The abuse of prescription drugs is a growing problem in America, along with prescription addiction. In fact, the number of deaths related to opioid overdose was five times higher in 2016 than it was in 1999.
But opioids aren’t the only prescription drugs causing a problem. Stimulants and Central Nervous System (CNS) depressants are also highly addictive.
When prescribing these drugs, doctors take into account the potential benefits and risks. Many people need pain killers, stimulants, or depressants for certain medical conditions, however, when abused, they can cause both physical and mental addiction.
This page outlines important information about prescription addiction and available treatment options.
Table of Contents
How Prescription Drugs Affect the Brain
Addictive prescription drugs cause different types of intoxication. However, they all affect the brain in a similar way.
Our brains send messages to the body via neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters attach to receptors, which create chemical changes in the brain.
Like many illegal drugs, legal prescription medications interact with this process. For instance, they may release more dopamine, which causes a sense of euphoria. While dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain, drugs can alter the amount released into the body.
3 Classes of Prescription Drugs and How They Affect the Brain
Opioids and Opiates
Opioids and Opiates are a class of prescription medications that include Vicodin, Oxycodone, Fentanyl, and Morphine. These are often prescribed to people after surgery, or for pain resulting from a major injury.
These drugs work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain. Opioid receptors are found in areas that control pleasure and pain.
Opioids are extremely effective at relieving pain, but they are highly addictive and have a high potential for misuse and abuse because they create a strong sense of euphoria.
Central nervous system depressants help treat anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia. They include benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium.
These drugs increase gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which inhibits brain activity. The result is a relaxing effect, often accompanied by sleepiness.
Xanax has seen an increase of misuse among teens and young adults who are known to use it recreationally.
Doctors prescribe drugs like Adderall and Ritalin for conditions such as ADHD. These drugs are either amphetamines or methylphenidates. Unlike opioids or CNS depressants, they create a stimulating effect, similar to cocaine and speed.
These drugs create a buildup of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. When abused, a person will feel a sense of euphoria along with the accompanying stimulating effect they produce.
ADHD meds like Adderall have seen a spike in use over the past decade by teens and college students looking to have an edge on being able to study longer and with more focus.
From Prescribed Use to Addiction
Over time, prescription drugs change the way a person’s brain works, and this can happen even when the medications are taken as prescribed.
Eventually, the drug alters the reward center in the brain. The result is an inability to feel normal without continuing to use the drug. When this happens, the risk of addiction goes up exponentially.
Once a person starts taking more than the prescribed amount, they often increase the chances of a physical dependence on the drug. The body becomes acclimated to having a certain amount at all times, and the resulting tolerance that develops requires more of the drug to feel normal.
At this point, the user has formed an addiction and if they stop taking the drug altogether, they will experience withdrawal symptoms.
Prescription addiction can occur slowly. A person may not realize they’ve developed a dependency until they stop taking the drug. Or, they may start abusing it right away if they enjoy the sensation it produces.
Either way, prescription pill addiction can turn a person’s life upside down. It’s important to know the warning signs to spot them in yourself or someone you know.
Symptoms of Prescription Addiction
Like other drugs, addiction to prescriptions causes both physical and behavioral changes. These symptoms become more apparent as use increases and the addiction progresses.
It’s important to note that prescription drug abuse is often extremely easy to hide. A person with a substance use addiction understands how the drug affects them and can easily cover up their behavior so people around them won’t detect a problem, until it becomes out of control.
However, once a person’s addiction becomes out of control, they may start to exhibit the following symptoms of prescription addiction:
- Overly relaxed or euphoric
- Mood swings
- Loss of appetite
- Erratic decision-making
- Legal issues
- Loss of employment
- Financial hardships
If you suspect you or someone you know has become addicted to prescription drugs, it’s important to take action right away. Organizing an intervention is a good way to confront the issue and discuss possible treatment options.
Treating Prescription Drug Addiction
Once a person decides to seek help, they’ll need to speak with an addiction professional. At Pure Recovery California, we will determine the best course of action based on the type of prescription medication used, the length of use, and any co-occurring conditions.
Recovery treatment begins with a complete assessment by our licensed and certified clinical care team. All of our programs are individualized for each of our clients.
Prescription Drug Detox
Regardless of the drug, most people will need to go through the detox program first. This ensures the drug is out of the person’s system and that physical withdrawal systems have ceased. A person can’t move on in the treatment process until this step is complete.
It’s important the detox process happens in a treatment facility and not alone or at home. Depending on the severity of the addiction and the drugs misused, withdrawal systems can be dangerous and sometimes lead to convulsions, stroke, heart attack, or even death.
Withdrawal from opioids is very uncomfortable and painful, while benzo withdrawal can be fatal if not supervised by detox professionals.
Doctors may prescribe other drugs to help patients through this process. These drugs are used to ease withdrawal symptoms without contributing to addiction.
Medication Assisted Treatment
In addition to drugs used to treat withdrawal systems for detox, other medications can help reduce cravings during and after treatment. These are non-addictive medications and used for the ongoing treatment of long-term addiction.
Drugs such as Suboxone or Zubsolv can help prevent relapse after opioid addiction.
Others like anticonvulsants are sometimes used during detox for benzodiazepines.
Clinical Therapy for Prescription Addiction
After detox has been completed, the next step of residential treatment is the formal clinical therapy phase, which can be a minimum of 30 days, although we highly recommend the 90-day program that is recognized as the “gold standard” in the industry.
Our doctors and therapists create an individualized program for each of our clients to address the root causes of their addiction and identify any co-occurring issues.
Addiction is a brain disease that changes the structure and the function of the brain. Successful recovery requires returning the brain to its natural state of chemical balance.
At Pure Recovery, our prescription drug treatment plans focus on evidence-based programs – approaches to recovery that are rooted in science and medicine with an emphasis on a neuroscience approach.
We utilize 3D Cognitive Brain Mapping and Neurofeedback technology to identify the current state of the brain to assist with improving cognitive functioning, decision-making and relapse prevention.
We utilize evidence-based treatment therapies that are successful for treating prescription addiction including:
- Trauma Therapy
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy
- Relapse Prevention
- Biofeedback Cognitive Programs
- Weekly Individual and Groups Sessions
In addition to traditional addiction treatment therapies, we believe a holistic approach to recovery is vital, and provide a personalized nutrition program prepared by our organic chef for each of our clients.
Healthy meals are accompanied by an exercise program to increase energy, decrease stress, and balance the mind and body through yoga and breathing exercises.
Our goal is to rebuild each of our clients to an optimal state of functioning and create a strong foundation for change that will serve them for the rest of their life.