How much do you know about prescription drug addiction? It’s a growing problem, but there are so many myths out there that it’s hard to know the truth about prescription drugs.
Most commonly-abused prescription drugs include:
- Opioids, or pain medications such as Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin
- Stimulants, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications like Vyvanse and Adderall
- Benzodiazepines, or anti-anxiety medications like Ativan and Xanax
- Hypnotics, or sleeping medications such as Lunesta and Ambien
Plenty of prescription drug myths contradict each other, so you might not know what to think. You may have heard that prescription drug abuse isn’t “real” addiction or that prescription drugs are safer than illicit drugs. Those myths aren’t true.
It can be hard to tell the difference between facts and myths about prescription drugs. That’s why we’ve found the 10 most common myths about prescription drug addiction and debunked them all. Read on to learn more:
Myth #1: Prescription Drug Abuse Isn’t Really Drug Abuse
It’s common to think that prescription drug abuse isn’t the same as illicit drug abuse, but that’s not really the case.
Prescription drugs can be as addictive and damaging as illicit drugs. In 2018, 14% of all overdose deaths were caused by prescription opioids.
Prescription drugs can cause:
- Tolerance: Tolerance happens when your body starts to get used to your typical dose. You might find yourself taking larger doses to get the same effect.
- Dependence: Dependence happens when your body gets used to having a substance in its system all the time. You may experience withdrawal when you stop using prescription drugs .
- Withdrawal: When you stop using drugs after developing dependence, you experience withdrawal. Withdrawal can be very painful and it often leads to relapse.
- Addiction: Tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal make up the cycle of addiction . You find yourself abusing prescription drugs to avoid feeling withdrawal. At the same time, your dose keeps going up to avoid the effects of tolerance.
When you use prescription opioids, stimulants, hypnotics, or benzos, you experience tolerance and dependence within days or weeks.
Abusing prescription drugs makes it much more likely that you’ll develop tolerance and dependence, but it can happen even if you use these medications as directed.
Just like illicit drugs, there are real consequences to abusing prescription drugs. Prescription drug abuse can lead to problems with your physical and mental health, as well as social and financial problems.
Myth #2: Prescription Drugs Help You Perform at Work or School
Prescription stimulants are used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but it’s common for students to abuse them for an edge on their performance.
Around 6% of college students have abused Adderall. It’s common for college students to use stimulants to study for exams. Student-athletes use Adderall to increase their performance on the field.
Stimulants may help you in the moment, but in the long-term, they can actually hinder your performance.
Short-term stimulant use can increase cognitive performance, but it’s easy to become dependent on it.
That means you keep going back to stimulants until you’re using them as a crutch during daily classes. You can’t focus without them, and the result is a decrease in cognitive performance.
Myth #3: It’s Fine to Abuse Drugs That Your Doctor Prescribes to You
You may think that if you have a prescription for Vicodin, it’s fine to take a few extra when you want to relax or feel like your regular dose isn’t relieving all of your pain. The truth is, you shouldn’t take extra medication, even if it’s prescribed to you.
Controlled drugs like opioids and stimulants are prescribed under tight conditions. If you take them more often than directed or at a higher dose, then your risk of developing dependence increases.
You should only take prescribed medication the way that your doctor tells you to. That means not increasing the dose or frequency.
Myth #4: It’s Fine to Share Prescription Drugs With Others
It’s actually illegal to share prescription drugs with others. Controlled prescription medications are only supposed to be used by the person who received the prescription.
That means it’s illegal to:
- Accept medication from someone else, including friends and family
- Buy medication from someone else
- Sell medication to someone else
- Give medication to someone else
Myth #5: Prescription Drugs Are Safer Than Illicit Drugs
There’s a perception that prescription drugs are safer than street drugs just because they come from a doctor. In reality, prescription drugs can be just as dangerous as their illicit counterparts.
For instance, prescription opioids actually kill the same number of people as heroin does every year.
In 2018, 14,975 people died from prescription drug overdoses. In the same year, 14,996 people died from heroin overdoses.
