Prescription Drug Addiction
Prescription drugs are a necessary part of life and provide relief to millions of people across the world dealing with chronic long-term pain, recovering from surgery or an accident and suffering from a mental health disorder.
Antidepressant prescriptions have doubled in the UK over the last decade, jumping from 12 million to 24 million. However, this increase in prescriptions over the years has also lead to a rise in prescription drug addiction as well as the emergence of illegal underground drug markets.
It is important to be aware of the risks involved before taking any new medication, even if it has been prescribed by a trusted medical professional. 
Can prescription drugs be addictive?
Many people believe that prescription drugs are inherently safe as they are medically approved and prescribed by doctors. However, it’s important to remember that they are restricted in this way precisely because they are inherently addictive and potentially dangerous. 
Some medications can become addictive even when used according to medical advice, while others are sold illegally with few restrictions and little monitoring which can quickly lead to addiction.
A 2014/2015 report revealed that 5.4% of adults in England and Wales had misused opiates without a prescription, and this number looks set to rise.
Which prescription drugs are the most addictive?
There are countless forms of medications prescribed by doctors every single day across the world, and many of these have the potential to be extremely addictive. However, some pose a greater risk than others.
Some of the most addictive prescription drugs include:
Although antidepressants aren’t typically seen as addictive as they do not induce cravings, people who are prescribed this medication often report a physical dependence instead of a psychological addiction. They may experience withdrawal symptoms if they reduce their dosage and also increase the risk of overdose.
2. Sleeping pills
While sleeping pills are commonly prescribed to treat insomnia, many people find themselves completely reliant on them in order to sleep. This addiction can develop slowly, resulting in memory loss and a permanent state of drowsiness with the body unable to relax and wind down without the help of sleeping pills.
3. ADHD medication
This medication is a form of stimulant which increases energy and alertness by inducing the release of chemicals such as dopamine. It is commonly abused by individuals with a high workload along with students in order to increase productivity and attention span, and the euphoric sensations can quickly become addictive. 
If you have been diagnosed with anxiety or panic attacks in the past, you may have been prescribed a form of benzodiazepine that works as a sedative to relax and calm the body and mind. They can induce feelings of relaxation and serenity which can be tempting for people looking to escape the stress of everyday life.
5. Weight loss pills
Weight loss and diet pills can be prescribed on a case-by-case basis, but it’s important to be aware that some contain amphetamines which can be highly addictive. These pills are a form of stimulant which increases energy levels and induce a general sense of well-being. The body can quickly become tolerant to this medication, leading some people to take more than the recommended dose.
Opioids are often prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, providing a burst of euphoria and pleasure when taken. This sensation can quickly become addictive, with some people taking more than the recommended dose in order to experience the same effects over time.
What are the signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction?
Addiction is an isolating and secretive disorder, and it can be hard to spot the signs in those you care about or even within yourself. Many people will attempt to cover up their behaviours and present a facade to the outside world, and it is only when the addiction is more advanced that the problem becomes apparent to others.
It can be even more difficult to spot the signs of addiction when an individual has previously obtained a prescription for a genuine medical need, as there is often no way to definitively know whether they still require the medication.
While the symptoms of addiction can vary between each specific medication, there are a number of signs that are generally indicative of a dependency or addiction that can be fairly easy to spot.
Common symptoms of prescription drug addiction include:
- Visiting a number of doctors in order to obtain multiple prescriptions
- Complaining of numerous ailments that would require medication
- Increasingly poor personal hygiene and a lack of grooming
- Neglecting responsibilities at work, school and home
- Denying that there is a problem when confronted
- Experiencing negative consequences related to prescription drug use but continuing to use it
- Attempting to reduce or completely stop prescription drug use but being unable to do so
- Obtaining medication illegally, such as by purchasing online or from street dealers
- Frequent absences from work, school and social occasions
- Using alcohol to ‘fill the gap’ between dosages and prescriptions
- Resorting to stealing medication from others, or borrowing/stealing money
- Displaying frequent mood swings
- Appearing restless, agitated and anxious when unable to obtain medication
What are the long-term effects of prescription drug addiction?
As each prescription drug can produce specific side effects that indicate addiction or dependency, the same can be said for the long-term effects of medication abuse.
When abused over a long period of time, prescription drugs can cause physical changes and damage to the body including liver, brain and heart damage. They can also leave you more vulnerable to certain infections and disorders while also increasing the chances of a heart attack, stroke or respiratory failure.
Similarly to the physical effects, long-term abuse of prescription drugs can also affect the mind often leading to increased anxiety, depression and paranoia. Some medications can increase the risk of developing psychosis and other mental health disorders, and in severe cases can be a factor in suicides.
Long-term pain management and addiction
While most people may be prescribed strong pain medication on a short-term basis after a surgery or accident, others live with chronic long-term pain that can only be managed with ongoing medication.
The frequent use of prescription medication over a long period of time can develop into a dependency or an addiction, despite the patient obtaining the medication legally and undergoing careful monitoring by medical professionals.
There is a fine line between living with chronic pain and developing a prescription drug addiction. If the effects of the addiction are becoming apparent, such as the patient beginning to experience suicidal thoughts, they should be placed on a treatment programme immediately.
It may be helpful to switch the patient to a different form of medication with less addictive properties, but this should be considered on a case-by-case basis. There is no single solution to this problem, as each individual will react differently to specific medications.
If you suffer from long-term chronic pain and believe that you have become addicted to your prescription pain medication, speak with your doctor who will be able to assess the situation according to your own specific needs.
Illegal prescription medication – what are the laws?
Certain prescription medications are classified as more dangerous than others, but in general it is illegal to possess, use, supply or manufacture prescription drugs without a licence or current prescription.
Ritalin (ADHD medication) and amphetamines fall under Class B, resulting in a maximum of five years in prison if you found in possession of these medications without a prescription and up to 14 years in prison if found guilty of the intent to supply or manufacture.
You could face a two-year prison sentence if found in possession of benzodiazepines without a prescription, and up to 14 years with the intent to supply or manufacture this Class C medication. 
These strict laws would not be necessary if prescription drugs were as safe as many people believe them to be, and are further proof that medication can be dangerous even when prescribed by a medical professional.
Who is more likely to develop a prescription drug addiction?
It’s possible for anyone to develop a prescription drug addiction due to the addictive properties of these medications, particularly if the drugs are obtained illegally and without a medical prescription.
However, there are certain factors that may predispose an individual to become more likely than others to develop a prescription drug addiction.
Common factors in the development of prescription drug addiction include:
- Starting to take prescription drugs from a young age
- A past history of substance or behavioural addiction
- Exposure to prescription drugs in the home
- A family history of substance or behavioural addiction
- Lack of education regarding the addictive properties of prescription drugs
- A desire to use medication to escape the stresses of life
- An environment that accepts and encourages substance use
- Co-occurring or underlying mental health conditions
You may relate to many of the above factors, but this does not indicate that you are fated to develop a prescription drug addiction. However, it is important to be aware of the risks and ensure that you speak to a doctor about your concerns before taking any of these medications.