Most people take their prescription medications properly—to relieve pain, anxiety, or attention deficit.
Increasingly, however, that’s not always the case. The number of teens and young adults ages 12 to 25 who abuse prescription painkillers has multiplied greatly. The number of abusers has increased from 400,000 in the mid-1980s to 2 million in 2000.
“While it’s true the vast majority of people who are prescribed potentially addictive drugs don’t abuse them, some people end up taking these medications to get high,” according to Bryon Adinoff, M.D., a psychiatric specialist in Dallas.
Here is a Q and A about prescription 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 can be addictive:
Opioids. These are for pain relief. They include morphine, codeine, OxyContin, Demerol, and Vicodin.
Stimulants. These are for narcolepsy and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. They include 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 medication more often than directed, taking higher doses than instructed, taking it with other drugs or alcohol or, as is often the case with OxyContin, crushing and snorting the pill instead of swallowing it,” says Dr. Adinoff.
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.
“However, the people most at risk are those who have other addictions or who have abused prescription drugs in the past,” says Dr. Adinoff.
Q. What steps can be taken to avoid addiction?
A. Take medications only as prescribed. Get potentially addictive medications only from one physician and one pharmacy.
“In addition, it’s important to tell your doctor if you believe you could be at risk for abuse or addiction,” says Dr. Adinoff. “That way, your physician can take appropriate steps to control your use and taper you off the drug when necessary.”