Many addicts in recovery are well aware of the danger of prescription medication, particularly narcotics, depressants, and stimulants. This is often due to life experience. We don’t usually plan or expect to become dependent on that codeine prescription we were given that time we sprained our ankle. Before we know it, however, we’re popping those once harmless little white pills like candy. We want more, and we’ll do just about anything to convince the doc that we need to up that prescription lest we seek out a much dodgier source. Sound familiar to anyone?
That said, there are a surprising number of folks out there, both in and out of recovery, who assume that if something is prescribed by a doctor, it won’t be addictive. Let us first preface all of this by saying that no one is here to tell you not to listen to your doctor. Medication, when used as directed, may be a necessary component to a variety of treatments. Do be aware, however, that if you’re prone to addiction or are in recovery from substance abuse, that some prescription medications are highly addictive. If you’ve been prescribed a narcotic, depressant, or a stimulant, for example, it can be a good idea to speak with your doctor about your issues surrounding addiction. You may even want to ask if there are alternatives to what you’re being prescribed.
Here are some of the most commonly abused and highly addictive prescription drugs out there, listed by category (and why they’re so addictive):
NARCOTICS (OR OPIOIDS): Narcotics are addictive primarily because they bind to the parts of the brain that control emotions and pain, thus driving up dopamine (a feel-good chemical) levels in the brain, leading to intense feelings of euphoria. If taken as prescribed, these medications can help patients to achieve temporary pain relief following surgeries or when suffering through various stages of cancer, among other things. When abused, however, narcotics can become just as addictive (and potentially as fatal) as heroin which is also classified as an opioid.
Commonly Prescribed Narcotics:
Oxycodone (Brand name: OxyContin, also sold in combination with acetaminophen as Percocet): Oxycodone changes how the central nervous system responds to pain. Like heroin, Oxycodone has a calming and euphoric effect. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), OxyContin was responsible for over 50% of recorded opioid-related fatalities in 2015.
Codeine: Codeine is used to treat mild to moderate pain. When consumed in large quantities or high doses, it can have a sedative effect and can even lead to altered states of consciousness. People often think codeine is harmless because it’s less regulated than OxyContin, but this is misleading. It’s very easy to develop a tolerance to this medication and because of this, it’s frequently misused which commonly leads to dependency.
Fentanyl: Fentanyl-related deaths are swiftly on the rise at the moment. This drug is probably the most dangerous prescription narcotic on the market, due to the fact that its strength is estimated to be fifty times greater than morphine. Fentanyl is prescribed for acute and chronic pain, typically for patients with cancer. It produces a state of euphoria, calm, relaxation, and relieves pain. Because it’s so strong, Fentanyl can cause sudden death from overdose if not carefully monitored and used precisely as directed.
DEPRESSANTS: Prescription depressants, specifically benzodiazepines (or benzos), cause the central nervous system to slow down and, much like narcotics, can produce a calming and euphoric effect. When used as prescribed, depressants can help treat anxiety and panic disorders, depression, insomnia, and even seizures. Once again, however, it’s easy to build up a tolerance to depressants, which can lead to misuse and, ultimately, dependence, particularly for folks who are prone to addiction.
Commonly Prescribed Depressants:
Alprazolam (Brand name: Xanax): Alprazolam, or Xanax, is a benzodiazepine prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders, depression, and insomnia. It slows down the central nervous system and thus has a calming, euphoric effect, but it’s often misused for its fast-acting sedative properties. Alprazolam alters the brain chemistry in a very short period of time, so even if taken as prescribed, users still run the risk of becoming addicted quickly.
Diazepam (Brand name: Valium): Diazepam, or Valium, is also a benzodiazepine and similar to Alprazolam in that it creates a calming and sedative effect. It’s commonly prescribed for anxiety, alcohol withdrawal, and to treat seizures or muscle spasms. The high from this drug can feel similar to that of alcohol. Many users report feeling more talkative, “drunk”, and relaxed. Diazepam is often mixed with alcohol and other opioids, making it very easy to overdose on. This combination can be fatal.
STIMULANTS: Stimulants are known to increase brain activity by acting on the central nervous system to increase alertness, improve cognitive function, and boost energy levels in patients. Prescription drugs that fall into the stimulant category are commonly prescribed to patients diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Stimulants produce an overabundance of dopamine. After continued use of stimulants, the brain ceases to be able to produce normal amounts of dopamine on its own. This often leads to a dependence which, in some, can result in addiction.
Commonly Prescribed Stimulants:
Amphetamine (Brand name: Adderall): Amphetamine is commonly referred to as speed – a central nervous system stimulant that’s used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. It’s frequently abused by individuals who want to achieve high levels of concentration and energy. Athletes have been known to abuse amphetamine in order to enhance performance. It’s also commonly used by college students on tight deadlines to improve concentration or complete assignments quickly. People who typically work late-night hours, like truck drivers and bartenders, can be prone to amphetamine abuse as well.
Methylphenidate (Brand name: Ritalin): Like amphetamine, methylphenidate stimulates the central nervous system and increases levels of dopamine which helps to improve attention. This drug is also commonly prescribed to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, but is frequently misused for many of the same reasons. Dopamine levels are elevated with this drug which can result in a powerful high which many individuals, particularly those who are addiction-prone, like to reproduce. Biological and genetic factors can also come into play when it comes to how quickly or easily a person becomes addicted to methylphenidate.
If you’re in drug and alcohol recovery and your doctor is prescribing you a medication that you worry may be addictive, we highly encourage you to ask about alternative treatments. If there are none, or if alternative treatments aren’t advised, make sure that someone you trust and who understands addiction is aware that you’ll be taking medication that can be habit forming. Perhaps this person is your sponsor, or a trusted friend in recovery. If you’re healing from a surgery, for example, and you’ve been prescribed a narcotic that you’re worried could send you into a relapse, ask this person to hold onto your meds and only allow you to take what you need. Once again, only you know what is or isn’t right for your own recovery, but if there’s a gnawing feeling in your gut that’s telling you to proceed with caution, then listen to it!
Another thing worth mentioning is that when people do become dependent on certain prescription drugs, immediate withdrawal can be dangerous and isn’t advised without help from a medical professional. Swift withdrawal from depressants, for example, causes brain activity to speed up rapidly which can cause seizures. If you do, in fact, wind up becoming dependent on a prescription medication and you’re ready to stop, be mindful when weaning yourself off. Don’t do it alone. Talk to your doctor. We also recommend seeking out a reputable drug and alcohol treatment program.
Kembali Recovery Center is can Help
If you or someone that you know or love is struggling with addiction, please know that you’re not alone. Kembali Drug and Alcohol Recovery Center can help. Contact us today to find out about our 28-day treatment program.