How Addiction to Prescription Drugs Has Grown Beyond Opioids

Tim Sonnet

Medically reviewed by

Tim Sinnott, MFT

May 8, 2019

Article Contents

Addiction To Prescription Drugs Beyond Opioids

Article Contents

Now over 20 years old, the opioid crisis taking place throughout the world currently is no longer breaking news. However, many people do not realize the prescription drug epidemic extends much further than opioids. Nowadays, benzodiazepine and prescription stimulant addiction rates are increasing rapidly, making the need for prescription drug abuse treatment even greater. When done correctly, prescription drug addiction recovery helps those facing prescription addiction become and remain sober, while also helping to navigate through the conditions the medications were prescribed for initially.


What Are Opioids?

The term ‘opioid’ describes a specific drug class which includes the illicit drug heroin – addiction to which requires many people attend heroin addiction recovery centers – synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, as well as several pain relief medications that are available by prescription. These prescription medications include hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, morphine, and many others. These drugs are designed to interact with opioid receptors in the body’s nerve cells to reduce physical pain within the body. By and large, when prescribed by a doctor and taken only for a short period of time, these medications are generally deemed safe by the medical community. However, if a larger quantity of these drugs is taken, or if use is prolonged, dependence and addiction have a higher potential to occur. This is due to the tendency of opioids to produce a feeling of euphoria in users, in addition to pain relief. While the euphoria may be nice in the beginning, the effect will soon dissipate when using a low dosage of the medication, meaning an increased dosage must be taken. Once addiction occurs it is vital to get help through either a prescription drug abuse treatment center or a more specific type of program such as a heroin addiction recovery center.

Opioid Epidemic

The Opioids Epidemic

Dating back over twenty years, the opioid crisis took root in the late 1990s. During this time, pharmaceutical companies started to both the public and the medical community that prescription opioid pain relievers would not become addictive to patients being prescribed them for pain relief. Relying on this assurance, doctors began prescribing the medication at an increasing rate. Before long, it was too late, and the misuse of these highly addictive medications began necessitating the creation of various prescription drug abuse treatment centers. Over the years and into the present day, the number of people facing opioid addiction has continued to increase, as has the number of prescription drug addiction treatment centers available to those facing addiction. Currently, about 1 in every 4 people prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuses their medication, and in 2017 over 47,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose.

Symptoms Of Opioid Addiction And Addiction Treatment

There are various signs of addiction to look out for when it comes to opioids. Signs of substance abuse can change from person to person, and not every person exhibits every single addiction symptom at the same time. Even if not every symptom is exhibited, prescription drug abuse treatment may still be needed.

Physical signs of addiction to opioids include symptoms such as:

  • Poor coordination: Bumping into objects in the room around you, trouble walking up and down stairs, etc.
  • Changes to sleep patterns: sleeping more or less often than normal, as well as feeling drowsy throughout the day.
  • Stomach Problems: Cramping, nausea, vomiting, and constipation may occur.
  • Breathing Problems: Shallow breathing, or a slowing of breathing rate.
  • Difficulty speaking: Slurred or slowed speech

Addiction to opioids affects people on more than a physical level. Mental signs of addiction may include:

  • Mood Swings: One of the aspects of opioids that makes them so addictive is the feelings of euphoria they cause. However, chasing that high feeling often results in increased mood swings. Once the euphoric feeling has faded, irritability and depression are often the feelings left behind, resulting in the need for more of the opioid to return the positive feelings.
  • Poor Decision Making: Drug addiction more often than not leads to poor choices being made in efforts to obtain more of the addictive substance. Judgment is often clouded by the high feelings accompanying the pain relief opioids provide.
  • Abandoning Responsibilities: Those facing opioid addiction are more likely to abandon their day to day responsibilities. This can result in loss of job, home, friends, and family.
  • Anxiety Attacks: Anxiety attacks among those using opioids can be brought on for a number of reasons. Anxiety often accompanies the mood swings typical of drug dependence and can often be a symptom of withdrawals from opioids as well.


What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines, more commonly known as benzos, are medications that work to inhibit the body’s production and interpretation of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are responsible for sending signals back and forth between the brain and the body. By influencing these signals, benzodiazepines are able to help calm the central nervous system of the body, resulting in a slowing of heart rate and respiration, and a decrease in body temperature and blood pressure. As a result, stress and anxiety have a lesser effect on the body, resulting in a relaxing, calming effect.

Benzodiazepines are often utilized in cases where medication needs to work quickly on the body, but these drugs are far from a long-term solution. The body and brain are able to quickly adjust to the presence of benzos when used for extended periods of time, resulting in a tolerance for the drug forming. As a result, more must be ingested to feel the same effects. As the quantities of the drug being taken continue to increase, dependence forms and addiction begins. Addiction problems can quickly spiral out of control, as more and more of the substance must be ingested to feel the effects. This leads to an increased chance of overdoses occurring.

Why Are Benzodiazepines Prescribed?

Benzodiazepines are prescribed for a variety of reasons. With over 15 different types of benzodiazepine medications having been approved by the FDA, these drugs are designed to provide anxiety relief to those prescribed them. Because of this, benzodiazepines are used to treat mental health problems such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety. Also popular for their muscle-relaxing and anticonvulsant properties, benzodiazepines are prescribed for conditions like insomnia, tremors, catatonia, and seizures.

