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Prescription Drug Addiction

Most people take their prescription medications properly—to relieve pain, anxiety, or attention deficit.

Increasingly, however, that’s not always the case. Some people choose to abuse medications that are not prescribed to them. They are often obtained from friends or family members who may have prescription medications on hand, or bought from drug dealers on the street. Some people will also abuse medications that are prescribed to them. The number of teens and young adults ages 12 to 25 who abuse prescription painkillers has greatly increased from 400,000 in the mid-1980s to 16 million in 2009.

The majority of people who are prescribed potentially addictive drugs use them appropriately, but some people end up abusing their prescription medications.

Here is a Q and A about prescription medication addiction. It can help you or a loved one seek help, if necessary.

Q. What drugs are likely to be abused?

A. Three kinds of prescription drugs are most often abused without a prescription:

  • Opioids. These are for pain relief. They include morphine, codeine, OxyContin, Demerol, and Vicodin.

  • Tranquilizers. These are for anxiety and sleep disorders. They include Xanax and Valium.

  • Stimulants. These are for narcolepsy and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. They include Adderal, Dexedrine, and Ritalin.

Q. What are the symptoms of prescription addiction?

A. Signs of addiction include loss of control over taking a medication, hiding pills, obsessively counting them, and finding ways to get more of a medication by making unnecessary emergency room or doctor visits.

Other symptoms include taking a drug or medication more often than directed, taking higher doses than instructed usually because the previous dose did not provide the same effect, taking it with other drugs or alcohol or, as is often the case with OxyContin, crushing and snorting the pill instead of swallowing it.

Q. Who’s at risk for prescription addiction?

A. Both women and men abuse prescription drugs at approximately the same rate. Women are twice as likely to become addicted as men.

People at the highest risk for addiction to prescription medications are those who have other addictions or who have abused prescription drugs in the past.

Q. What steps can be taken to avoid addiction?

A. Take medications only as prescribed. Get potentially addictive medications only from one doctor and one pharmacy.

If you have opioids, tranquilizers, or stimulant prescription medications, keep them in a safe place, lock them up to keep them secure, and do not share them with anyone else. The prescription is for you only.