Not only that, but the health effects of prescription drug abuse are the same as the health effects of heroin abuse. Abusing either drug long-term can lead to:
- Appetite loss
- Cognitive problems
- Bone loss
- Digestive problems
- Poor glucose control
- Memory problems
- Respiratory problems
- Weight loss
Myth #6: It’s Safe to Mix Prescription Drugs
Many people don’t think twice about mixing prescription drugs with:
- Other prescription drugs
- Illicit drugs
Because prescription drugs come from a doctor, you might have the perception that they aren’t dangerous to mix like street drugs. Like illicit drugs, prescription drugs are much more dangerous when you mix them with other substances.
For instance, in 2018 there were:
- 14,666 deaths that involved prescription opioids with cocaine
- 12,676 deaths that involved prescription opioids with stimulants
- 10,724 deaths that involved prescription opioids with benzos
- 5,064 deaths that involved prescription opioids with antidepressants
Mixing substances can increase the effects of both drugs. If you’re mixing drugs that are dangerous alone, they become even more dangerous together. That means an increased risk of overdose and death.
You should never mix prescription drugs with other substances. Don’t mix prescription drugs with each other unless your doctor recommends otherwise.
Myth #7: Prescription Drugs Don’t Cause Side Effects
Many people take prescription drugs thinking it’s an easy high that won’t cause side effects. Taking an opioid pill feels less likely to cause consequences than injecting heroin.
The truth is, all prescription drugs can cause negative side effects. These side effects can be just as severe as the side effects from using street drugs.
- Prescription opioids can cause drowsiness, unconsciousness, sweating, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, slow breathing, and vomiting.
- Prescription stimulants can cause fever, sweating, high blood pressure, fast breathing, chest pain, paranoia, and mood changes.
- Prescription benzos can cause depression, vision problems, poor coordination, tremors, confusion, and memory loss.
- Prescription hypnotics can cause hallucinations, dry mouth, dry skin, nausea, diarrhea, night terrors, memory loss, and lack of coordination.
Myth #8: It’s Easy to Stop Using Prescription Drugs
You may think that you can just stop using addictive prescription drugs any time you want to, but that’s not the case.
Once you develop dependence, you’ll experience withdrawal any time you stop using your drug of choice. Withdrawal makes it very hard to stop using prescription drugs.
The effects of withdrawal depend on the specific drug. For instance:
- Prescription opioid withdrawal can include sweating, vomiting, muscle pain, cramps, anxiety, inability to sleep, and depression.
- Prescription stimulant withdrawal can cause depression, extreme fatigue, trouble thinking, extreme hunger, body pain, and night terrors.
- Prescription benzo withdrawal can cause seizures, crawling sensations, delirium, muscle cramps, anxiety, panic attacks, nausea, and trouble sleeping.
- Prescription hypnotic withdrawal can cause catatonia, seizures, motor problems, delirium, and depression.
As you can see, these effects can be very hard to tolerate. This leads many users to relapse before they’ve finished withdrawing from prescription drugs.
Myth #9: Prescription Drugs Make Socializing Better
You may have heard that prescription drugs can enhance socializing. Benzos can increase your confidence, while stimulants make you more motivated to socialize.
These medications actually make it harder for you to socialize normally. But their effects on your mood and confidence can obscure your self-awareness. That makes it hard for you to realize that you’re not actually making your relationships better by getting high.
In fact, benzos like Ativan and Xanax can cause a blackout state where you behave strangely and don’t remember any of it after the fact. The same is true of hypnotics like Sonata and Ambien. These blackouts can damage your relationships and your reputation.
Prescription drugs and lying are a common combo that damages your relationships, too. If you’re looking for help socializing, prescription drugs are not the answer.
Myth #10: Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment Doesn’t Work
Prescription drug addiction treatment works. You may have heard that 40% to 60% of people who complete treatment relapse in a year, and that’s true.
However, that doesn’t mean that treatment is ineffective. What it does mean is that prescription drug addiction is a chronic disease that needs long-term treatment.
You wouldn’t stop taking your heart medication after getting out of the hospital for a bypass, so why would you stop getting treatment for addiction after rehab?
Treatment reduces the risk of relapse compared to quitting prescription drugs on your own. Going to detox and treatment is your best shot at recovery, even if you need to go more than once.
Get Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction
In our program, you’ll have access to cutting-edge treatments, including medication and behavioral treatment. Our team of board-certified physicians will help prescribe the right treatment for your unique needs.
All people with prescription drug problems can benefit from treatment. Call us today to learn how we can help you reach the road to recovery!
Bedrock Recovery Editorial Team
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This page does not provide medical advice.