However, benzodiazepines are designed only as a short-term solution for these problems. When the use of these medications continues past the short-term, tolerance issues and dependence problems can develop.

Side Effects And Symptoms Of Benzodiazepine Addiction

Benzodiazepines have the potential to cause a number of different side effects among those taking the medication. These side effects can vary greatly from person to person, as well as depending on the type of medication, dosage, method of ingestion and a number of other factors. The most common and most likely short-term side effects of benzodiazepine use include:

  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Impaired coordination
  • Slurred Speech
  • Blurred Vision
  • Fatigue, confusion
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, constipation, and diarrhea

If misused, benzodiazepines do have the ability to cause over-sedation when dosage size is too large. Symptoms of over-sedation include extreme sleepiness, shallow breathing, irregular heart rate, and psychosis. In extreme cases, overdosing benzodiazepines can lead to loss of consciousness and even death.

Even after the use of these medications is discontinued and the risk of overdose is gone, long term use of benzodiazepines can have lasting effects on the brain. Benzodiazepine abuse has been linked to memory loss, decreased sensory perception, and difficulty learning later in life. In fact, proposed links have even been made between benzodiazepine abuse and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease when the drug has been used for an extended period of time.

Withdrawal And Treatment For Benzodiazepine Addiction

When it comes to prescription drug addiction recovery from benzodiazepines, there are a few different things to be expected. Withdrawal timelines for benzodiazepine addiction can be particularly long. Withdrawal typically starts within a week of the last dose of benzodiazepines. Symptoms of withdrawal typically become worst around week 2, but withdrawal symptoms as a whole can last anywhere from months to a year. Symptoms of withdrawal vary greatly from person to person, but most commonly include:

  • Intense cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sweats
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Depression

Also, individuals who began taking benzodiazepines will once again begin experiencing the ailment they began taking the medication for. Because of this, it is advisable to stop taking benzodiazepines under medical supervision only, which makes inpatient rehabilitation ideal.

Inpatient rehabilitation programs are able to provide help to those facing addiction in a medically supervised setting. Professional medical staff within recovery programs are able to assist patients through their withdrawal, as well as treat any underlying medical conditions present.

Prescription Stimulants

Prescription Stimulants

What Are Prescription Stimulants?

Prescription Stimulants are medications created to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder as well as cases of narcolepsy. These types of drugs are designed to help increase attention span, energy level, and overall alertness when prescribed by a medical professional. The most common prescription stimulants include methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, and a dextroamphetamine/amphetamine combination. Medications are typically prescribed in tablet, capsule, and sometimes even liquid form, all designed to be taken by mouth. When these drugs are misused, they can be taken orally, or alternatively can be crushed into a fine powder and snorted or smoked, or mixed with water and injected into a vein.

Prescription Stimulant Effects

Prescription stimulants affect the body by increasing the amount of the chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine present in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which is responsible for feelings of pleasure and satisfaction felt within the body. This chemical is most commonly associated with reward response and therefore plays a large role in issues with addiction. Norepinephrine is a chemical responsible for blood pressure, heart and respiratory rate, and blood sugar.

Those taking prescription stimulants often report a feeling of euphoria when under the influence of the drug. Along with this feeling, blood pressure and heart rate increase, breathing passages open resulting in the respiratory rate increasing, and blood sugar increases.

When taken at particularly high doses, prescription stimulants can result in high body temperature, irregular heartbeat, seizures, and even heart failure. On a mental level, misuse of prescription stimulants can cause periods of mood swings, anger, paranoia, and psychosis.

An additional danger is present if the drug is injected in the form of dirty needles. Infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV are transmitted through the use of dirty needles.

Overdose is also a possibility when it comes to the abuse of prescription stimulants if treatment in a prescription drug abuse treatment center is not received. During an overdose, people are most likely to experience a variety of frightening symptoms. These symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Muscle pain and weakness
  • Confusion and aggression
  • Panic
  • Hallucinations
  • Rapid breathing and heart rate
  • Restlessness
  • Tremors
  • Overactive reflexes
  • Stomach issues such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramping
  • Nerve problems leading to a seizure
  • Irregular heartbeat, leading to heart attack

In extreme cases, without prescription drug abuse treatment, an overdose on benzodiazepines has the potential to cause coma and even poisoning resulting in death. Because of the potential for such serious consequences, it is important to receive treatment for prescription stimulant addiction as soon as possible.

Treatment For Prescription Stimulant Addiction

Much like benzodiazepines, receiving treatment for a prescription stimulant addiction should take place under the supervision of medical professionals, making inpatient prescription drug addiction recovery programs ideal. Unlike heroin addiction recovery centers, where only illegal substances have been consumed, prescription drug addiction treatment centers also help patients to address the underlying condition for which they were prescribed the addictive medication.

In Conclusion

As the medical community has come to realized that some prescription medications are exceedingly addictive, prescription drug addiction recovery centers have become increasingly popular. Their purpose is to help those facing addiction to medications that were initially prescribed by a medical professional. As benzodiazepine and prescription stimulant addictions have become more common, recovery programs are altered to better assist those dealing with those addictions, making prescription drug addiction treatment centers more important than ever before.

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Tim Sonnet

Medically reviewed by

Tim Sinnott, MFT

May 8, 2019

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