronchitis or respiratory illness that produce lung congestion. Codeine is an extracted opium alkaloid that converts to morphine in the liver and binds to opioid receptors in the brain.
- Prescribed for severe pain and delivered in tablet form or as IV therapy, Demerol exerts morphine-like analgesic properties by stimulating opioid receptors in the brain. It is listed as a Schedule II substance with a risk for abuse comparable to morphine.People who develop a dependency on Demerol may work in hospital or other clinical settings where Demerol is routinely used during childbirth and where access to Demerol is relatively easy.
- A powerful opiate derived from the unripe seeds of poppy plants, morphine has been used to alleviate severe pain for over 150 years and is prescribed today for people who suffer from chronic, often fatal, illnesses. It specifically targets all facets of the central nervous system and produces strong euphoria, drowsiness and mild hallucinations when taken intravenously.Tolerance for morphine develops quickly when morphine is administered regularly for more than several days. Like other prescription opiates, morphine acts on opioid receptors to release large amounts of GABA in the brain as well as the body’s natural analgesics called endorphins.
Recovering from Prescription Drug Abuse
Prescriptions medications meant to relieve pain or manage emotional difficulties sometimes promote deeper problems that are worsened when brain chemistry is altered artificially.
Unless the decision to enter an addiction treatment program is made by the individual with a dependency on pain killers, sedatives or amphetamines, the possibility of ever living without the constant craving for prescription drugs is unlikely.
Recovering from the disease of addiction is similar to recovering from a long, disabling illness. In contrast to a physical disease, addiction also carries a psychological component that requires the expertise and compassionate understanding provided by professional therapists and counselors like our own, who are experienced with helping people who abuse prescription drugs.
Treatment for Prescription Drug Abuse Generally Consists Of:
- Withdrawal Treatment
- Inpatient Facility Housing
- Psycho-education for the Impact of Drug Addiction
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with our Therapists
- Rational Emotional Behavioral Therapy (REBT)
- Aftercare Treatment
Curing RX Drug Addiction Is a Lifelong Process
“Curing” a prescription medication addiction is a not always a possibility. Instead, the process of recovering is a lifelong series of ups and downs, insights and epiphanies, learning previously unknown truths about one’s self and taking pride in being strong enough to make that first step towards freedom from drug addiction.
Let Us Help Today
Recovery begins as soon as that life-changing decision is made to take control of a new, sober life just waiting to be experienced at its fullest. Nothing is impossible and everything is possible.
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