Prescription drugs are easier to obtain than ever before. Medications are prescribed at increasing rates, making them readily available in most homes throughout the United States. Even if you do not have a prescription for these medications, chances are, you know someone who does. Prescription drug addiction can develop in anyone, even if the medication is intended for your own use. These medications are incredibly potent and because they have powerful, nearly immediate effects, it is easy to see how misuse can spiral out of control.
Most Addictive Prescription Drugs and Painkillers
There are countless prescription medications available on the market and the most commonly abused of these generally fall into any of the following categories:
While these medications produce a wide array of side effects, they are all highly addictive. Any amount of regular use can lead to the development of tolerances that require a person to begin using higher doses to achieve the same effects. Dependencies quickly develop as a result and when coupled with easy access, prescription drug abuse can quickly become dangerous. Although it is treatable, those who have struggled with prescription drug abuse must always be aware that reintroduction to these narcotics later in their lives can quickly lead to relapse.
Painkiller medications may be prescribed for injuries, pain management, life-long conditions or ailments, and are often used following surgery. Some of the most popularly prescribed medications and their street names are:
- Street names: Lean, Purple Drank, Sizzurp, Cody
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
- Street names: OC, Oxycotton, Oxy, Perks, Roxy
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco)
- Street names: Hydro, Narco, Vickies
- Morphine (Duramorph, MS Contin)
- Street names: Dreamer, M, Mister Blue, Morpho
- Fentanyl (Abstral, Duragesic)
- Street names: Apache, China Girl, Jackpot, Goodfella
- Methadone (Methadose, Dolophine)
- Street names: Junk, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Metho, Dollies
Opioids are available in pill form and may be ingested by swallowing, crushing and snorting, or dissolving in liquid and injecting. While formulations have changed in recent years in an attempt to make the drug harder to abuse, it is still regularly misused due to its ability to produce euphoria and sedation. It is incredibly easy to find painkillers in most households due to the prevalence of prescribing for these drugs. It is also not uncommon for those with an opioid addiction to begin abusing other opiates, such as heroin, due to ease of access and cheaper costs.
Depressants are popularly prescribed for anxiety and insomnia. These powerful medications lower the levels of awareness in the brain, causing feelings of relaxation and sedation. Sedatives may also be used to treat seizures or as an anesthesia. These drugs fall into a couple of categories:
- Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Ativan)
- Street names: Benzos, Tranx, Bars, Stupefy, Valley Girl
- Barbiturates (Luminal, Seconal, Sarisol)
- Street names: Downers, Barbs, Sleepers, Tootsies
Much like opiates, depressants may be abused by swallowing, crushing and snorting, or dissolving and injecting. These medications can cause drowsiness, confusion, and impaired memory. They are popularly misused with alcohol, another depressant, which can make it more life-threatening. Depressants can slow heart rate and breathing, and too much of these medications, especially when combined with other substances, can cause breathing to stop. Sedatives are easily available through a prescription and found in many homes. Prescription sleep aids are regularly advertised in commercials which contributes to the normalization of use.
Stimulants are readily available through prescription for conditions such as ADHD to improve alertness, concentration, attention, and energy. These medications fall into the same category as other stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Stimulants fall into the categories of:
- Amphetamines (Adderall, Dexedrine)
- Street names: Hearts, Bennies, Uppers, Amps
- Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concentra)
- Street names: Skittles, Smarties, Vitamin R, Diet Coke
Stimulants are abused by swallowing, crushing and snorting, or dissolving and injecting. These drugs are commonly abused by teens and young adults because they are misrepresented as a “study drug” due to their side effects of increasing focus and energy levels. It is not uncommon to find young adults abusing these to pull all-nighters or study for exams. While misuse may come from a place of good intention, it can put users at risk for strokes, heart attacks, or seizures. Stimulants are commonly prescribed for teens and young adults making them some of these easiest prescription drugs to access and misuse.
What Makes Prescription Drugs Addictive?
Prescription drugs become addictive because they affect the brain’s reward system. Specifically, prescription drugs can have a dramatic effect on the brain’s levels of norepinephrine and dopamine.
Norepinephrine is vital to the body’s fight-or-flight response. It can cause quick energy boosts that affect adrenaline levels and responsiveness. Dopamine is key in triggering both physical and mental alertness. High levels of dopamine decrease fatigue and increase energy. It’s also a vital part of the brain’s reward center and motivation. Dopamine can be released during any feel-good activities including eating good food, spending time with friends, and from sexual activity. The release of dopamine is what provides motivation to continue engaging in those activities moving forward.
Almost all drugs have an effect on the brain’s reward system which is what makes them so addictive. Prescription drugs essentially hijack the brain and teach the brain that using drugs feels good and a person should continue to do so in order to feel those effects again. Consequently, as a person begins using drugs more frequently to achieve feelings of euphoria, the body begins to build tolerances which means a person must use higher doses in order to achieve the same effects. This vicious cycle is detrimental and can quickly lead a person down the path of full-blown dependency and addiction to even feel normal.
How to Tell if a Young Adult is Addicted to Painkillers
It can be difficult to tell when addiction develops. Because a doctor prescribes these medications, use of them may seem normal or essential. It is important to monitor the frequency of use and how quickly your child may be going through their prescription. You may begin to notice symptoms of abuse due to side effects or withdrawal symptoms. Changes in behavior, energy levels, hygiene, and interactions with others are often common signs of a develop addiction.
Symptoms of prescription drug addiction largely depend on the type of drug used. If you notice priorities changing, poor performance in work or school, increased secrecy, lying, or stealing, it is often an indicator that addiction has developed. Additionally, you may find your child presenting false symptoms in an attempt to get more prescription drugs. If they are unable to obtain the prescription from a doctor, they may begin engaging in “doctor shopping” to find someone who will provide one.
Intervening in a Young Adult’s Prescription Drug Abuse
If you believe your child is struggling with prescription drug addiction, it is important to intervene as soon as possible. You may consult an addiction specialist to assess the situation and determine the next best steps. In most cases, moving forward with an intervention can help you start the conversation and move your child into treatment.
Sober College can help you connect with specialists who can provide treatment options for your child. For more information, please give us a call at 800.465.0142 or send us a message and we will be in touch to discuss your needs.
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