Every year, more than 1 billion prescription items* are dispensed across London, other major cities and throughout the UK. Nearly everyone has taken prescription medication at some point and many of us take it every day. But for some people, prescription medicine takes control of their lives through addiction.
When we think of drug addiction, we tend to focus on drugs such as heroin or cocaine. Yet it’s possible to become addicted to all kinds of drugs and substances, including prescription medication. Drug addiction (also known as drug dependence) occurs when the compulsive use of a substance results in physical, psychological harm. This kind of addiction is chronic and is often coupled with relapses. It can also lead to alterations in the structure and function of the brain or body.

The beginning of prescription medication abuse

Most people with prescription medication addiction begin by taking their prescription completely as intended. They’ll follow their GP’s instructions and take the prescription medication in the correct way. There’s not usually a definitive point where a person consciously decides to abuse prescription medicine. Instead, addiction often begins with bending the rules and slowly taking more medication over time.

If you take increasing amounts of prescription medication, eventually changes will occur in your brain. These changes can affect judgement, self-control and the ability to make good decisions. It’s possible for the addiction to take over and for a person to become secretive and manipulative in order to secure prescription medication and take more of it.

There are no hard and fast rules on which prescription medications are abused – generally, prescription medication addiction is an issue that appears to be growing and requires more research. But there are certain prescription medications that tend to be abused more and can lead to addiction. These include:

Opioids used to treat pain. These painkillers include morphine, codeine, hydrocodone (such as Vicodin) and oxycodone (such as OxyContin)
Central nervous system (CNS) depressants used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders (including Xanax and Diazepam). Stimulants used to treat narcolepsy (a sleep disorder).

Spotting the signs of addiction

If a person questions how much prescription medication they are taking, there’s a distinct possibility that there is an addiction problem. You might notice that you’ve begun taking the medication for different reasons that it was originally prescribed for. For example, taking painkillers to help you relax and feel calm rather than for specific discomfort. Certainly if you feel that you couldn’t live without the medication, it’s vital to get help and support right away. Your mental health, mood, outlook and relationships could all be at risk – as could your general health.

Worrying that someone you love is abusing prescription medication can be incredibly stressful. As prescription medication is available through online pharmacies, it’s difficult to keep a check on how much prescription medication is being taken. Watch out for mood swings and erratic behaviour – take into consideration any extenuating circumstances that could have contributed to taking more prescription medication. For example, additional financial responsibility or a family history of addiction.

Support for prescription medication addiction

There are recovery and rehabilitation centres in London, across the UK and beyond to help people overcome prescription medication addiction and move on with their lives.

We treat prescription medication addiction at Step One Recovery. Treatment begins with a detox programme led by our expert detox team. This cleanses your body and our doctors can treat any medical issues that created the need for prescription drugs in the first place.

We then approach your health and emotional issues holistically on a one-to-one treatment basis. Looking to the longer term and making a true fresh start, we’ll work with you using therapy to prevent relapse.

*Source: HSCIC